September 24, 2013

"I haven’t had a cigarette in probably 6 years. That’s because I’m scared of my wife.”

Said Barack Obama, caught in a seemingly candid moment.

I don't believe in the truth of either statement — that he hasn't had a cigarette in about 6 years and that he's scared of his wife — but I don't hear an intent that these remarks be taken as true. I hear an off-the-record interaction with one individual that's about making a friendly connection. There's camaraderie in displaying that he knows something personal about the other man and — since what he knows is that the man has a substance addiction problem — referring to his own parallel weakness.

He doesn't scold or put down the other man, but expresses hope — hope! — that the man has quit smoking and makes the possibly untrue assertion that he hasn't smoked one cigarette in "probably 6 years." This is an encouraging remark, and I think that it was offered in the spirit of encouragement but that Obama also realized that it might sound braggadocious, so he toned it down with the self-deprecating humor about being scared of his wife.

That gives an explanation for not smoking and works as posing that he's an ordinary guy tending to the demands of his wife, even though he is the most powerful man in the world. This is humanizing and a bit silly, and it's a male-bonding moment, containing the implication that wives are demanding and require appeasement.

If you want to mock or criticize Obama here, I think the more sophisticated speculation not that he's revealed he's subservient and pusillanimous, but that this is misogyny or male chauvinism. Obama is using his wife — both as a stereotypical woman and as the caricature of her that we see in the media — to make points with another man. Michelle Obama is not there. It's a remark about her behind her back. She's not named, but called "my wife." And she's scary. He's not actually scared, just tapping an old sexist mindset that makes it possible to laugh at stupid cartoons like this:



And Obama is simultaneously appropriating the anti-Michelle propaganda of his political opponents. He's casually gesturing at the huge pile of mean-spirited scribblings about how she's always nagging everybody about health, all the miscellaneous things scribbled on web pages and illustrated with photos like this:



Feminists and traditionalists alike can chide the man who engages in loose, humorous talk about his wife behind her back.

***

"Honor your marriage; keep it pure by remaining true to your wife in every way."

40 comments:

St. George said...

I have a hard time imagining JFK saying that, even in jest.

Or Nixon (who smoked a pipe) or Grant, LBJ, Eisenhower (a four-pack-a-day man until 1949), Adams (who started at age 8), or W.

It's an odd thing to say, and it reinforces one's perception that the man is a weakling.

Professor, most guys don't joke about being afraid of their wives. Unless they really are!

Carol said...

Yeah this tactic is still real common out here in flyover. Both men and women seem to eat it up, or at least the older ones do. Oddly enough, it's often presented as a sop to feminism, when it's really just the old War of the Sexes redux.

That tiresome trope is why some of us went off the reservation in the 60s. You couldn't willingly walk into that kind of predestined scenario. So buy a used VW bus and run away.

Clyde said...

I don't like him, and I don't like her. It's my studied opinion that they probably deserve each other, and yes, I know that's heartless and cruel. Maybe Obamacare will give me a heart implant. Or not.

Almost Ali said...

That's a great picture of Michelle without her makeup.

Skeptical Voter said...

Oh I don't know. I'm scared of Michelle.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Better than Vera."

Captain Ned said...

Today is a good day to die.

Matthew Sablan said...

"Or Nixon (who smoked a pipe) or Grant, LBJ, Eisenhower (a four-pack-a-day man until 1949), Adams (who started at age 8), or W."

-- George W. Bush has been quite open that one reason he stopped drinking is Laura confronting him about it. So, I'm not sure I'd say that. Ever since Enkidu, myth has basically stated: Women help to civilize men and make them better. In this case, Obama (and Bush), are crediting the women in their lives with helping them make healthier life choices.

I wouldn't read too much more into it than the guy who hates his coach for making him run laps. It's not real anger/fear, so much as a dislike of tough love.

But, I'll still make Cheers references about it.

machine said...

...of course they are going to mock and criticize. It's why you do what you do.

Darrell said...

So are the Media and insiders that claimed he smoked since becoming President liars? Or does he not know where 6 years takes him back in time?

surfed said...

The African-American family is a matriarchal unit. If I tell one of my Af-Am students "I'm going to call your father about your behavior" more likely than not all I get is bemused eye rolling. If I tell them I'm calling their mother I get very worried looks and in some cases instant compliance. Af-Am mothers, in the South at least, still snatch and spank their children. And it has been my experience that the occasional snatching and spanking does wonders in focusing young people's classroom behavior. As an aside, I'd be scared of Michelle too.

Rumpletweezer said...

There is no Michelle, there is only Zuul.

ajs said...

Interesting thoughts, and I hadn't thought of the comment in this way initially. I first accepted it at face value, only because Michelle frequently nags and criticizes him in public (on this topic, on leaving his socks laying around, on his morning breath, etc). So I wouldn't be surprised if she is this way (only more so) in private.

It's odd, because I can't recall any other spouse of a political public figure behaving this way. Is there any similar example?

St. George said...

The issue is not whether or not the President is afraid of his wife, the issue is that he jokes about it in public when he should well know that how it might be interpreted.

For example, when asked how he stopped smoking, Ike didn't say, "Oh, gosh, I was afraid of Mamie!"

No.

He said he stopped through sheer force of personal willpower. Guts. Determination. Courage.

"After a few days of limiting his smoking, Eisenhower decided that counting his cigarettes was worse than not smoking at all, and he quit. He never had another cigarette in his life. ...

Eisenhower was frequently asked how he did it; he replied that it was simple, all he did was put smoking out of his mind. It helped, he would add with a grin, to develop a scornful attitude toward those weakling who did not have the will power to break their enslavement. He [remarked]: "I nursed to the utmost ... my ability to sneer."

My guess is that he would think Pres. Obama is a "weakling."

Hagar said...

"You hear me, Barack!"

John said...

Andy Capp
Dagwood and Blondie
Bringing up Father (Maggie and Jiggs)
Snuffy Smith

And others, including the cartoon you posted.

(For those who do not recognize the names above, they are all comic strips that ran in American newspapers for scores of years)

In the US we have a century long history where a man hitting a woman is wrong, wrong, wrong. We have emphasised that more and more in recent years but the general view has been consistent for a hundred or more years.

Yet, when a woman beats a man with a pocketbook, umbrella, rolling pin, frying pan, broom or whatever, it becomes high comedy.

Domestic violence is about 2 things: Domestic relationships and violence. Woman on man, man on man (gay) and woman on woman (lesbian) violence happen at about the same rates as man on woman violence yet it is usually ignored or, as Ann shows us, made a joke of.

Obama, by saying, jokingly or not, that he is scared of Michelle plays right into this problem. He implies, it seems to me, that he is scared of what Michelle would physically do to him. Again, probably jokingly.

This is like joking about rape. It denigrates a serious problem.

I don't like it.

John Henry

mrs. e said...

It is an addiction. I applaud anybody who is trying to quit, regardless of their motivation....it is not easy.

Also, props for sharing his own experience, strength and hope with this UN official. Good luck to both of them.

Edmund said...

Hey, I have joked that I have to be good because my wife has access to dangerous drugs. When she's heard me say it, she usually says "Damn straight!".

(She's a doctor, not a dealer.)

Expat(ish) said...

"implication that wives are demanding and require appeasement"

Of course wives are demanding and require appeasement. As do husbands, children, and parents.

It's just that men can joke about it. Women probably do, too, when men aren't listening. Or maybe when they are, but maybe I wasn't listening.

-XC

Expat(ish) said...

"implication that wives are demanding and require appeasement"

Of course wives are demanding and require appeasement. As do husbands, children, and parents.

It's just that men can joke about it. Women probably do, too, when men aren't listening. Or maybe when they are, but maybe I wasn't listening.

-XC

The Godfather said...

I don't care whether or not Obama smokes, or whether or not he's henpecked, but I was interested in St. George's description of how Eisenhower gave up smoking.

Ike was the first president that I remember; I was 9 when he was elected. I thought he was great. I didn't know that he'd ever smoked until I read David Eisenhower's book about his grandfather's actions during WW II. What St. George describes as the way Ike gave up smoking is pretty much the way I did so many years later -- except that I didn't scorn those who still smoked. My father-in-law had adopted that scornful attitude when he quit, while I as still a smoker, and I had that behavior as an example of something I wanted to avoid if possible. But if that's what it takes, that's what you do.

gk1 said...

I guess it presupposes Obama ever gave up smoking in the first place, which I wouldn't be surprised to find out is untrue. I suppose he has to humor his ever dwindling minions that he gave up that icky habit and does whatever his wife tells him to do. There is a reason why people call him "President Mom jeans"

jr565 said...

Michelle put down the red line and Obama's gene too sacred to cross it. Maybe SHE should be president.

Levi Starks said...

The Key word in Barack's statement is "about" 6 years. His ability to self rationalize truth to meet his personal agenda could easily mean that "about 6 years"=about 6 minutes. In his post modern mind everything is relative to his needs. even time.

MadisonMan said...

Many men do many things to please their wives. And many women do many things to please their husbands.

It's called being in a happy marriage.

(B) Obama has apparently married a strong woman, so of course this is the kind of thing he'll joke about, as a way of acknowledging (M) Obama's strength, and also needling her.

Virgil Hilts said...

I wonder if Vladimir Putin is scared of Alina Kabayeva.

Jim said...

I have often wondered if he really quit. He spends most of his free time at the last place where smoking is permitted, the golf course. Would we really trust the press to tell us if he smoked on the golf course? I wouldn't.

elkh1 said...

How about "Honor your marriage; keep it pure by not nagging your husband in every way."

MayBee said...

I'm more into couples being big pubic boosters of each other. I've never really been amused by the humor where you cut down your spouse or act as though they are overbearing or mean.

Peter said...

I see no reason to be upset about the President being "afraid" of Michelle. A reasonable interpretation would be that she can make his life less pleasant, not that he's going to smash him over the head with a frying pan.

It's hardly a secret that married men tend to be healthier because their wives nag then to see a doctor.

I'd be more concerned about his dishonesty. "About six years" may mean six hours for all I know- I just doubt he hasn't smoked in six years. I don't see how one can kick an addiction unless one is at least honest with oneself- if you're not really "on the wagon" you need to say so.

And, no, I'm not an expert on addictions. Although I did quit cigarettes (a long, long time ago). It was unpleasant and difficult but far from the most unpleasant or difficult thing I've ever done. As former pres. Eisenhower apparently noted, it just takes sufficient will power.

And, although we've gotten used to presidents lying about all sorts of stuff (e.g., Eisenhower lied about Gary Power's U2 flight over the USSR) it's just unusually hard to trust that anything Pres. Obama says is true- because somehow what he says is always about the ultimate purpose he wants to achieve. And that rarely seems to be a straightforward expression of truth.

Belial said...

Oh, come on. I'm a feminist (inasmuch as I support equal rights for women - wow, that sounds so quaint) and a traditionalist (inasmuch as I think things ought not to be changed without a pretty good reason) and I loathe Obama as much as the next guy. But this comment? Seems like a pretty chickenshit thing to get on him about.

Oh, and I don't believe Blondie ever beat up on Dagwood. But I haven't read every Blondie comic from the last 80 years.

Inga said...

If I were Michelle, I would be very annoyed by the constant referrals to her being the dominant spouse in the relationship. There is no need for one spouse to dominate the other and it's really not funny for a husband to make it seem so, for either he or his wife. It's making their relationship appear sadly comical, sort of like the embedded cartoon. He needs to stop.

Meade said...

It's obviously a cry for help.

mrs. e said...

Peter, your 'doubt' is nothing but projection. The truth is you don't know - I don't know, either. What I do know is that a lot of folks in recovery say 'about' when talking quickly about anniversary dates. It's quite common, really. There's a time and place to get specific - it's not here.

Belial said...

MayBee said...
I'm more into couples being big pubic boosters of each other.


Me too!

Sam L. said...

I like that "seemingly candid" qualifier.

Sam L. said...

surfed, that's because they have mothers. Fathers, maybe not. Or probably not, depending.

jeff said...

Mrs e. Projection? Nonsense. It could be based on many past comments that turned out not to be true. It could be base on articles written in the early days of his first 4 years about him stepping outside the Oval Office for a smoke, I think your calling that projection is just projection on your part.

Chuck said...

What bothers me about this story isn't that Barack Obama is a cad, or that Michelle Obama is a bitch.

No; what bothers me about this story is that the mainstream media (properly, I expect) let this story go, because it was Barack. If it had been a Republican president, the New York Times and public radio would have been alive with analysis about the troubled state of their relationship and the sad state of gender relations with members of the GOP.

Count on it.

Roux said...

And he has to lie about this ... jeez.