Tuesday, March 23, 2010

The Lives of our Leaders: Why Does Obama Smoke?

If you are the President of the United States, you want to set an example, especially for the nation’s school children, who often see your face in the very classrooms in which they learn.  No president since Teddy Roosevelt has been more aware of his responsibility to the nation’s children than Barack Obama, just as no president was less aware than Bill Clinton, particularly in his attitude towards cigars. But Obama has been torn between his desire to do good and his desire to be cool. As must be plain by this point in his presidency, Obama is a bit of a Francophile. For starters, it's obvious that we can add his name to the list of Carla Bruni idolators. How do we know this? Because of the fact that ever since the Obamas started to socialize with the Sarkozys, Barack has been trying to make Michelle in Carla’s image. Michelle’s inauguration gown is only one case in point, her J. Crew outfits notwithstanding. Of course underneath this veneer of polite emulation is a seething desire to serve croque monsieur, pommes frites, salade lyonnaise, steak au poivre, and fromage at state dinners. It is understandable Obama would prefer baguettes to Wonder bread, though it took a dose of wonder and a ton of bread to get his health care plan passed in congress. But recent interviews with those who knew Obama during his years as a Columbia undergraduate recall an impassioned lover of early French cinema, in particular JeanVigo’s L’Atalante and Zéro de conduite and Jean Renoir’s La Grande Illusion and La Règle du jeu. Obama reputedly walked down Broadway from Columbia to see these flicks at a famous art-house cinema called the Thalia. In these films, all the major characters have Gauloises, the popular French cigarette, dangling from their mouths. It has even been rumored that Obama had the famous picture of Albert Camus, the author of L’Etranger, with a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth, in his dorm room. Obama has definitely tried to control his smoking for the sake of America’s youth, but once he finishes his second term, he will undoubtedly be found wearing a beret on the Quai d’Orsay, cigarette smoke rising in curls from his Gauloise. Maybe Obama will even use the proceeds from his biographies to set up a book stall along the Seine, as generations of French smokers with berets have done. They say when Obama was a young man, André Malraux, author of Man’s Fate and Hope, and a statesman and lover in his own right, was another of his heroes. There must be plenty of pictures of Malraux with a cigarette hanging from the side of his mouth.


  1. "A dose of wonder and a ton of bread..." Very witty, Francis! Perhaps the President should adopt the tactic of another Roosevelt (FDR) and use a cigarette holder. But in this era of the White House as Glass Cage, he'd better take care to keep such habits a lot more under wraps -- at least until he can draw the curtains on the Cage. The C-in-C in our day and age knows no private life.

  2. Unless Abramovic becomes president, then her presidency will involved sitting in a cage all day SP


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