The New York Times ran a lengthy piece in Wednesday’s edition generously titled “Obama’s Uncertain Path Amid Syria Bloodshed,” about the president’s waffling about what to do, if anything, about the conflict there. While the story contains ample details and insight, one passage in particular has proved irresistible to bloggers and news aggregators:
Even as the debate about arming the rebels took on a new urgency, Mr. Obama rarely voiced strong opinions during senior staff meetings. But current and former officials said his body language was telling: he often appeared impatient or disengaged while listening to the debate, sometimes scrolling through messages on his BlackBerry or slouching and chewing gum.
Emphasis mine, of course, because Obama is committing no less than three faux pas here: He’s using a BlackBerry; he’s sitting like a surly teenager; and he’s chewing gum. The latter is by far the most offensive.
There are only two instances in which chewing gum is acceptable: You have just vomited, and need to rid your mouth of the aftertaste. Or you’re trying to quit cigarettes (or dip, or chew, or snuff). Obama falls in the latter category, which we know because the Times story is hardly the first time the president’s gum-chewing has made news. He’s been seen chewing gum at two G-20 summits, Nicorette has been photographed on his desk, and he was “caught” unwrapping a piece of it at January’s inauguration, throughout which he chewed vigorously (but had the decorum, at least, to keep his mouth mostly closed while chewing, which can’t be said for most of the world’s gum-smacking Neanderthals):
This prompted an elevated debate between proponents of “manners and gracious living” on the one hand, and people who don’t want to die of lung cancer on the other. Not represented were people, like me, who couldn’t care less about manners and simply find gum-chewing to be one of the most obnoxious things that too many humans do on a regular basis. It’s right up there with foot-tapping, nose-wheezing, and open-mouthed popcorn gorging. So yes, by all means use Nicorette to quit smoking, but please don’t then get addicted to Nicorette, because I’d rather inhale second-hand smoke than see your mouth jawing like you’re rolling deep with Molly.
Still, chewing gum during a presidential inauguration is one thing. I get it—it’s kind of a frivolous affair! Especially if you’ve been there before. But chewing gum “as Syria burns”? That’s another thing entirely. However stressful the situation may be—and deciding whether to intervene in a civil war that has claimed some 100,000 lives is about as stressful as it gets—you must not, Mr. President, chew gum of any kind. Because then the nation’s leading paper will take that fact and combine it, in a descriptive sentence meant as metaphor, with "slouching" and "scrolling through messages," and then everyone will quote that sentence in headlines and the public at large will think you don’t give a damn, that you are decidedly unpresidential, that you are one of those gum-chewing types.
Ryan Kearney is a story editor at The New Republic.