I was arrested by the former Massachusetts governor, Mitt Romney’s remark, “I only spent four years as a governor. I didn’t inhale,” made in the Republican Presidential candidates debate on Fox News channel aired on September 22nd. I thought it means Romney hadn’t inhaled marijuana at top of my mind, but rethought it shouldn't be all what he meant.

Michael Scherer of the Time magazine reports that when Romney is asked if he thinks President Obama is a socialist by the moderator, he avoided the answer, and said:

“I love this country. I spent my life in the private sector, not in government. I only spent four years as a governor. I didn’t inhale.”

Scherer continues;

“This is funny. It seems like an attack on Bill Clinton who famously did inhale, but it is actually an attack on Perry, who not only has been in government for decades, but appears to have inhaled Benadryl dust.”

From the context of the sentence, I guess “inhale (dust)” means “being spoiled by bureaucratic atmosphere / trapped into trite, bureaucratic thinking patterns," but am not sure.

What does “inhale” or “inhale Benadryl dust” (I know Benadryl is a brand name of diphenhydramine hydrochloride) exactly mean? Is it understood to everybody for its own as “I didn’t inhale,” as Romney used without supplementing “what”?

  • It's a cultural reference.
    – user10893
    Sep 25, 2011 at 6:27
  • (to Clinton, I think)
    – user10893
    Sep 25, 2011 at 6:35
  • @simchona. As you commented it's a cultural reference, this quip is very hard for a foreign English learner to decode, as there is aparently no relationship between the fact Romney served 4 years as Mississippi governor and the fact that he hadn’t inhaled marijuana, which are put together in a single line. Sep 25, 2011 at 21:27
  • @YoichiOishi - I thought Romney served in Massachusetts?
    – beatgammit
    Sep 27, 2011 at 5:53

1 Answer 1


This joke is pretty contextual.

There are three references occurring in this writer's analysis of Romney's 'I didn't inhale.'

1) Bill Clinton famously claimed that he tried to smoke marijuana but didn't/couldn't inhale; he's been made fun of for this claim ever since.

2) The writer of this piece has an ongoing joke that Perry seemed high, or under the influence of drugs, during the debate. He describes this first as someone having slipped Benadryl (the medicine) into his Sanka (a brand of instant coffee), but the joke transitions into his having inhaled Benadryl dust (to inhale dust is another way to get high, by inhaling a powdered drug). This did not actually occur; the writer is trying to be funny. (Added: Even the writer's reference to Sanka, a decaffeinated coffee, is an attempt to make fun of Romney, who, as a Mormon, abstains from consuming caffeine.)

3) What Romney actually means to say (and the answer to your question) is that he hasn't been overly influenced or tarnished by politics, that he is really a 'private sector guy' and not a professional politician. His use of 'I didn't inhale' - and you'll see this usage other places - means to say that he didn't absorb the culture, here, of Washington/the political world. (This is, of course, a teasing reference to the situation in #1, in which Clinton claimed that, though exposed to the nefarious influence of weed, he did not succumb.)

You may also see the phrase drink the Kool-Aid to describe a total convert who subscribes to something completely. It has negative connotations, meaning the person has been brainwashed and no longer really thinks rationally or for him/herself on the topic.

  • 0 down vote A subtlety here is that Sanka is decaffeinated (i.e. acceptable for a Mormon to drink).
    – D Krueger
    Sep 25, 2011 at 7:09
  • Yes, absolutely true. I thought adding that in would only complicate matters and wasn't essential to understanding the dynamics here, so I left it out.
    – user13141
    Sep 25, 2011 at 7:15
  • Added it to the answer.
    – user13141
    Sep 25, 2011 at 7:17
  • So this is a pretty elaborate and subtle joke/jab by Romney?
    – Mitch
    Sep 25, 2011 at 15:00
  • 1
    @D Krueger- At the risk of being off-topic, it isn't the caffeine that makes it against Mormon culture to drink, it's the coffee itself. This is a gray area, but it is generally accepted (in most circles) that decaffeinated coffee is not acceptable. Many Mormons do, in fact, drink caffeinated beverages, just not coffee or tea.
    – beatgammit
    Sep 27, 2011 at 5:39

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