Alcohol and presidential politics have a long and honorable history in America.
George Washington distilled whiskey and brewed beer and made liberal use of both in his various elections. He and Martha would convene daily at around 3 p.m. for a toddy.
Thomas Jefferson was a wine connoisseur and John Adams drank beer. According to a Web site that tracks these matters, the 55 drafters of the Constitution celebrated their achievement with 54 bottles of Madeira, 60 bottles of claret, 8 bottles of whiskey, 22 bottles of port, 8 bottles of hard cider, 12 beers and 7 bowls of alcoholic punch.
While driving around his ranch, Lyndon Johnson drank scotch and soda from a large cup, periodically replenished by the Secret Service. Both Richard Nixon and Franklin Roosevelt were known for their martinis.
But George W. Bush famously gave up drinking the day after his 40th birthday, and while his formal White House dinners feature cocktails and fine wine he doesn’t give many of them.
So alcohol has generally been absent from the presidential life this past 7 1/2 years, but it’s making a promising comeback in the campaigns for the Democratic and Republican nominations.
On a recent Saturday night in Crown Point, Indiana, a town perhaps not over blessed with distractions, Sen. Hillary Clinton stopped by Bronko’s Restaurant for a beer. The bartender hospitably asked, “You want a shot with that, Hillary?”
Curiously for an opponent of the North American Free Trade Agreement, she ordered a Crown Royal, a Canadian whiskey, which she demurely sipped for the cameras.
Her opponent, Sen. Barack Obama, did not let this pass unchallenged, criticizing unnamed candidates, although he has only one, who “will promise you anything. They’ll even give you a long list of proposals. (Hillary Clinton is a noted policy wonk) They’ll come around with TV crews in tow and throw back a shot and a beer.”
To be fair, TV crews follow her everywhere and, true, Clinton might have been trying to accrue some blue collar cred, but the fact is, she has a track record with regard to shots.
During a 2006 trip to Estonia, at her suggestion, she and fellow Armed Services Committee member John McCain and their staffs indulged in a night of trading vodka shots. “One of the guys,” McCain later said of her.
In striving to be just one of the guys, Barack Obama and Sen. Bob Casey dropped into Sharkey’s Cafi, a Latrobe, Pa., sports bar, to watch some hoops and knock back some Yuenglings, a fine product of America’s oldest brewery.
McCain got dragged into the issue of who is heartier, Clinton or Obama, when a student at Villanova University asked, somewhat ungallantly, if McCain thought Clinton “finally resorted to hitting the sauce just because of some unfavorable polling. And I was wondering if you would care to join me for a shot after this?”
Mr. Straight Talk was momentarily flustered. To the first part of the question, he answered, in effect, “whatever makes Sen. Clinton happy.”
McCain didn’t respond to the student’s invitation, but after the election, I think we should all get together, maybe at Bronko’s or Sharkey’s, for a few shots just to show there are no hard feelings. It’s the American way.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)