"If we see you smoking we will assume you are on fire and take appropriate action." ~Douglas Adams
Smokers are considered by many wellness enthusiasts as self-destructive, reckless lifestyle kamikazes lacking self-control, self-regard, dignity and panache. Just as you would not want to live with one, the chances are you would not vote for one, either. Of course, many wellness enthusiasts are much kinder than this but they, too, wonder why a sensible person would engage in such a deplorable habit.
Well, a rising star in the Democratic Party, Barack Obame, widely believed to be the chief rival of Senator Hillary Clinton for the Party's presidential nomination for 2008, is a smoker. The fact of which invites a question: Does this damage not erase Obama's credibility with wellness-oriented voters?
I'll summarize the specifics before offering a point of view.
For the record, Senator Obama claims to be a "moderate" smoker who wants to quit. That's good. He has stated many times that he HAS quit, often, but tends to lapse, due to insufficient resolve. A member of AA might suggest, "That ain't quitting." The candidate made this statement in an interview published by the Chicago Tribune: "It's an ongoing struggle. I've been chewing Nicorette strenuously." Well, chew on this, Senator: We all have ongoing struggles. Lose the smoking habit!
Americans haven't elected an unabashed, out-of-the-closet cigarette-smoking president since Franklin D. Roosevelt. In FDR's time, society (especially Hollywood) glamorized cigarettes as fashion accessories. Smoking was widely seen as cool, a sign of sophistication, even a status symbol. Today, happily, Americans have very, very different attitudes about smoking and smokers. In the 1930's and 40's, nearly everyone smoked, just about anywhere he/she pleased (except in church).
Oddly, some see Obama's bad habit as an advantage! The idea of a politician struggling with an addiction gives him the veneer of the "common man." The character imperfection is something voters can relate to. Maureen Dowd called Obama's smoking habit an "intriguing imperfection."
Obama claims he does not smoke more than 10 cigarettes a day, and usually half that. Some experts doubt he can quit under the stresses of a presidential campaign. Besides campaign supporters, his wife wants him to stop and, most important, HE wants to stop, too. Can he do it? Will it matter to the hard-core "wellites?" Will the latter overlook this "intriguing imperfection?"
Pete Williams, a fitness expert and radio show host in Florida (see "http://www.fitnessbuffshow.com/blog.htm the Fitness Buff"), writes: "if you've ever worked with or around smokers, you've no doubt questioned their work ethic. In this age of smoke-free workplaces, smokers are forced to go outside. They essentially take six to 12 fifteen minute breaks a day, depending on the extent of their nicotine addiction." Well, I don't think this will worry voters. If smoker Obama was to be elected president, I doubt he would step outside the West Wing every time he felt the need to suck tar and toxins for nicotine fixes. Therefore, lost productivity, while an issue for ordinary employees, would not be a concern for a head of state.
Williams also expressed doubts about Obama's "light smoker" claims, noting that a close look shows signs that are hard to miss: "His face is stretched tight at the mouth and eyes, but fleshy and jowly around the cheeks. He has the skinny, slight build not of a man who exercises regularly but of someone whose metabolism is jacked up on nicotine. Like many smokers, he looks older than his age (45)." The biggest problem with a smoker in the Oval Office is that it might send an unfortunate message, namely, that health and fitness are not valued. Now THAT might be a problem for Obama.
Yet, are these vote-costing indicators, if true? Should they be a barrier for wellness-oriented voters? Here is my take: No.
On the contrary, a remark by A.P. Herbert makes me think it might be worse if Obama tried to quit smoking AFTER his election as president: "Thank heaven, I have given up smoking again!... God! I feel fit. Homicidal, but fit. A different man. Irritable, moody, depressed, rude, nervy, perhaps; but the lungs are fine." Better Obama should let his lungs go but keep those emotions in check.
After two terms of George W. Bush, whether the president smokes cigarettes is among the least of my own concerns, despite the fact that I am a non-smoking wellness enthusiast. I care far more that the next president, unlike this one, refrain from policies that divide the nation, violate constitutional safeguards and lead us into unnecessary and costly wars (begun under deliberately false pretenses). I also want a president that will not install right wing ideologues in high places to obstruct stem cell research while promoting an anti-science agenda, initiate traditions of church/state separation, act and speak like a buffoon and saddle the nation with monstrous deficits.
Consider these clips from recent late night talk shows as indicators of the public image this dreadful presidency:
"A UCLA study shows 7 percent of people still believe in the Easter Bunny. I believe these are the same people who believe President Bush is doing a good job in Iraq." ~Jay Leno
"We're now down to the Final Four. Not college basketball - the number of people who still think President Bush is doing a good job." ~Jay Leno
"The new issue of Rolling Stone magazine features a cover story about President Bush called 'The Worst President in History.' President Bush said: 'That's not fair. I'm also the worst president in math, English and geography.' " ~Conan O'Brien
Unfortunately, the last laugh is on us, since we all suffer the consequences of actions by this American disaster. Let's give Obama a bit of support in his efforts to quit the smoking habit but focus our efforts on understanding the policies we might expect if he were elected. There is no way America could survive another president like George W. Bush. Give me a smoker like Obama or any other Democratic candidate (or a few of the Republican hopefuls) before a charlatan jogger like Bush.
Look on the bright side of life -- if we're really lucky, maybe we'll get through the remaining years of this national horror of Bush/Cheney until the 2008 election is held and a new government is safely in office. Let's not waste any energy over whether a candidate smokes cigarettes or, for that matter, fails in other ways to live in a manner that enhances his quality of life and all that good stuff we hold so dear. We have to attend to the lower level concerns on the Maslow hierarchy -- staying alive and economically viable until our current national nightmare has ended and Bush is back in Texas, preferably imprisoned in Huntsville. Then we can think again of transcendence and actualization in regaining a functional democracy worthy of the name and the history of America.