Today at lunch someone was discussing whether Hillary Clinton was going to be the next president of the United States. I then brought up her other two principal Democratic rivals, Bill Richardson and Barak Obama (who I have mentioned previously). For the time being, Hillary and Obama seem like the most likely front runners for the Democratic ticket. It appears to me that Hillary would have a better chance at winning the Democratic primaries while Obama may have a better chance at the definitive presidential elections — my argument being that Hillary is more likely to arouse the negative passions of Americans than the good. And after W., that’s the last thing we need. Of course, now it is simply too soon to tell. There are still a lot of things that can happen and plenty to learn about the candidates. Here’s what bothers me:
I mentioned to the people at the table that revelations that Obama was a smoker may in fact render him unelectable. I received a perfectly healthy European response of disbelief. Europeans really cannot understand why Americans are so obsessed with the petty picadillos of their elected officials. My response was to justify (or rationalize) the American electoral psychology: Because in the U.S. the executive branch has fairly limited power (in a nutshell it executes the law, commands of the armed forces, and represents the national interests abroad), the president is seen as a moral figure. Thus, Americans need to be able to trust their chief executive. I recognize that what I just said is a bucket full of excrement, but that is how Americans see things. And yet, presidents have consistently proven to be more than fallible.
This brings up the question: (i) would you vote for a smoker as your president, and (ii) if not, what does smoking have to do with being president? At the same time, Americans voted for Clinton when he said that he smoked marijuana but did not inhale. Could anyone have honestly believed him? Obama himself has admitted to having used illegal substances in college and in fact inhaled “because that was the point”. There were also plenty of rumors of Clinton’s serial infidelity. George W. has also alluded to a sordid past of substance abuse that is generally recognized to have covered more than just alcohol, and he was elected twice. So, where is the problem? Do we prefer not to have proof beyond a reasonable doubt? We will elect them as long as no one shows us a mug shot?
What if Americans say that they won’t vote for Obama, not because of his politics or lack of experience, but because he smokes some three Marlboros a day? Does that mean that smoking cigarettes is comparable to Mark Foley or Don Sherwood? Obama may very much in fact be a horrible candidate, I don’t know. Smoking is not good, nicotine consumption is an addiction, and children don’t need a cigarette smoker as a role model. (Does one vice destroy all of a person’s virtues or act is our defining trait). What if he were to lie about his smoking in a civil case because he felt like it dealt solely with his personal life?
What really concerns me the course the United States is taking whereby we are constantly making everything and every type of behavior a question of moral virtue or moral turpitude. We really need to get back in touch with reality, guys! Because if we don’t start focusing on what is important, the country will be heading for a real crash landing, and you’ll hear the president over the intercom saying, “smoke ’em if you got ’em”.
Next thing you know, its going to be coffee, peanut butter, carbohydrates, and then a guy who eats pasta and Nutter Butters and once lived abroad doesn’t have a chance in the land of opportunity.