On Tuesday, three of my friends emailed me about a Herman Cain ad that was on the Internet. In the ad, Mark Block, the Cain campaign chief of staff, makes his pitch for supporting the campaign and then takes a puff of a cigarette. The ad ends with Cain slowly smiling. Someone commented on YouTube that it was at once the worst political ad he had ever seen and the greatest political ad he had ever seen.
As for me, I love the ad.
I should mention that I’m not endorsing any candidate for the GOP nomination, but anyone would be better than Barack Obama. As a registered independent voter in Oklahoma, a state with a closed primary system, I’ll be unable to vote in the GOP primary, though in the first week of November I will post a column here on The Daily Caller surveying all the candidates’ views on federal tobacco policy.
The ad is great because it’s in-your-face and anti-politically correct. In our politically correct society, what is really normal (smoking a cigarette) is now seen as taboo, and so it gets our attention. School shootings, the abduction of toddlers, sweetheart deals for unions and politically connected businesses and out-of-control spending by our government don’t get our attention. They’re all now seen as normal.
We’re conditioned to view smoking as stupid and evil because it’s possible to get cancer from doing it. And yet, political correctness is the true cancer infecting all Western societies. Political correctness elevates race, gender and class above merit and decency. Political correctness elected Barack Obama to the presidency. Political correctness allows the state to interfere in every aspect of your life. In New York City, you can’t smoke in a bar or in a park, nor can you eat trans fats or have table salt in a restaurant, and clergy weren’t allowed to speak at the dedication of the 9/11 memorial last month. But that same city pushes really deviant material in sex education curricula for sixth-graders. Meanwhile, in parts of California you can’t buy a newly built home with a wood-burning fireplace. These are just a few of the examples of the cancer of political correctness that, if allowed to remain in the body politic, will kill our liberties and society.
In the 1920s, G. K. Chesterton presaged the present:
“The lack of clear standards among those who vaguely think of smoking as a vice may yet be the beginning of much peril and oppression … When it is a crime to smoke a cigarette in public, it is absurd to say of such societies that they are particularly careful of the legal liberties of the individual.”
Now with the foregoing background, I return to the Cain cigarette smoking ad. It’s interesting that some people are baffled by it, including Fox News’s Sean Hannity on the right and MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow on the left. Sean Hannity said, “I don’t understand it,” and Rachel Maddow called it “inexplicable.” But I’m not baffled, and I do understand it. Mark Block says in the campaign ad, “We’ve run a campaign like nobody’s ever seen, but then America’s never seen a candidate like Herman Cain.”
The Herman Cain ad has a subtle message, indeed a subliminal message, which will eventually emerge into Hannity’s and Maddow’s and most other voters’ consciousnesses. The message is that Herman Cain is opposed to political correctness, which is ruining our country, is opposed to the nanny state and is in favor of the legal liberties of the individual.
As Block takes a drag off his cigarette and exhales, showing a slight smile, the ad cuts to a tight shot of Cain slowly showing a smile, and we hear: “I am America, one voice, united we stand.” The message is Reaganesque: Lighten up! Smile. America is still a great country.
Smoke for liberty!
Theodore J. King is the author of the book The War on Smokers and the Rise of the Nanny State, available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Books a Million. He has been a columnist for the conservative quarterly The Oklahoma Constitution newspaper since 2000.