I wish I could tell you some cool teen-coming-of-age story about the first time I smoked a cigarette — about how I was at a big high school party or at a bonfire at the beach while it happened — but alas, in reality, I was sitting in my basement with one other person, and the only other thing I had done that day was scoop kitty litter.
My friend threw out the bait with the measured caution one uses while, a) suggesting a date, or b) telling a particularly offensive joke (“Well, I have a cigarette. We could do that.”). So though I wasn’t — wait for it — dying to smoke this cigarette, I found myself spending the next few minutes concentrating on smoking it “right” under my friend’s self-appointed coaching, until the Marlboro red resembled a chewed pencil stub.
Years later, it was a couple of weeks before Election Day and I was surfing Google images, looking at LOLcats, Miley Cyrus and pictures of the houses of people I hate, when I discovered a photograph of President Barack Obama smoking a cigarette. After viewing several photos of Obama’s head spliced onto Joe the Camel, I was ready to brush off the incident.
But as more pictures and blogs about Obama and his cancer sticks surfaced, I was confronted with unsettling comments that puzzled me to the same degree as people who read their horoscopes. Most were critical of Obama, asserting that his vice sets a bad example for children, attempting to demonstrate how smoking is irrefutable evidence of his weak moral fiber and, finally, the inevitable: a crazy ultra-conservative blogger who somehow persisted in linking smokers to terrorists.
Apologies for the brutal punning, but this got me all fired up.
I know that for me, that cigarette was nothing more than a silly five-minute distraction from the dreary feline hygiene tasks at hand — not a rebellious display of insecurity or anything equally dramatic — and I’m honestly impressed that these bloggers managed to extract such probing personality analyses out of such a mindlessly uncomplicated act.
I don’t think smoking is such a terrible travesty. Obviously, cigarettes will wreak massive physical havoc, exponentially increasing the likelihood of cancer, among other nasty things, but I think that judging a person’s integrity or determining his character based on a fairly mundane vice strains credulity almost as much as Scientology does.
Plus, those who insist that the new president’s smoking might be representative of an inability to handle stress should consider their reaction in the event that their planner ever came to resemble his. (Obama’s To-Do List for January 2009: end war, restore economy, rehabilitate environment, make up the entirety of the last eight years to the rest of the world.)
It’s unhealthy that some among us would hold our president to such a high degree of moral responsibility, anyway. The fact that Obama has a small imperfection like a smoking habit, and the fact that he’s open and honest about it, only indicates, to me at least, that he’s human. If we can’t accept and welcome this, then we are the ones that have the real avoidance issues.
And smoking does not impair one’s ability to lead the country. To illustrate this point more bluntly, let’s briefly recap a history of smoking politicians: Franklin D. Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy, Winston Churchill. Nonsmokers: George W. Bush. And I acknowledge that it could be worse — his guilty pleasure could be starting wars of aggression in the Middle East.
That being said, all the attention and criticism dished out to Obama for his smoking habit seems like little more than a cheap weapon from the right to injure his credibility: “Aha! We caught our president doing what nearly one-third of the general adult male population in America does! How dare he?”
Obama is a highly educated, competent leader who staged a brilliant campaign and won the presidency in the face of unimaginable obstacles. He is our president for a reason, and whether he chooses to smoke or not should have little influence on our respect or support for him, or how we feel about him, barring concerns for his health.
Besides, now he’s one of the cool kids.
Asst. Editorials Editor Catherine Cai is a College freshman from Atlanta.