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Is Bill Kristol Smoking Something With Barack?

In his NY Times column Bill fantasizes: "Those of us who dislike finger-wagging nanny-state-nagging liberalism relish the prospect of President Barack Obama sneaking a cigarette on the second floor of the White House while rereading Harry V. Jaffa’s great work on Lincoln, “’Crisis of the House Divided’....” "[R]e-reading"!? Bill goes on to other fantasies, almost nearly fantastic.


My added fantasy is renowned anti-smoker Harry Jaffa coming on the scene and snatching the cigarette away, lecturing the 44th president, reminding him Lincoln abstained from both drink and the weed.

Discussions - 25 Comments

Senator Obama's smoking is interesting. Part of me respects him for having been a smoker, and not kowtowing to the politically correct hordes, at least until the presidential campaign. But ultimately he did cave in. (And we might ask if Professor Jaffa is right about this one. Might smoking, at least for a time, be part of living well? Many people seem to think so.) And now, it seems, he is having trouble quitting. There's no shame in that for an ordinary person. Were I a smoker, I might have trouble quitting too. But does his failure to quit suggest a weakness of soul that is unbecomming in a President? I suspect that it might.

My fantasy is that people like Mr. Adams and Mr. Thomas, and the rest of the "smoking is a sign of weakness in the soul" scolds would piss off. The fact that Mr. Jaffa was a "renowned anti-smoker" is no sign of his own greatness of soul. Anyone who might "snatch" a cigarette from someone's mouth then lecture them about other great non-smokers of history is a world class a-hole.

I think that Jaffa is right about many things, but wrong about smoking. It is a small human pleasure, and I hope Obama lights up more than once a day! He�s gonna need it! Jaffa has snatched cigs out of my mouth, but not on his 65th birthday. I was the one to light up in front of him and hundreds of others when I was emceeing his birthday bash. He said nothing to me, by the way. He thought it funny. And, he is, of course, not a magnanimous man. He�s just very smart. Our own Dr. House. Lincoln would never snatch a smoke from a man (or a drink); he would more likely lecture those who do. And I wanted to mention that my Jose Marti (Dominican) went perfect with my coffee this morning, in my house!

So much fantasizing going on here!

First, why should Obama even be expected to have read the Jaffa book once? I thought our new standard was for anti-elite low-achievers who spout right-wing talking points?? It might be nice if the POTUS would name-drop Jaffa (or Strauss) or Claremont award-winner Limbaugh from time to time, but that's as far as the fantasy should go, no?

Second, with the plethora of real problems facing the country, how absurd is it to be publishing one's silly fantasies about the POTUS sneaking smokes and reading your favorite book? Very absurd, I'd say, not to mention juvenile. But I suppose Kristol might feel that he can't get his own fantasies wrong, and being right would be a nice break for him to take after being so spectacularly wrong over the last 7 years or so.

But perhaps the absurdities of Kristol (and Thomas) were outdone by Mr. Adams - sir, did it ever occur to you that Obama might be attempting to quit smoking simply because he has decided on his own that he wants to break free of the unhealthy habit? Or perhaps he wanted to keep his physical and mental strength at their peak levels, not only for the sake of performing his presidential duties, but for the sake of being a (sigh...no doubt "manly") father and husband? Why do you assume his attempt to quit is all about giving in to some external pressure? Can he not possibly be acting autonomously? That you know that he has "caved" and thus is "kowtowing to the politically correct hordes" by trying to quit, is beyond silly. You had (at least partial) "respect" for him for indulging in a cheap, legal drug addiction - that you opt not to partake in - yet you suggest that his "failure to quit" this slowly self-destructive habit, to become a non-smoker like you, is indicative of a "a weakness of soul that is unbecomming [sic] in a President"? It's really very hard to take any of this seriously.

JC's comment is spot on. Jaffa (if this account is accurate) is a presumptuous, condescending a..hole. Richard Adams, you give partisanship a bad name.

Christopher Caldwell agrees with me, PWS, and, apparently JC, that Professor Jaffa might be wrong about smoking. That leaves open the question of whether trying to quit and failing tells us something about Obama's character.

JC and Ryan, what part of "we might ask if Professor Jaffa is right about this one. Might smoking, at least for a time, be part of living well? Many people seem to think so," is unclear?

Looked in the mirror lately, Craig? For suggesting that because Obama only decided quit smoking after being hounded about it in public by anti-smoking forces, I'm simply being partisan for suggesting that he was bowing to public pressure? And for asking if trying to quit smoking and failing might tell us about Obama's character, I'm being unreasonable?

Several points

1.Eisenhower smoked and I don't think the Nazis profited from whatever personality weaknesses this might have revealed about Ike. Eisenhower did quit smoking, but I can't remember if it was before or after he became President.

2. You ever get the feeling that Kristol is just trying to tick off HIS NEW YORK TIMES readers?

3.Wouldn't the morality of smoking be way down on the list of stuff that Jaffa would wish to lecture Obama about?

Richard Adams: My objection is to your suggestion that Obama's failure to quit reflects on his character. yes, that is unreasonable. It seems extremely unlikely to me that you would suggest this if the subject was a Republican/conservative.

on the merits, your suggestion is similarly flawed. For example, Churchill clearly had a weakness for rich foods. I imagine he would have had a difficult time laying off if he were so inclined...which says nothing about his character or capacity to lead.

Did you even read my comment, Mr. Adams? I don't think you did. You're certainly not responding to it in any substantial way; just telling me to look in the mirror. And I don't know what my looking in the mirror will show, in any case. Like you, I don't smoke, and the "anti-smoking forces" (my, they sound ominous!) had nothing to do with that. Watching my parents quit, and listening to their reports about how much better they felt after they did so, surely played a part, though.

You simply don't know why Obama decided to try to quit smoking; your speculation is just that. You also left out the possibility that the "anti-smoking forces" (and are they the same thing as "public pressure"?) might actually make good, reasonable arguments for why one should quit, and Mr. Obama considered their arguments and was man enough to change his mind and decided to try to quit.

You are being ridiculously partisan here, unless it's something even more simplistic - maybe you're just anti-Obama for some reason that I don't know of. In any case, it appears that whatever he does you will twist yourself into multiple knots in order to interpret it in the most unflattering way imaginable. To make a gross understatement, it's rather unfair.

How is this supposed personality weakness in Obama going to manifest itself? I keep thinking back to the movie AIRPLANE.

Sec of Defence Gates: "Mr.President, the terrorist are planning an offfensive in the tribal regions."

President Obama: "I guess I picked the wrong week to quit sniffing glue."

When Al Sharpton went of a hunger strike and stayed on it, it told me something about his character, or at least his strength of will. Perhaps that's not a reasonable inference.

Love the reference to Jaffa as Dr. House. Except for the fact that House is himself a drug addict, it is perfectly spot-on.

Richard Adams asks what I think gets to a good question about Obama. Except, I'd tweak it. I think it is less revealing of his weakness that he could not (or, possibly, would not quit) and more revealing of his weakness that he appeared to make the attempt. If he had shown some sincere desire to quit and simply found it impossible to do . . . that would be one thing and, I think, a revealing but very forgivable weakness. But, clearly, he deeply enjoys his smoke. So why the show about quitting? Why not defend it as a pleasure that he will own? Because it was a show. That's what I've always found so distasteful about it and him and, frankly, all people who so crave the admiration of the public that they will appear to mold themselves in the image the people crave.

Julie. I'm not sure. Contrary to the partisan assumptions of certain people, I still have an open mind about Obama. Tom Brokow noted after the campaign that we still don't really know him. I'm in that group.

Trying to hide what one regards as a weakness is standard in any good pol. On the other hand, I sympathize with your point that the anti-smoking campaign can be rather over-zealous, and hence it might be good for a major public figure to say, as John Quincy Adams said to the temperance movement--good idea, just don't take it too far.

Here's Obama's hometown paper on Obama quitting back at the start of the campaign:

"The incentive to quit is great for any office seeker, as increasingly negative attitudes about smoking translate into political pressure not to do it--or at least not to be caught doing it. At a time when most willing public figures also are expected to serve as role models, those with unhealthy habits face intense pressure to leave them behind. . . . In Obama's case, the pressure isn't just political. His wife has always been concerned about his smoking and, over the holidays, according to family friend Valerie Jarrett, the two of them agreed that he "should stop now."

Making some evaluation of a person's character based on how much they follow through with a hunger strike is reasonable. Comparing that manifestation of character with their ability to quit smoking within a certain time period is not.

"If he had shown some sincere desire to quit and simply found it impossible to do...that would be one thing and, I think, a revealing but very forgivable weakness. But, clearly, he deeply enjoys his smoke."

See, this is where the right-wing partisanship just reaches absurd depths.
So, those who show/have (and Julie, it's telling how you use a form of the word "show" in asserting what you think he should have done, right before condemning the "show" he allegedly made of his attempt to quit) a sincere desire to quit and find it impossible to do, do NOT enjoy their smoke, is that the contrast here? I would wager that most smokers ENJOY their smoke, even if they might decide they wish to stop smoking. Ah, but Obama "deeply enjoys" his smoke.... Huh??? As opposed to what, those who treat it as a chore like taking out the trash or washing the dishes? None of these "arguments" make any sense. But, then, they're not really designed to.

Whatever Obama did or attempts to do - regarding smoking or nearly anything else - will be indicative of some character flaw in the eyes of the unhinged right-wing. If he's not following the neo-con policy prescriptions, and constantly apologizing for not being a conservative Republican in the process, then he'll just never be able to do right by them.

Julie, I think you have Claremont connections, perhaps you can get Claremont-award winner Rush Limbaugh to weigh in on this matter of great significance?

I thought the whole tone of the Kristol piece was one of teasing, and not just teasing the NYT readers, but also the worried Right. What a hullabaloo I find here over not much. When I saw the number of comments I thought there must be some serious to-do not to be missed. Instead this is a funny to-do, maybe, since funny, not to be missed.

Craig Scanlon, doesn't your hero, Rush Limbaugh, also smoke?

"Quitting smoking is the easiest thing to do--I've done it hundreds of times."--Mark Twain (or something to that effect)

"Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar."--Sigmund Freud (allegedly)

I understand that Jaffa thinks smoking contrary to natural law, but then he can be friendly to folks like PWS. Jaffa understands a certain variability in the natural law in that there is a hierarchy of ends--where smoking is surely on a lower rung.

Julie is correct about Obama's public claims to quit smoking--it shows too much--and as such is a cave to anti-smoking public opinion. I am a smoker, and a good friend of mine is one as well. For several years, he has told me (and others) that he is quitting. When I see him several months later he is invariably smoking again. I don't begrudge him this, but it would show stength of character if he just one day showed up and had kicked the habit. It surely cannot be pleasing for him to constantly fail in his public profession.

There are lots of good reasons to quit smoking, and the proof of quitting is simply to quit--forget the public pronouncements.

I think that snatching a cigarette out of someone's mouth would be the height of incivility, just as a president-elect who fashions himself as a Lincolnian would be open-minded enough to read the author of arguably the two best books on Lincoln available regardless of his political or college affiliation.

If Bush was a smoker, the media could have had more fun. As it is, from the NYT on the same day, headline: "Will one of President-elect Barack Obama’s New Year’s resolutions be to quit smoking once and for all?"

The funny thing about this is the media's efforts to cope with this matter. They do not want to attack Obama on this, but have to say something to be politically consistent and correct. The photos are of previous modern presidents who smoked and the article wraps up like an apology.

Nicotine is strongly addictive for many people, and withdrawal can leave them irritable, restless, sleepless, depressed and struggling to concentrate. Some experts say it is harder to give up than cocaine or heroin.

“Then there is something called hedonic dysregulation,” Dr. Benowitz said. “It involves pleasure. Nicotine involves dopamine release, which is key in signaling pleasure. When people quit smoking, they don’t experience things they used to like as pleasure. Things are not as much fun as they used to be. It’s something you get over in time.”

People become hooked on nicotine in part because, like alcohol and other addicting drugs, it alters the brain. Some of the changes are long-lasting, and the younger people are when they take up smoking, the stronger their addiction.

“There is increasing evidence that you lay down new neural circuits related to smoking, sort of memory tracks,” Dr. Benowitz said. “Nicotine does it, and other aspects of smoke do, too. Your brain is forever changed.”

Obama can't help it. He has changed what is natural in himself. Wouldn't it be nice if the result was a pull-back of the nanny-state on the regulation of smokers? That will probably not be the case. Don't you wonder, will the poor man be allowed to smoke in his own house as long as that is the White House? Have you also read of calls for turning the White House grounds back into an organic farm? Perhaps the president could retreat to the garden shed to smoke. Don't you feel sorry for him? I do. How is he ever going to satisfy the Left's expectations for him?

I love how John seems to be saying, or at least implying (comment 18) that one displays a lack of character in announcing intentions to quit, attempting to do so, and failing. Yet, doesn't trying and failing display more character than those who know that, for whatever valid reason(s), they should quit, but do not even attempt to do so? Also, it should be considered that sometimes people like to announce their intentions as a way to motivate themselves and also to show a person or persons that they trust them or value their friendship as they try to make good on their goal.

If it should be revealed that President Bush falls, or fell, off the wagon, I'll be interested to see the character evaluations offered by the bloggers here. I suspect they'll be preceded by a long, dramatic pause of indefinite length, though.

Mr. Williams - while I would agree that snatching a cigarette out of someone's mouth is most definitely uncivil, I'm not sure it reaches "the height of incivility" - surely incivility can get worse than that, and does. Question though: Is it uncivil to smoke around others, where you share the same general breathing space, without asking them first if they don't mind? Is it uncivil to smoke in a car with children with the windows up?

Yes, Kate, of course you and I both know that Limbaugh smokes - he loves to make a big, childish show of his rebellious, "politically incorrect" behavior. Oooh, how gutsy of him! He's graced the cover of Cigar Aficionado, even. I just thought this was as good of an opportunity as any to take a dig at Claremont for awarding him their statesmanship award a few years back. I'm sure the (recovering?) drug addict (and here I'm not simply speaking of nicotine) would have something incredibly profound to offer on this very big deal.

I have found many on the right who take childish petulance in their smoking, wearing it on their labels as a proud indicator of their anti-government conservativism. The accompanying lung cancer crowns their glory. No wonder they enjoy 'tweaking' Obama. The brainless tearing down of Obama on this site will go hand in hand with the attempted restoration of Bush's legacy. So Obama smokes, and Bush reads two books a week. Those who built up the messiah now claim he sins, while the dolt of a president who loves fart jokes now suddenly is the wise sage. Go figure.

If Bush was a smoker, what type of stories might we have expected to see from the mainstream media?

As opposed to the lung cancer in the 911 first responders that came breathing air that government said was safe. Oh, that same government won't give them any help. Oh, how we venerate our brave heroes. No good deed goes unpunished in the US of A.

This speeks to the fact that you all don't know anything about this guy. He is a manchurian foundation creation. If you want to research forget the smoking and find out how a graduate student could afford to send their kid to a expensive private school. I think I can guess at his agenda though: more wars, more taxes, less liberty, more suffering.

Mr. Williams - Could smoking itself constitute an act of incivility if one has knowledge of this and continues to smoke and expose others to those risks? Could it be considered rude?

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