Posted on June 14, 2008
This initially appeared in The Hill's Pundits blog on April 21, 2008
Somewhere in the polls, the strategists for all the leading campaigns think that drinking alcohol in public is a good thing.
Perhaps that serves as a nice contrast to the current president, who is not just the “decider” but also the “abstainer.”
When Hillary Clinton went to a Pennsylvania bar for a shot and a beer, she tried to one-up Barack Obama, who had already been seen publicly drinking a few beers and eating some chicken wings.
But Clinton made a mistake with her shot. Instead of drinking a good Kentucky bourbon, she drank Crown Royal, a product of Canada.
It has been more than 75 years since Franklin Roosevelt ended Prohibition with the phrase, “I think it is time for a beer.” The Volstead Act, the single worst law ever enacted in history, was the product of intense lobbying by several temperance movements, including those led by the Methodists (Hillary’s denomination) and by several African-American organizations. Prohibition was one legislative item that united the Ku Klux Klan and the Progressives, showing that bad ideas can come from many places.
Americans have a long tradition of liking their booze. John Adams liked beer with his breakfast, and Thomas Jefferson was America’s first wine expert. George Washington’s first crisis as president was crushing the Whiskey Rebellion, fomented by a bunch of folks who didn’t want to pay taxes on whiskey. When Ulysses Grant’s conspicuous consumption of booze came to the attention of Abraham Lincoln, he asked simply, “What kind is it, and can we give it to our other generals?”
Prohibition made America a laughingstock in the rest of the world, contributed to the rise of Al Capone, increased the fortunes of the Kennedy family (Joseph Kennedy made millions off of bootlegging), and alienated many Catholics from the Republican Party for generations.
America’s love affair with alcohol survived Prohibition.
Harry Truman was drinking bourbon in the Board of Education Room with Speaker Sam Rayburn when he found out that his boss died and he would be president.
Lyndon Johnson reportedly liked scotch and soda so much that the Secret Service always had some extra around, just in case.
Nixon drank rum and coke, Ford liked gin and tonic, and Ronald Reagan showed his willingness to be bipartisan by having a beer with Tip O’Neill every once in a while.
When it comes to the current election, getting the drinkers on your side is definitely a good thing.
That is why both the Clinton and the McCain campaigns happily let it slip that they did shots of vodka together while they traveled to Russia.
It is hard to see McCain doing shots of anything with Sen. Obama.
Here’s a piece of advice to all the candidates as they head out of Pennsylvania and into the next primaries, which include Kentucky. Start drinking stuff made in America.
Nothing will say “I am a patriot” more than a shot of Jim Beam with a chaser of Bud.