Michael Warren Davies contends that American politics might be less rancorous and divisive, if only our leadership class had a drink and mellowed out.
Here’s a not-so-fun fact. Did you know that, in the 21st century, all but one of the American presidents have been teetotalers? …
If any readers can still recall those halcyon days of the Obama administration, they might remember Mr. Obama’s famous “Beer Summit,” which he hosted in the Rose Garden between Cambridge police officer James Crowley and Harvard lecturer Henry Louis Gates. Sargent Crowley (who is white) had arrested Professor Gates (who is black) for breaking into his own home. At their symposium, it’s said that Mr. Obama opted for a Bud Light and Sargent Crowley a Blue Moon. Professor Gates correctly enjoyed a Boston-brewed Sam Adams Light.
This simple gesture—kindred spirits meeting over kindred spirits—resolved the worst race relations crisis of the Obama years. “I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart,” the president said afterwards. “I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode.”
Here’s what I learned: politics and booze absolutely do mix. In fact, alcohol is to politics what gin is to vermouth: the only thing that makes it palatable.
What a shame then: just when we need it most, Americans are disabusing alcohol at alarming rates. Our countrymen—particularly Gen-Xers and Millennials—are becoming what scholars call “sober curious.” Their unwholesome experiments with healthy eating and regular exercise are spilling over into the realms of liquor and tobacco.
What’s really perverse is that Big Booze has begun to embrace the trend. Corporate breweries are now launching alcohol-free versions of their signature broths. Heineken has even launched “Heineken 0.0,” meaning you can now have all the joy of drinking horse urine without any of the pleasant side effects.
Alcohol inspires courage, frankness, and conviviality in the drinker—three traits sorely lacking in Washington these days. That’s why statesmen have always paired their beer or bourbon with a pipe, cigar, or cigarette. Tobacco elicits a meditative mood in the smoker. It enlivens the mind while soothing the nerves, making it a natural aid to conversation. How many unnecessary wars have been avoided, or necessary ones declared, thanks to old white men in high collars banging on ale-sodden tables and shouting through a fog of cavendish fumes? How can we hope to restore good government without first restoring the pint and the pipe?
Really, it’s no wonder that a generation of politicos that refuses to indulge in such homely vices have ushered in the most rancorous political culture since the Civil War. I don’t like this habit we’ve developed of comparing modern progressives to the Puritans. It’s an insult to our Pilgrim Fathers—who, one might add, carried more beer than water on the Mayflower.
Nevertheless, if you take a whole generation of middle-class professionals and deprive them of whiskey and cigarettes—not to mention meat and cheese and bread—it’s no wonder they should go about tearing down statues of Abe Lincoln as part of some moral crusade against “systemic racism.” The modern Left has the same bossy, superior air as the scolds and Suffragettes who gave us Prohibition.
It’s not that they insist on being unhappy. Real sorrow suits them no better than real joy. These extremes of human feeling, to which alcohol makes us quite vulnerable, both seem beyond them. They’re horribly self-possessed, self-assured—in a word, sober. What’s worse is that they expect the rest of us to be sober, too.
I long for an America that’s too happy and too sad to really take itself so seriously. That’s what we need now more than anything: to sit down for a beer in the presence of our enemies, trip over a stool, and laugh at ourselves.
It’s hard to blame Messrs. Bush, Trump, and Biden for their teetotalism. All three have pretty good excuses for abstaining. Still, I can’t help but feel that Americans deserve leaders that will set a better example.
Winston Churchill, for instance. Pol Rogers, the purveyors of Churchill’s favorite champagne, claim the man drank 42,000 bottles in his lifetime. Friends said that, like Harry Truman, he would begin each morning with a “whiskey mouthwash” before having his first glass (or three) of Pol at breakfast. FDR’s own intake was nothing short of heroic. Yet biographers recall that, after a meeting with his British counterpart, Roosevelt would have to sleep 10 hours a night for three nights in order to recuperate from “Winston Hours.”
Together, Churchill and Roosevelt whipped Adolf Hitler and saved Europe from fascism. What have our abstemious elites done lately?