FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Obama, Smoking and Me

by CHARLES R. LARSON

The night after Barack Obama’s inauguration, while I was visiting Jaisalmer, in Rajasthan in western India, I took a drag from the first cigarette I’d smoked in thirty or forty years. The effect? An immediate high, I’m sad to report, even though I was never a real smoker (though I do appreciate an occasional cigar). The cigarette was an Indian Beedi, a tiny hand-rolled cig in a package of 20 that had cost me seven rupees (about 15 cents), including a box of wooden matches. The Beedi packed quite a wallop. It immediately made me think of Obama, who, according to leaks from the media, has had trouble stopping smoking.

In Delhi the previous night, I had watched the inauguration in a state of elation (another kind of high) still finding it difficult to believe that America had a black president. I’d been wearing my Obama button and tee-shirt in India for several days. Complete strangers congratulated me on the street, shook my hand, some even asking to take my picture with them. The only comparable excitement I could remember overseas about an American president was what I experienced in Africa, back in 1962 and 1963, before John F. Kennedy was assassinated. What an incredible experience–to be liked as an American–after the animosity and downright hostility I have experienced overseas in recent years (Greece, Turkey, for example) years when almost everything George W. Bush did eroded American good will abroad.

In Jaisalmer, I smoked my Beedi, hammed it up for my wife and friends with the smoke swirling around my head, at the same time a bit disturbed that the cigarette tasted so good. How frightful an addiction can be if all it takes is one puff for that immediate rush, one drag as the hook that traps you in a habit so difficult to escape. During the past two months, I’ve thought of President Obama and all the pressures surrounding him and the relief that a cigarette must give him—all those frustrations in an America that has done a reasonably good job of curtailing cigarette addition in the past generation. How difficult it must also be to serve as a role model for the country’s children and never be seen puffing on a cigarette.

The evidence in Dreams from My Father is that Obama was a pretty heavy smoker early in his life. At numerous points in his autobiography he writes of lighting up, smoking another cigarette. He also indicates that he knew—even when he was much younger—that he needed to quit. On the final page of the book when he’s grasped his birthright and is talking to his half-brother, Bernard–at the climax of his understanding of his relationship with his deceased father just before his departure from Kenya–Obama is on the verge of lighting up another cigarette.

Bernard says to him, “Why don’t you let me have a cigarette, and I will sit and smoke with you.”

Obama’s epiphany is immediate, belying a sense of urgency and understanding, “I looked at his smooth, dark face, and put the cigarette back in the box. ‘I need to quit,’ I said. ‘Come on, let’s take a walk instead.’”

This man—this President of the United States—Mr. Cool, as he’s often called, craving another cigarette: you want to hand it to him, not another cigarette but the desire to help him control the intake of nicotine, as if that’s all it will take for our nation to be healed again. If Obama can stop smoking, our problems will all go away. If only it were that simple.

After I finished smoking my Beedi, I tossed the rest of the package away. One lapse in thirty or forty years. No big deal, until the next morning, walking around the streets of Jaisalmer, when I spotted one of India’s legalized Bhang shops. I asked the guide I was walking with how much I’d have to pay for an ounce of marijuana. He responded, “One hundred rupees,” about two American dollars. I paused briefly, snapped a photo of the storefront, and walked on, repressing another pleasure from the past.

I imagine that Barack Obama would have done the same, though no addiction is ever so easily dispatched. It may be easier to fix the economy.

CHARLES R. LARSON is Professor of Literature at American University in Washington, D.C.

Charles R. Larson is Emeritus Professor of Literature at American University, in Washington, D.C. Email = clarson@american.edu. Twitter @LarsonChuck.

May 03, 2016
Gary Leupp
Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Policy Resumé: What the Record Shows
Michèle Brand – Arun Gupta
What is the “Nuit Debout”?
Chuck Churchill
The Failures of Capitalism, Donald Trump and Right Wing Terror
Dave Marsh
Bernie and the Greens
John Wight
Zionism Should be on Trial, Not Ken Livingstone
Rev. John Dear
A Dweller in Peace: the Life and Times of Daniel Berrigan
Patrick Cockburn
Saudi Arabia’s Great Leap Forward: What Would Mao Think?
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Electoral Votes Matter: Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders vs Donald Trump
Chris Gilbert
Venezuela Today: This Must Be Progress
Pepe Escobar
The Calm Before the Coming Global Storm
Ruth Fowler
Intersecting with the Identity Police (Or Why I Stopped Writing Op-Eds)
Victor Lasa
The Battle Rages on in Spain: the Country Prepares for Repeat Elections in June
Jack Rasmus
Is the US Economy Heading for Recession?
Dean Baker
Time for an Accountable Federal Reserve
Ted Rall
Working for US Gov Means Never Saying Sorry
Dave Welsh
Hunger Strikers at Mission Police Station: “Stop the execution of our people”
John Eskow
The Death of Prince and the Death of Lonnie Mack
May 02, 2016
Michael Hudson – Gordon Long
Wall Street Has Taken Over the Economy and is Draining It
Paul Street
The Bernie Fade Begins
Ron Jacobs
On the Frontlines of Peace: the Life of Daniel Berrigan
Louis Yako
Dubai Transit
Bill Quigley
Teacher, Union Leader, Labor Lawyer: Profile of Chris Williams Social Justice Advocate
Patrick Cockburn
Into the Green Zone: Iraq’s Disintegrating Political System
Lawrence Ware
Trump is the Presidential Candidate the Republicans Deserve
Ron Forthofer
Just Say No to Corporate Rule
Ralph Nader
The Long-Distance Rebound of Bernie Sanders
Ken Butigan
Remembering Daniel Berrigan, with Gratitude
Nicolas J S Davies
Escalating U.S. Air Strikes Kill Hundreds of Civilians in Mosul, Iraq
Binoy Kampmark
Class, Football, and Blame: the Hillsborough Disaster Inquest
George Wuerthner
The Economic Value of Yellowstone National Park
Rivera Sun
Celebrating Mother Jones
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir and Postcolonialism
Mairead Maguire
Drop the Just War Theory
Weekend Edition
April 29, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Andrew Levine
What is the Democratic Party Good For? Absolutely Nothing
Roberto J. González – David Price
Anthropologists Marshalling History: the American Anthropological Association’s Vote on the Academic Boycott of Israeli Institutions
Robert Jacobs
Hanford, Not Fukushima, is the Big Radiological Threat to the West Coast
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh
US Presidential Election: Beyond Lesser Evilism
Dave Lindorff
The Push to Make Sanders the Green Party’s Candidate
Peter Linebaugh
Marymount, Haymarket, Marikana: a Brief Note Towards ‘Completing’ May Day
Ian Fairlie
Chernobyl’s Ongoing Toll: 40,000 More Cancer Deaths?
Pete Dolack
Verizon Sticks it to its Workers Because $45 Billion isn’t Enough
Moshe Adler
May Day: a Trade Agreement to Unite Third World and American Workers
Margaret Kimberley
Dishonoring Harriet Tubman
Deepak Tripathi
The United States, Britain and the European Union
Eva Golinger
My Country, My Love: a Conversation with Gerardo and Adriana of the Cuban Five
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail