What a great comedy ad that Herman Cain's campaign released yesterday, right? It's heartwarming to see one of these old, grizzled campaign hands, in this case chief of staff Mark Block, finally getting in front of the camera in his own element: Smoking a cigarette outside some building. Then there's terrible music, Herman Cain gradually smiling over the course of 10 seconds, the works. It's strange and exciting, effectiveness aside! And yet the image of this man smoking left many political writers somewhere between confused and horrified. What does the cigarette "mean"? It's today's hot topic.
Headlines from yesterday reveal a whole class of reporters and writers who apparently have never once seen someone smoking a cigarette. "Bizarre Herman Cain ad features chief of staff smoking," CBS News writes. "Smokin'! What's up with that Herman Cain aide with the cigarette?" the Christian Science Monitor wonders. "For Real? Herman Cain Ad Shows Chief of Staff Smoking a Cigarette," The Atlantic puts it. There are many more variations out there, all cut from the same OH MY GOD! HUH? WHAT IS HAPPENING? IT CANNOT BE REAL. BIZARRE! IS THIS HELL? cloth. The apoplexy then gives way to junior analysis. Watch, as The Atlantic tries to grapple with an image of a middle-aged aide smoking a cigarette through the lens of regulation:
Making a bold statement against anti-smoking regulations would seem general election suicide but also the sort of thing that might help Cain in Tea Party circles, where voters frequently complain about what they see as intrusive government regulations that prevent them from living the lifestyles they want to.
If this ad were to be "general election suicide," the fact that it's just a flack giving a boring spiel for the first 40 seconds would seem to be the larger problem. But aside from nodding to this vague explanation of the Tea Party's political philosophy, what other "theory" could back up the release of this web video?
It must be something darker, more psychological. ABC News wonders if the Cain campaign was trying to send a "coded message." Others, similarly, sense that there's a "subliminal message." It's true that Block and Cain both have had professional ties to the tobacco lobby, which leads the Buffalo Beast to opine, "Guys like Block & Cain - people with tobacco industry connections - don't just make a campaign video that features a guys smoking without considering those connections. It's not a flippant decision."
These super-close analyses of a guy smoking in a web video seem to underestimate the ability of the Herman Cain campaign to make flippant decisions, or for non-smokers to see this ad without then sauntering out, zombielike, to pick up a few cartons at the corner store. Anyway, here's Block's own explanation to all of this concern trolling from an interview today:
"There was no subliminal message. In fact, I personally would encourage people not to smoke. It's just that I'm a smoker. A lot of the people on the staff said ‘Just let Block be Block.' That's what it was all about. …
"I tell you, you walk into a veteran's bar in Iowa and they're sitting around smoking and you know we are resonating with them. I'm not the only one that smokes in America for God's sake. It was a choice I made and it was at the end of the ad. The real message that we're trying to get through was the Cain train is on a roll."
It just doesn't seem like the sort of thing that's worth writing thousands of words about, devising "theories."