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The smokin' president

C'mon, Barack, show us you're human -- light up a cigarette for the cameras!

June 18, 2009|MEGHAN DAUM

Dear Mr. President:

Don't take this the wrong way, but you're a bit too superhuman for your own good. The history-making speechifying, the unfailing gym workouts, the date nights reminiscent of the season finale of "The Bachelor": It's getting to be a bit much. You're making the rest of us feel bad.

Remember last week when I mentioned that Angelina Jolie makes women feel inferior because she flies her own plane and raises a million kids and, I might add, somehow manages to be curvy and emaciated at the same time? That's going to be you pretty soon! People won't idolize you, they'll idolspize you. (And no, I didn't make up that word. I read it in the Washington Post -- not about you, but it's only a matter of time.)

What can you do to curb this impending image crisis? Smoke a cigarette. In front of the American people.

I know that's blasphemy. I know you're about to sign the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act. But hear me out. You need to let us catch you just once. You need to reveal one small chink in your otherwise pristine and impenetrable armor. Because here's the thing, Mr. President: We know you smoke. Or at least that you did. You admitted during the campaign that you were chewing Nicorette gum, and we've heard the story about Michelle not letting you run for president unless you quit.

True, there have been no firsthand reports or photographic evidence of your lighting up since then. But as recently as last December, you told Tom Brokaw on "Meet the Press" that you had occasionally fallen off the wagon but thought you'd done "a terrific job under the circumstances" and that the American people would "not see any violations of [the no-smoking policy] in the White House."

We won't see any violations? Ah ha! So is your smoking policy "don't see, doesn't happen"? Like a truant junior high schooler, have you been sneaking ciggies whenever you're sure the cameras -- or Michelle -- won't find you? So where do you do it? Out the window of your bedroom, with a butt in one hand and a can of Glade in the other? In the lavatory of Air Force One? Maybe you steal away to the White House roof in the middle of the night to indulge your habit while looking at the stars and wondering what it all means. Maybe once, to your shock, you ran into the first granny up there. Maybe she was puffing on a Parliament while clutching her winter coat around her and listening to Benny Goodman on her iPod. Maybe you said to each other, "Well, you old so and so!" and from there formed a secret bond.

Look, for the record, I know smoking is bad, bad, bad! I know it kills an estimated 438,000 Americans a year. I know the EPA classifies secondhand smoke as a carcinogen responsible for an additional 50,000 or so deaths every year. I know that in April, when a Tennessee man wrote to you about his father's death from smoking and asked you not to smoke for the sake of your own daughters, you sent him back a handwritten note thanking him for the advice. (I don't expect you to thank me for my advice, much less heed it.)

But I'll say it again: We could use some vulnerability, some flaws, some evidence that you have failings like the rest of us or are capable of, you know ... angst. As far as I can tell, the only publicly released photographs of you smoking are from the series taken when you were a freshman at Occidental -- the ones where you're in a bomber jacket and Panama hat, looking all "Super Fly" (but also kind of dorky).

Are we supposed to see them as the "before" pictures to your indomitable, unassailable, borderline beatific "after"? Are we supposed to read about the beach-ready abs, the saintly eating habits, the way the White House Easter Egg Roll got turned into an exercise and healthy eating event (the kids could do yoga for God's sake!) and believe you've left that Panama hat behind for good? Are we supposed to hear about your daily "Michelle time" without imagining that you might occasionally indulge the kind of "me time" that only a cigarette, vile scourge though it may be, can provide?

Don't do it, Mr. President. Don't sacrifice your soul for your image. Don't try to be superhuman; it only causes idol-worship fatigue.

Instead, show us you're real. Light up just once and let a photographer catch you. Don't look at the camera, just appear to be deep in thought, as if you're solving the Middle East crisis right then and there. Just once, why not let us see you being less than perfect. Make it your last cigarette: It ought to satisfy enough cravings to last forever.


The American People

(at least one of them.)

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