January 25, 2013

This one is entirely personal, and it is offered in an entirely non-partisan spirit.

First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and U.S. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno watch the inaugural parade (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
First lady Michelle Obama, President Barack Obama and U.S. Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. Raymond Odierno watch the inaugural parade. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

In a letter to The Post published Friday morning, William A. George of Rockville took President Obama to task for chewing gum during the inaugural parade. Here is part of what he wrote:

I’m a President Obama fan, don’t get me wrong, but during the inauguration parade, I was surprised to see him chewing gum on the reviewing stand for all the world to see. At 79, am I so hopelessly behind the times? Is gum chewing today socially acceptable, regardless of where you are?

At one level, of course, Mr. George is right: We do have a social stricture against gum-chewing in public because it is a rather unattractive habit.

But I share with the president — and with millions of other Americans of all parties and none — something in my past that drives me to chew gum almost perpetually: I am an ex-smoker, and I am utterly devoted to Nicorette gum. (I guess addicted would be a more honest word.) I know the president has chewed Nicorette in the past, though perhaps he has gotten off the nicotine-laden stuff and now chews regular gum. One way or the other, the gum is helping keep the president away from cigarettes. Isn’t that something we should all applaud? Naturally, I applaud it, because that is my rationale for my Nicorette habit. I do not for an instant pretend that this post is either dispassionate or objective. We gum-chewing ex-smokers must stick together.

In a spirit of bipartisanship, I hereby offer to defend any other ex-smoker politician or public figure — left or right, Republican or Democrat, tea party of progressive — who ever gets grief for chewing gum in public. And Mr. George, I’d ask you to forgive us. We all devoutly wish to live at least 79 years, too. That’s why we chomp rather than inhale.

E.J. Dionne writes about politics in a twice-weekly column and on the PostPartisan blog. He is also a senior fellow in Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, a government professor at Georgetown University and a frequent commentator on politics for National Public Radio, ABC’s “This Week” and NBC’s “Meet the Press.”