Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Drug Candidates

Maybe it was a publicity stunt. After all, 100,000 people have viewed a speech presidential candidate Rick Perry gave last week. They are watching to try to determine whether he was stoned or not, but they are watching. Another 2 million have watched highlights of the speech, which give essentially the same impression as the full speech. Search YouTube for “Rick Perry drunk” and you can find all this easily. The debate over whether Perry was under the influence of alcohol and/or a controlled substance rages on, a week later, and it’s probably one of those questions that will never be definitively answered.

What you can say for sure when watching Perry’s speech, though, is that he was having trouble keeping a straight face. That he wasn’t feeling the kind of respect for the audience that normally goes with political speeches. That his speech was slurred, with words running together, key consonants missing, and misplaced emphasis in almost every sentence. That the audience, consisting largely of his own supporters, was embarrassed and uncomfortable for most of the 25 minutes. Perry may or may not have been on drugs during the speech, but he was presenting himself as a man who was.

Drug use of another kind turned up in what is officially considered a campaign advertisement for Herman Cain, but what is in practice a tobacco advertisement. It consists of little more than a campaign staffer puffing on a cigarette. Search YouTube for “Herman Cain smoking” to see this one. Tobacco companies are not allowed to present television commercials that show people smoking, but they are permitted to funnel unlimited sums of money to candidates who do so. It is the kind of loophole that a man who is not serious about running for president might employ.

A public opinion survey found that the Cain advertisement made most voters uncomfortable, including voters of his own party. Viewers saw the commercial as an endorsement of cigarette smoking and didn’t feel that promoting tobacco use was a proper part of political discussion.

In both cases, candidates are associating themselves with the idea of drug use, and voters are uncomfortable and resisting that message. People don’t believe drugs are the answer. But there are political candidates who are willing to give drugs a try, at least as a political strategy.