The video: In movies and high school parking lots, smoking a cigarette has long been cheap, easy, unhealthy shorthand for "alluring rebel." It's also a signifier that has rarely been used in modern politics — until now. An "amazing" new campaign video from surprise GOP presidential frontrunner and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain features his chief of staff, Mark Block, taking a drag. (See the clip below.) The one-minute spot shows Block talking up his guy in a series of tight close-up shots jump-cut together. "America's never seen a candidate like Herman Cain," Block says seriously. Then an 80-esque pop song begins playing. A female vocalist sings, "I am America," and Block dramatically takes a puff on a cigarette. Cut to a shot of Cain himself, wearing a knowing grin.
The reaction: "If Block is trying to showcase Cain's unusual candidacy, smoking a cigarette is one way to do so," says Geneva Sands-Sadowitz at The Hill, though "most contemporary politicians," like President Obama, "keep their smoking private." True, "making a bold statement against anti-smoking regulations would seem general election suicide," says Garance Franke-Ruta at The Atlantic. But it's "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." The smoking isn't the only "bizarre" thing here, says Brian Montopoli at CBS News. "A number of factors make the spot... very strange: Block's halting delivery, the close-up nature of the shots, and a pair of rapid pans away from Block's face before the cuts." Judge for yourself: