Smoking Politicians

ZOË RICE: Tom Brokaw, allow me to virtually fist bump you for writing this recent op-ed piece. Perhaps I will seem square for shaking my fist at cigarettes, and indeed I’m a former smoker myself (nearly ten years past quitting). But the toll this devastating habit takes on our country’s health shouldn’t be downplayed. Obesity may be the health-epidemic-du-jour (and a worthy one), but could Michelle Obama take an equally firm stance against smoking? She and her family stand in all their leanness as examples of fighting childhood obesity, a cause she publicly rallies against. However her husband, our President, can not act as a role model in the fight against tobacco addiction. And I think that should be part of his job.

Barack Obama isn’t just any old president. Whatever you think of his performance in office, he’s the coolest president we may have ever had. Children everywhere admire and want to emulate him, especially African-American children. What’s more, he’s adopted health care as his dearest cause. Now come on, Mr. President. What kind of message does it give these impressionable kids if it’s known that Barack Obama smokes? And how many extra health care dollars go toward treating smoking-related illnesses each year? One easily imagines the cost must be in the billions. A role model can say “Don’t smoke” until he’s blue in the face (or is that just the emphysema?), but those words carry the punch of vapor without the actions to back them up.

And now John Boehner is poised to step forth as our next Speaker of the House. Here will be an example for a different child, a Red State child perhaps. For that matter, he’s an example to many adults. And he refuses to quit smoking. What’s more, he accepts funding from the tobacco lobby. In the face of all the evidence we’ve had for years of the deadly effects of smoking, how can this politician then claim to work in the best interests of the American people?

Smoking is as unhealthy for our nation’s people as obesity, if not more so. And with health care so high on the list of our nation’s immediate needs, it boggles my mind that anyone in a position of power can endorse smoking. And really when it comes down to it, despite whatever protestations they may make, endorsement is the message Obama and Boehner are sending out into the world .

AKIE BERMISS: I can completely understand where Zoë is coming from, but I disagree wholeheartedly.  I mean, I agree that smoking is probably the most horrible and deadly of all bad habits, that far too many Americans do it, and that many of us are likely to die from it.  On the other hand, as a smoker (of cigars), I understand what it means to have a vice.  I understand how worldly pressures can lead to comfort in acting out “bad” habits.  There’s nothing I crave more at the end of a hard day than a nice cigar and some peace and quiet.  And I say, let a man have his vices.  Assuredly, too many vices is not a good thing but a person with no vices at all?  That’s just disturbing.

As per the President as role-model, I hear the sense in that too, but I also think there only so much role-modeling a person can do.  How awesome does Barack Obama have to be?  As Zoë said, he’s likely one of the coolest Presidents ever: he’s handsome, intelligent, academically accomplished, and fit.  He was a self-less community organizer, a Constitutional law expert, and the consummate family man.  This from someone in a demographic (African-American males) where usually academics, fitness, and family obligations are often neglected.  He rose to the Presidency on a tidal wave of support for his political movement of Change and — in my humble opinion — he has been one of the most effective Presidents we’ve seen in a couple of generations.  The guy is going like gang-busters!

You mean to tell me that because he enjoys the occasional smoke, he should lose all his awesomeness street-cred?  I just can’t get next to that.

As for John Boehner — a politician a dislike a great deal — I bet that if I agreed with his politics, I’d say the same thing about him.  As it stands, I think his corporatism, faux-conservatism, and grandstanding are signs of a man who indulges in far too much vice as it stands.  Nonetheless, I think he shouldn’t be forced to act like a model human being simply because he is in a position of power.  He’s got a job to do; its stressful.  So let’s just let him have his vices as well.

Seriously, though, I think that the first place smoking is encouraged or discouraged is in the home.  Its parents and older siblings.  Its the emphasis one puts on WHY its bad. It not just a bad habits, its bad for you.  But you can’t say that and then continue smoking in front of your impressionable children or siblings.  I think before we assign blame to our super-cool, doing-a-bang-up-job President, we’d best look first in the mirror.  After all, its not like Obama smokes openly.  He knows its considered bad.  He thinks poorly of it.  It is a guilty pleasure.  He smokes in private — when the world is NOT watching.  I say leave him be.  Let some things be private.

When he’s done being President — then he can be more worried about image than the day-to-day of running the country.  Til then: judge not, let ye be judge, dear reader.

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