The summer after high school my friends and I did the requisite driving around Brooklyn while blasting music out of our car windows. We were going through a pretty serious Beatles phase, just in time for college, when we came across a song by them we hadn't heard before.
It was "You know my name, look up the number." We sat quietly in my car as it played and when it was over there was only one thing to be said: the Beatles had to be joking. What was that?! We concluded that after years of making excellent music enjoyed by the masses the Beatles realized that people will buy, and love, everything they make no matter how ridiculous. To test this theory they put out a song which was a big, steaming pile of...not very good music.
I remembered this sensation while watching Herman Cain's now-infamous "smoking" ad. In it, Herman Cain's Chief of Staff, Mark Block, talks about taking the country back and how he believes in Herman Cain. A fine ad, an impassioned ad, a slightly odd ad, sure, because who features their Chief of Staff in their campaign ads but generally staid. And then Mark Block takes a long drag of his cigarette as a rock song plays "I am America..." and everyone watching collectively asks "what is this?"
It feels like the Beatles all over again. Herman Cain's polling numbers are out of this world for a candidate with no money, little organization and no previous political experience. He crushes debates. He's the candidate most voters would like to invite to dinner. I've been in small crowds and big crowds with Herman Cain and he is always electrifying. He is charming, affable, extremely likable. It seems like his campaign team decided to see how weird they could get, perhaps to get earned media, perhaps just for the fun of it, perhaps to see just if Herman Cain was made of Beatles-level-teflon.
I've been on campaigns and it's true that most people smoke. What else were we supposed to do when we're up at 5am, it's still dark out, it's always freezing no matter where we are, and we haven't slept more than 4 hours a night in months. This ad, though, wasn't about that.
It wasn't about how hard Mark Block works for Herman Cain, how he probably hardly sees his family during campaign season and how the five minutes every few hours where he smokes a cigarette might be his only free time of the day. Listening to Herman Cain explain the ad, something about Block respecting non-smokers and making the choice to smoke, it's clear that it wasn't about anything, just like "You know my name, look up the number.", and both Beatles-fans and Cain-fans deserve better.
Born in the Soviet Union and raised in Brooklyn, Karol Markowicz is a public relations consultant in NYC and a veteran of Republican campaigns in four states. She blogs about politics at Alarming News and about life in the city with her husband and baby at 212 Baby. She can be followed on Twitter.