Obama's Smokescreen

What's the biggest secret that the President and his Administration tried to keep from us? Was it about health care? Did it deal with foreign-policy? Was it where he hides the key to the front door at Camp David? No, it's about whether the President still smokes cigarettes.

The other day, President Obama signed an historic tobacco bill. It was aimed primarily at protecting kids by discouraging tobacco companies from targeting young people. The President said that he knows what it was like to get hooked early. "I was one of those teenagers. I know how difficult it can be to break this habit once you've started." What he didn't say was, "Even though it's difficult, it can be done. I'm proud to say that I did it."

This omission led at least one reporter to ask the President about it. However, he ducked the question like George Bush ducking a shoe. When Obama's press secretary, Robert Gibbs, was asked the question, he didn't want to answer either. Finally, Gibbs said that it's something that the President "continues to struggle with... like millions of Americans have."

I guess in Nixonian terms, you could call that a non--confirmation confirmation. Apparently, the press thought the inhale-and-puff issue was important enough to continue to press the President for details. Finally, the next day, Obama admitted, while he "is 95% cured," sometimes he has "fallen off the wagon." He said he doesn't smoke in front of his kids, and obviously he avoids being photographed with a cigarette in his mouth.

With this admission, Tabloid TV and papers will probably send reporters to dive into the White House dumpster to look for cigarette butts. The Obama's drycleaner will be grilled about any cigarette odors. Disgruntled former generals will give interviews about alleged smoking.

That's why he should make his struggle with smoking public. Very public. First of all, think of the millions of people who can identify with a person who is trying to juggle a high-pressured job with family obligations while trying to stop smoking. It would also demonstrate just how hard it is to quit -- as if more evidence is still needed. If such a determined man who has overcome so many obstacles has a hard time quitting, that stuff must really be addictive. Finally, those who view him derisively as "Mr. Perfect" would see him walking around with a flaw. Actually, puffing on a flaw.

The White House should give out daily bulletins on how he's doing with giving up smoking. The whole country would get involved. It would be bigger than "America's Pet Makeovers" or whatever the latest reality show is called.

I can see the television newscasts beginning with, "Today, the President signed a trillion dollar education bill, warned against nuclear attacks, and threw away half a pack of Marlboros." And then, every day, the evening news would begin with how many days Obama has been without cigarettes. "Today was the President's seventh tobacco-free day," or "One month and still counting," or "Obama falls off wagon but will start stopping again tomorrow."

Instead of pretending that he doesn't hear difficult questions or saying he can't answer them because of national security, whenever Obama doesn't want to deal with something tricky, all he'd have to do is shift the conversation over to his non-smoking: "The struggle in Iran reminds me of another struggle – my struggle with tobacco. It all started when I was a teenager, lured by advertising that made smoking look cool,..."

So if he's still smoking, why does he feel he has to hide it like a teenager who's afraid of being punished? Is it because he went on television during the campaign and pledged that he was stopping? Is he afraid of going back on a campaign promise?

Nah, that can't be it. Presidents break campaign promises more often than roided-out athletes break baseball records. So what is it, you ask? If you remember, he didn't make his "I'll give up smoking" pledge to the nation. He made it to his wife, Michelle. A President can go back on his word to the country and the public will probably yawn. But if he goes back on a promise to his wife, he's in big trouble.

Now that it's out in the open, he'll have to come up with something more clever than, "Michelle, I know Bo just went for a walk, but I think I'll take him for another one. Alone. And the Bidens are barbecuing again, so my jacket might smell smoky when I get back."

Obama's Food Problem

It's been over a month since President Obama and Vice President Biden snuck out from the White House to have some burgers for lunch. However, we haven't heard the last word about this controversial act. It has been pushed off the front page because the headlines have been hogged by pesky things like the economy, Iran, and Miss USA. But don't make the mistake of thinking that the burger story is toast. I assume that people on all sides are just marshalling their forces before they carefully articulate their responses. The first salvos will probably be from the vegetarians. Expect things like, "How can a President who presents himself as caring about living things eat cow for lunch?"

Barack Obama is not just the President of the United States; he is also the top politician of America. As such, he is careful to please as many people as possible and to offend as few. Presidents always have to balance what they do in public. That's why they rarely choose one sports team over another. Obama has broken with this tradition, openly rooting for some silly baseball team on the South Side of Chicago. So maybe his area for trying to please all the people all the time will be culinary.

Since he went to a place for a hamburger, we can assume that he was appealing to those who feel he is a namby-pamby, recycling, hybrid driving, book reading, yogurt eating liberal. He was showing them that he eats Red Meat. After the polls indicate that he has won over these critics, look for him and Biden to be photographed having lunch at a place like "Mike's Metaphysical Meatless Mart." He'll be biting into an avocado and sprouts sandwich, drinking a carrot and kelp cocktail, and slapping Biden on his hemp shirt.

There will be those who oppose his hamburger consumption on the basis of health. "The President and First Lady talk about healthy eating all the time, and he has lunch at Ray's Hell Burgers!" It wasn't an accident. He may talk about eating more fruits and vegetables, but he doesn't want to be seen as hurting the cattle ranchers and everyone else in the meat industry. So he had a very public hamburger.

If he orders chicken in a restaurant, he'd better specify "free range" chicken or the PETA proponents will be all over him. (This "free range is more humane" thing is something I've never quite gotten. I understand that chickens that are kept in cages are ill-treated and have unhappy lives before they meet their demise and are eaten. But is it more humane to let chickens roam happily like the cast of an old Disney movie and let them think their lives are beautiful, and then surprise them with the axe before putting them on our plates? At least the caged chickens have no dashed expectations).

The next time he and Michelle go on a dinner date in New York, watch for the outcry if they go to a French restaurant. Even though an overwhelming number of Americans now feel that our invasion of Iraq was a mistake just as the French felt when it happened, Americans are always mad at France for something. So you can assume that if the First Couple dines on duck a l'orange, soon they'll be at Ye Olde Publick House, eating "bangers and mash."

Let's say Obama has a hankering for some Middle Eastern food and he goes out for falafel. Before the word gets out that he's soft on certain Arab countries, he'll have to stop off at a deli for some lox and bagels. If he eats Korean food, he'll make sure everyone knows he only likes South Korean food. If he orders a take-out Chinese dinner, he'll be certain that the rear bumper of the car picking it up will have a "Free Tibet" sticker on it.

No wonder Presidents eat most of their meals in the White House prepared by their chefs. It's less of a hassle, less of a chance of offending someone. At least that's the theory. But it seems to me that by doing so, the President runs the risk of offending a huge voting bloc of Americans – those of us who don't have chefs.