Saturday, July 23, 2011

Obama needs a cigarette

By Bernie Quigley

For The Hill on 7/24/11

The very first question President Obama should ask Speaker John Boehner when they meet next is this: “Got a cigarette?”

Gone are the days of the soaring oratory and the early speeches better than any president including Lincoln has ever given. Gone is the original, elegant prose, the moving images, the complexity of thought, the subtle historical nuance of his early autobiography and it went so quickly. He did write that stuff, no?

Now, as of last Friday, the eyes grow wide as he berates America in flowing formless and alien anecdotal vindictive and righteous indignation like a neurotic cat chasing a string. We are entering dire straits, says Dan Balz of the Washington Post, but both parties see only the end and not the beginning.

They got big problems, no question. It’s that pesky Particle/Wave issue Niels Bohr talked about: Something happens to one is felt by the other, so gay marriage celebration with Andy Cuomo in NY drops Obama support down 14 points in NC almost overnight. Hard to recall a time when State wasn’t focused on gay marriage in Italy so Lady Gaga could get a gig. Hart to recall when pop stars like Bono and Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats didn’t actually establish foreign policy; the Bob Geldorf Institute for International Studies.

But the Republicans are no better off. Ask any establishment Republican for a great candidate and they will invariably name someone from a dead or dying state; a state too dangerous to even drive through or one post-industrial rusting quagmire momentarily revived from flatline by dashing Tea Party rhetoric. And leave it to them to dig up and celebrate the most dutifully boring potential or someone else named Bush. Better run that by Don first, as they say in “Mad Men.” And how’s that murder rate doing in Florida, Jeb? Is it true that liberals darkly dream of Dexter to do the job because law enforcement is fully incompetent? Can we still call that a “first world” state?

With 45 pack years, I can help with this. Grab a smoke. The First Lady proudly told the press last February that the president had kicked the smoking habit for almost one full year. It shows in his work. It shows in the poorly conceived prose and mad non-policy at home and abroad and in the president’s personal frustration and anxiety. Like last Friday, his critical moment and he gave the worst performance of his presidency, opposing without policy, opposing for the sake of opposition. That is not politics. It is demagoguery. It borders on the edge of witchcraft. He needs a cigarette.

What is different from Obama and any other president I can remember is that he is first and foremost an accomplished wordsmith. And like the best of them, he came to the task while smoking. Quitting under such major responsibility can be disastrous. I quit 20 years ago when my kids were born and it took more than five years to get past it. At that, the first cigarette with coffee in the morning was a paradise lost, never to be regained.

This is not Oprah. Stop listening to the women with the floppy hats. Do you job. And if you need a cigarette to regain your mojo, do it. You’ll have plenty of time to quit after 2012 if you don’t.

John Boehner, on the other hand is neither elegant nor oratorical. He is nicotine tanned and leathery. He sits alone on his own bench, smoking by himself, the last survivor of the age of smoke. But his resolve clear and confident, and his language models Hemingway’s goal of simple, declarative sentences.

And Boehner understands the rules: The Congress approves the budget. There is nothing ambiguous about it. Those are the rules. The Democrats haven’t lived by the rules since Roosevelt, the Republicans since Lincoln, but they are still the rules, and Boehner is convincing in his willingness to faithfully stand by them.

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