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Friday, April 04, 2008

Is Obama still smoking while hiding and denying it?

I've written very recently of my sympathy for Sen. Obama's difficulty in trying to quit his cigarette habit. It literally took a heart attack three years ago to get me to stop, and even so, the last time I had a craving for a cigarette was ... oh, about six seconds ago. I am certainly not one of those ex-smokers who's become completely intolerant of those who still indulge, or those who have tried to quit without success so far. And I am, and always will be, vulnerable to the possibility of resuming the habit. So I'm slow to condemn smokers.

But it's disturbing to have my suspicions renewed that Sen. Obama's not only a chronic smoker, but a chronic liar about whether he's been successful in quitting. Jake Tapper of ABC News blogged yesterday about an episode from last August in which he'd smelled cigarette smoke on Sen. Obama, despite the campaign's emphatic denials that he'd still been smoking. And Tapper was apparently reminded of that episode by Obama's vague and evasive statements on the topic of his smoking on MSNBC's Hardball Softball with Chris Matthews on Wednesday:

MATTHEWS:  When did you have your last cigarette?

OBAMA:  You know —

MATTHEWS:  Was that the last time you cried?  What was that like?

Because that shows—Bush the president gave up booze.  I always thought that was an impressive thing about him.  I gave it up.  I know how hard it is.  You just give it up cold turkey.  What was it like to you and what advice can you give these kids?

OBAMA:  Don’t start.

MATTHEWS:  Don’t start.  What does it take, besides a lot of people watching you, in your case —

OBAMA:  Having your wife say on "60 Minutes" that if you see Barack with a cigarette, let me know.  That —

MATTHEWS:  No cheating.

OBAMA:  Well, you know—

MATTHEWS:  No cheating.

OBAMA:  I fell off the wagon a couple times during the course of it, and then was able to get back on.  But it is a struggle like everything else.  And I think that it is important to just keep in mind, I have a nine-year-old daughter and a six-year-old daughter.  And I want to give them away in their weddings and I want to see my grand kids, and I want to set a good example for all these young people here, and I want to make sure as president of the United States, everybody knows that I’m going to try to stay healthy.  I need you guys to stay healthy, too, because we need to bring our health care costs down.

MATTHEWS:  How many smokers are there here right now?  Smokers stand up.  Smokers stand up.  Come on.  Be honest.  Come on!  Smokers.

OBAMA:  All right, guys.

MATTHEWS:  Talk to these people.

OBAMA:  You need to get it straight.  You guys need get on the case.

MATTHEWS:  I applaud this school, a very low smoking school.  Or else a very dishonest school.  Let me ask you, any time in this campaign, did you have a chuckle that you just couldn’t get rid of?

Something weird that happened; it was so crazy that you just went to bed laughing about it.

OBAMA:  I think that happens once a day.  But then I stopped watching cable news.


(If you have any doubt about how deep a dive "into the tank" Matthews and MSNBC have taken for Obama, this transcript should end it. You can almost hear the tiny gears in Matthews' tiny mind turning — "Oh my God, I've actually asked a hardball question that demands a specific answer that might be embarrassing! Verbal grenade! Must smother it with my own body and blather so no one will notice and the candidate doesn't have to answer!")

I want to know the answer to that question: When exactly was the most recent occasion on which you had so much as one puff off anyone's cigarette, Senator? Or if we ask, "How long has it been?" are you going to have to respond "What time is it now?"

I'm very much reminded of the contrast when Fred Thompson was asked, while he was still in the race, what his "guilty pleasures" were. Fred said he didn't have any guilty pleasures. He enjoys a good cigar now and then, Fred said, but he doesn't feel guilty about it. And Fred doesn't lie about it, or try to conceal his habit from those who may think less of him for it.

If the more truthful current description of Obama would be "an occasional smoker who's still trying to quit" than "an ex-smoker who suffers occasional relapses," then Obama and his campaign should use the more accurate description.

Given other, far more serious vices to which he's admitted indulging in his youth but claims to have overcome, the current deception is particularly troublesome. I'm also a willing customer for the "When I was young and irresponsible, I was young and irresponsible" line of apology and explanation. But in general, episodes of falling off the wagon become progressively less forgivable, and the pattern of concealment and cover-up that people use to hide one bad habit not infrequently hides more than one. When the concealment generally works, it encourages continued concealment, and sometimes (see, e.g., Eliot Spitzer, Larry Craig, Gary Hart, Barney Frank, etc.) it encourages even more recklessness.

Recklessness is a quality that Americans voters should and do try to weed out of their presidential candidates, if you'll excuse that pun.

Even in the nanny-state America that your party is trying to move us toward, Senator, in which cigarette smoking will eventually become a criminal offense — anywhere and everywhere, even by consenting and well-informed adults who are heavily taxed for the privilege — the Nixon Rule will still prevail: It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that brings down most politicians.

Are you covering up, Senator? If so, you should quit that, even if you can't quite quit smoking yet. You don't have to give us a daily progress report on your attempts to quit, or engage in extended self-flagellation if you've put those efforts aside for a while. You don't have to flaunt the bad habit either, and indeed, you shouldn't. But when asked, be honest about it. If you can truthfully say "It's been four days since I've had a cigarette," say that, and be proud of it, but don't exaggerate that into a claim that you've successfully "kicked the habit" yet.


UPDATE (Fri Apr 4 @ 2:30pm): AllahPundit is amused that Tapper feels so betrayed, but asks: "What right does a presidential candidate have to lie to a nosy reporter about something that’s totally irrelevant to the election and therefore none of his business?" InstaPundit answers (italics his): "Say, every right in the world?" But Tom Maguire demurs: "[I]f he is lying to us and to his wife, not to mention whiny reporters, well, that is modestly newsworthy.... No stone left unturned, or unthrown, says I."

I think Tom understates the case for the relevance of this to the campaign, and AllahPundit and Prof. Reynolds, uncharacteristically for them both, seem to be completely missing it. This isn't about finding flaws to pick at. This is a window into Obama's personality. It starts by telling us something about his personal judgments in the past, like his disclosure of his past marijuana and cocaine usage, but it goes on to tell us about his willpower now. It tells us something at least as important about his health prospects as John McCain's melanoma history. But by far the most important thing this could tell us is about his authenticity. It's not just whether he's been lying to his wife or whiny reporters. It's whether he's still lying to the American people, who are very much trying to get to know him so they can decide whether to entrust him with the presidency.

Posted by Beldar at 06:00 AM in 2008 Election, Obama, Politics (2008) | Permalink


Other weblog posts, if any, whose authors have linked to Is Obama still smoking while hiding and denying it? and sent a trackback ping are listed here:

» Back And To The Left from Ed Driscoll.com

Tracked on Apr 4, 2008 7:18:21 PM

» Coffin nails, lies, and the junior senator from Illinois from BeldarBlog

Tracked on Jun 10, 2008 4:04:32 PM

» I feel a rant coming on from She Who Will Be Obeyed!

Tracked on Jun 11, 2008 2:01:24 PM


(1) nk made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:24:55 AM | Permalink

If I have understood your point, Beldar, I agree I guess. Obama should "man up" about his smoking.

But, darn it, should we all live our lives according to a doctor's prescription? What's next? No motorcycles? No chainsaws? No bathtubs?

The Hodja was travelling by ship when a storm arose. He stayed calm while all the other passengers were wailing and calling on God to save them. The ship escaped the storm and made port. As the passengers were disembarking, one asked the Hodja, "How could you be so calm? Didn't you understand that the only thing between us and death was a thin piece of wood?" And the Hodja said, "Mostly, we don't have even that thin piece of wood".

(2) Gregory Koster made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:52:33 AM | Permalink

Dear Mr. Dyer: Nope. What Jake Tapper smelled was his own revolting self, not any cigarettes Obama was puffing on. I don't think this is the proper item to call Obama on. Why? Cigarettes and nicotine are addictive, no matter how often the liars who run the tobacco companies and their counsel insist that they believe it is not. Falling off the wagon should not be a sign of disgrace, but in the gotcha world of trivia obsessed journalism, it is easy for the lazy dishonest reporter, i.e. 99+% of all reporters, to blast away at relapses, dreaming of the Pulitzer this expose will bring them.

Bah. Even the coverup on this does not strike me as worth much. Far better to go after Obama for what he has said and written. Here's an example for you: Hugh Hewitt did a bit of original reporting yesterday.

Briefly: Hewitt noticed that in the questionnaire that Obama filled out for his Illinois State Senate run in 1995 that Obama mentioned having made "commentaries" for NPR. So Hewitt looked through the NPR transcript database, and found one. Not several, but one. Hewitt immediately wondered if Obama was padding his resume again, streching one commentary into several. As a practicing librarian, I think it likely that there are more out there that just haven't been indexed properly. There's something for the press to go after. Will it happen? Not if Tapper, Matthews, and Co. have to do the work themselves. Since Obama does have such a skimpy publication record, I think this would be a more promising avenue to explore than his smoking.

Sincerely yours,
Gregory Koster

(3) nk made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:53:27 AM | Permalink

In lieu of trackback:

(4) dchamil made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 10:34:34 AM | Permalink

I stopped smoking ten years ago, and it was one of the hardest things I've done. But I didn't lie about it. Maybe lying is also addictive.

(5) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 2:08:57 PM | Permalink

nk: If Obama were to say, "This is my vice, I know it makes me and my clothes smell bad, and I understand that it has health risks, but I choose to indulge in it," I'd not rebuke him for that decision. (See my comment re Fred Thompson's cigars.)

I don't think his family would accept that decision, though, and many voters (especially from his own party) wouldn't either.

I understand why he feels impelled to cover up. That explains, but doesn't excuse it.

(6) LazyMF made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 2:58:59 PM | Permalink

Where is the lie? He hesitated before answering Matthews, and then admitted he had fallen off the wagon a couple times. The denial in August was by the "campaign," not Obama. The reporter probably called some campaign hack and asked if Obama smoked a cigarett that day. The hack probably responded with his/her party line that he had quit smoking.

You are really splitting hairs and stretching on this one. Comparing this behavior to Nixon, Larry Craig, et al is crazy.

Alos, I haven't looked into the "scandal" Hewitt is breaking, but I would bet money that NPR doesn't air EVERY clip someone does for them. Could it be possible that he recorded 2 or 3 commentaries and they only aired 1?

(7) M. Simon made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 7:36:53 PM | Permalink

Schizophrenia and Tobacco

(8) Jack Friedman made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 8:43:22 PM | Permalink


You know it took a heart attack to stop me from smoking too! Age 42 and I'd been smoking for almost 25 years. The bulk of the attack actually occurred in the emergency room, and I was saved thru the administration of TPA (clot-busting drug). The instant the frightening "heart attack" sensation abated, I desperately wanted a smoke -- in response to the stress and anxiety I'd just experienced! That did not occur, as I was taken to the cath lab and later advised to have a triple CABG, which I did. But you know, about 2-3 weeks later, after I was home and on the first day my wife went back to work and left me alone in the house, it was all I could do to stop myself from having a smoke. But I figured if I'd made it that far without a smoke that I'd make the effort to persevere. Which I have for 12 years. In some drawer I still have the half-pack of cigarettes that was in my pocket that day. I'm now pleased not to smoke, although the behavior was associated by me with so many daily activities that I'd have never believed it possible to engage in those activities without a cigarette! I will say that after about 2-3 years I did quit craving the sensation of hot, poisonous gas in my lungs, although this was replaced by the craving for grease and sugar. It's great to be alive! And 20 pounds fatter than when I smoked. Oh well. Best to you!


(9) Tman made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:05:51 PM | Permalink

This seems to the pattern I get with Obama, which is similar in a lot of respects to Bill Clinton.

Both Obama and Bill have this uncanny ability to admit to something whilst somehow denying or justifying it at the same time.

Bill "smoked but he didn't inhale".

Barack "smoked and then quit. Sort of. Whatever. You got a light man?"

Beldar wrote-

"If Obama were to say, "This is my vice, I know it makes me and my clothes smell bad, and I understand that it has health risks, but I choose to indulge in it," I'd not rebuke him for that decision."

This is what I wish Obama had done with the Wright thing too. Instead of obfuscating and rationalizing, why not just say it is wrong and stupid -the end?

Or as Juan Williams said in todays WSJ "What would Jesus do? There is no question he would have left that church."

Man I miss Fred.....sigh..

(10) JMW made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:06:48 PM | Permalink

"It's not the crime, it's the cover-up that brings down most politicians."

Well, you're right. But smoking isn't a crime, so who cares about the cover-up?

Next in the news: Obama doesn't eat enough FDA-recommended servings of vegetables daily, and fibs about it! News at 11! Beldar posts about how it's a proxy for his inherent dishonesty and lack of authenticity!

(11) hitnrun made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:17:00 PM | Permalink

Obama should admit it for this reason only: if he thinks he can get through an entire presidency without anyone finding it out and making it into a question of his honesty, he's out of his mind.

(12) Herman made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 9:29:10 PM | Permalink

I also tried to quit smoking and failed everytime. Everybody knew about it and it was always a blow when I started again. Lying doesn't help you quit or help your credibility. People will know. It is just very poor judgement to think you can deceive people about smoking. Anyone who has such limited decision making smarts is just not fit to run a country. He'll lie about other things too. It's a 100 percent guarantee. You know you have a liar on your hands. Is the issue big or small? Is any lie big or small? Is it important enough to lie about? Well we'll be asking ourselves that everytime.
Anyway I decided to not quit. I decide to just delay having another cigarette for 15 mins. Then I delayed for another 15. That was 32 years ago, but I still haven't quit even though I also have not had a cigarette. I also didn't have to claim I had quit.

(13) Kevin Murphy made the following comment | Apr 4, 2008 10:08:30 PM | Permalink

As a recent ex-smoker (15 months this time), I'm hesitant to throw the first stone here. I've snuck cigs while officially quitting myself.

Just so long as he publicly admits to being a smoker and denounces anti-smoker intolerance and bigotry then I've got no problem with it.

But what I hear is the Victim-smoker, who pleads for more laws against all smokers to help him quit. And that is nothing short of contemptible.

(14) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 2:43:20 AM | Permalink

LazyMF: You ask, "Where is the lie?" Note the question mark at the end of the title to this post.

I disagree with your suggestion that Obama can't be held to statements made by his official campaign organization in response to an on-the-record question from a national journalist: If those are incorrect because of a communications breakdown, he nonetheless has the obligation to notice and correct that. So I think the imputation of the denial to Obama is completely fair (at least for political purposes; it wouldn't support a perjury conviction, but of course it's not under oath anyway).

The reason I pose this as a question, rather than an accusation, or the repeating of an exposé of lying by Tapper, is that I can't vouch for Tapper's nose.

As for the significance of the concealment habit, and its comparability to other self-destructive politicians who behaved more and more recklessly, that too I've phrased as a question rather than an accusation. But there is no real doubt that Obama has carefully concealed such smoking (his "falls from the wagon") as did occur. I have literally spent hours combing the web using multiple search engines looking for a photograph or a video clip showing him with a cigarette, and the best I could find was one reproduced in my prior post, which has no official provenance and may well be photoshopped. As others have pointed out, smoking isn't yet a crime, at least depending on where you are and your age. But neither would have been Larry Craig's homosexual encounter, if it hadn't been in a public place; and I'm libertarian enough to heavily discount the technical illegality of Spitzer's or Frank's use of prostitutes and certainly Hart's adultery. None of these folks' transgressions were remotely like, say, Dollar Bill Jefferson's taking bribe money, but they were all still bad enough to threaten their political careers, and to cause them family problems too. Obama probably thinks — unlike Thompson — that continued smoking, if revealed, could threaten his political career, and given his party and his role in it, I think that's correct.

(15) Italianguy made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 10:26:32 AM | Permalink

Obama should just come clean with it. Quiiting is a pain. I'm currently trying to quit again (haven't had a full cigarette in two weeks - full disclosure: had a couple of puffs of one of my brother's a few days ago, but that's it).

I just finished running a local referendum campaign. I had quit smoking, but picked it up again right before the election - the stress really got to me.

I can't even imagine the stress Obama is going through running for president. However, he should come clean about it. Trying to hide these things in the closet just makes him disingenuous.

(16) kimsch made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 12:01:51 PM | Permalink

I quit one year, eleven months, and ten days ago using laser acupuncture. I must say that it was like magic. I haven't had a cigarette since, haven't "needed" one. There are occasional thoughts of having one, but those thoughts are quite fleeting.

I had tried pretty much everything prior to the laser acupuncture. Cold turkey, patches, gum, writing down when I had one, putting them somewhere inconvenient to retrieve, some little machine years ago that told you when to have one... Life-something it was called. Nothing worked like the laser acupuncture.

(17) amr made the following comment | Apr 5, 2008 1:24:21 PM | Permalink

I quit a 3 pack a day habit in 1991. That was my third major try at it. I started smoking when, I could, at 4 years of age; yes, 4 years of age. Heck in elementary school my buddy’s father, who was a salesman of cigarettes, had a closet of samples. My friend would steal some and we would hook school to smoke in our secret hideout under the train station. I started regularly smoking at 16.

Once I quit for 3 years, but a cigar from a friend’s baby’s birth celebration got me started again. I had quit once for a year and half and started smoking again in an outbuilding on our property so my wife wouldn’t see me. I did this for months; just like some teenager.

While I don’t support Mr. Obama’s nomination, I have considerable sympathy for his predicament, especially since he is under considerable pressure and stress. Yea, he should come clean about his regression, but I understand his situation very well.

(18) JMW made the following comment | Apr 6, 2008 3:38:37 AM | Permalink

"As others have pointed out, smoking isn't yet a crime ... But neither would have been Larry Craig's homosexual encounter"


Well, that would be the most rhetorical bending-over-to-kiss-your-own-ass I've seen yet this year. You definitely keep my feeds interesting, Beldar. :)

Barack Obama's smoking is as much of a non-issue as his taste in broccoli or, God forbid, sexual positions. It's just not a matter for the public sphere. Can't some things just fall into this category?

On an unrelated side note:

How many posts do you think Beldar will make about John McCain's rather unsavory past with his first wife and subsequent divorce?

Not that ANYONE who fancies themselves such a 'conservative Republican' should ask such questions pre-emptively when the question of Obama's occasional cigarette is on the line!

The issue I have with this election so far is that, damn it, of all the three remaining candidates, Barack Obama is the only obviously decent man. Maybe he is a left-liberal and he attended (for whatever reason) an insane church. But I haven't yet heard of him leaving his disabled wife, or -- well, Hillary's sins are cliche.

Where's the beef, Beldar? Life is too short for fretting over bummed cigarettes.

(19) Beldar made the following comment | Apr 6, 2008 4:01:39 AM | Permalink

JMW, you're over the edge of incivility with the "bending over" comment. Opposing views are welcome here; crass insults of the guy who pays for the bandwidth, aren't.

"The only obviously decent man"? I haven't claimed that Obama is guilty of any "indecency." And I don't care what his and his wife's bedroom life is like. Nor do I care whether McCain was unfaithful to his first wife, or that they divorced; it's been disclosed (you can find it on Wikipedia or a zillion other places on the net), there are no complications (like perjury, spousal abuse), and if that information is going to influence voters, so be it. You're correct that I'm not going to write many, or any, posts about it.

If that, however, is your best evidence for McCain's "indecency," congratulations. You've missed, for example, that McCain was once a smoker; his own campaign commercials include a shot of him taking a drag on a cherished and rare cigarette from a POW hospital bed. You missed the Keating affair, which has also been picked over for decades. Indeed, it's the kind of cautionary tale that ought to have taught 21st Century politicians about the dangers of being too close to shady real estate financiers — cough*REZKO*cough.

You'll find plenty of criticisms of John McCain on this blog; he was my fourth choice of five major GOP candidates, and at least once a week he says or does something that makes me grit my teeth. One good thing I can say for him, though, is that he admits that he's a "flawed vessel" for voters' hopes and dreams. Flawed, yes. But indecent? Not by a long shot.

Whether Obama continues to engage voluntarily in a habit that is the single greatest risk factor for lung cancer and heart disease for men his and my age, all by itself, is a legitimate question. Whether that evidences less willpower and discipline than Americans demand of their presidents is another. And most key — which you're continuing to ignore, although it's the overriding theme of my post (re-read the title) — is whether Obama is being honest about himself with the American public he's courting.

(20) davod made the following comment | Apr 6, 2008 6:39:25 AM | Permalink

"The denial in August was by the "campaign," not Obama."

You, and many others, have a problem understanding the basics.

The Obama campaign is Obama.

When people representing the Obama campaign say something to the media their comments are Obama's comments.

They cannot be otherwise.

(21) Craig made the following comment | Apr 14, 2008 11:00:12 PM | Permalink

As the most influential person on the planet, the president's vices are quite important. As a smoker, he says to millions of kids "hey, its OK. Hey, you can smoke too...and by the way, yeah, I did marijuana and coke too...."

Just what we need in a role model....

Go Hillary!

(22) Kevin made the following comment | May 7, 2008 12:04:06 PM | Permalink

He should just take up openly chomping on cigars. People respect and fear "cigar-chomping" leaders. If Bill Clinton had CHOMPED his cigars instead of, well, you know...

(23) DRJ made the following comment | Jun 10, 2008 1:49:17 PM | Permalink

ABC reports that Obama is still smoking. My, my.

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