Beer, Pandering and Politics

Perhaps you heard the excellent news on the first of this month, that the White House has released the recipe for the executive mansion’s first-ever homebrewed beer, known as White House Honey Ale.  Rejoice!

It turns out the Obama administration had been surreptitiously serving its hometown hops for such occasions as the White House Super Bowl party and St. Patrick’s Day, as well as during a one-on-one chat between the president and Dakota Meyer, a U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant and Medal of Honor recipient.  But it was not until late last month, when a series of formal recipe requests were filed by enterprising, homebrewing attorneys, that the existence of such a beverage became widely known.

One need not be a beer enthusiast—I am more of a whiskey man myself—to appreciate the surprising primacy with which beer has occupied the Obama administration.  Recall, for one, the “beer summit” the president held in July 2009 between Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Sergeant James Crowley, following Crowley’s arrest of Gates in the doorway of his own house.  (Gates and Crowley ordered Blue Moon and Sam Adams, respectively; the president opted for Bud Light.)

In his quest for a second term, Obama has been photographed regularly in local watering holes in various swing states, chugging his fair share of brewskies with adoring (and highly inebriated) supporters.  Having allegedly kicked his nicotine habit, the president is known to be a casual drinker on his own time, but as with everything else, swilling kicks into overdrive during campaign season.

Obama has clearly embraced the well-worn election year Rorschach test, “Which candidate would you rather have a beer with?”  Taken literally, the beer battle of 2012 is not exactly a fair fight, insomuch as Mitt Romney, a practicing Mormon, abstains from all varieties of alcohol.  It seems almost unfair for Obama to crack open a cold one as he mingles with the common folk while Romney is compelled to settle for O’Doul’s.

In his 2008 primary showdown against Hillary Clinton, Obama truly seemed to have met his match, as Clinton could be seen engaging in all manner of imbibing as a means of loosening her image as some kind of tightwad.  But it was not a purely protean act on her part, as we saw in a priceless photo log from a recent trip to Colombia in her role as secretary of state.

Taken less-than-literally, the beer question is really a roundabout way of asking, “Which candidate is more of a regular guy?”  Or, more directly still, “Which candidate is more like me?”  The implication is that we, as a people, would prefer our leaders to be just like us and we intend to vote on that basis.

As with all forms of mass pandering, there is a self-fulfilling prophesy at work here.  The candidate downs a beer because he thinks it is what his audience wants him to do.  Presumably if the public communicated that a candidate should not be drinking on the job, he would stop.  Our leaders are nothing if not trained monkeys we can command at will.  We can blame only ourselves for making them this way.

My own view on the beer matter (so long as I’m here) is that candidates should act as if dignity and self-respect still mattered in public life—to act as free agents, not the mere instruments of the people’s whims.  In short:  To lead.

I don’t mean to say that our representatives should abstain from drinking or, for that matter, from pandering in general.  After all, they are called “representatives” for a reason.  There are plenty worse ways for a candidate to spend his or her time than interfacing with the public.

All I ask for is truth in advertising.  If a pol insists on saying and doing what he thinks the people want to hear and see, he must maintain the façade throughout his entire term in office, realizing that that is the implicit deal he has struck with his constituents.  Whether he truly means it—whatever “it” is—is secondary.

With luck, such pretensions will not endure the plain light of day and the people will recognize a phony when they see one, which would be to everyone’s benefit in the long run.  St. Mark asks us, “What shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”  Some politicians have had the misfortune to learn this lesson the hard way, and that was when the real drinking began.


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