Pundits nationwide wail “Where was the Obama we know” after last night’s surprising vacant, fumbling and almost distracted performance, and the answer is obvious.

The guy is dying for a smoke.

He shows all the typical symptoms of nicotine withdrawal.  The inability to focus or concentrate, the halting delivery, the rambling on, and the sudden glassy-eyed stare off into nowhere we saw for an hour and a half last night are all too familiar to those who have had serial encounters with the “I’m trying to quit” goblin.

It’s well known that the President has been struggling to quit, and perhaps not so well known that the struggle continues without much success.  Nothing could be worse.  As a veteran of upwards of twenty such attempts, we now can explain several aspects of Obama’s behavior that have drawn comment.

Hates long meetings.  No kidding.  After about forty-five minutes, all he can think of is “I need to get the hell out of here and light up.”  Worse still, it’s not like he can just step outside.  Cameras click, etc.  The Secret Service most likely must secure a “smoking room” for the POTUS wherever he goes, far from prying eyes.

Needs frequent breaks for “personal time” during the day — especially after meetings.  See above.

Loves to play golf.  It’s not the golf.  It’s the woods.  He probably pull-hooks one into the trees on purpose every three holes just to grab a couple of tokes.

Is impatient and sometimes irritable.  Gee.  Where have we seen that before?

Frankly, all of this is pretty troubling.  Here we are in the middle of a number of simultaneous crises — the economy, the Middle East, Europe, energy — and the guy at the helm is not exactly clicking on all his cylinders.  While the world’s hot spots are jumping, the President is jonesing.

Our advice, Mr. President, is to light up.  For the good of the country.  With any luck, it won’t be for long.  You’ll have plenty of time in a few months to kick back, relax, write your memoirs, build your library, emulate Carter and Clinton, and finally — dare we say it? — kick butts.