Friday, July 17, 2009

With All That's On His Table, A Shot Of Booze Is OK

As President Obama's personal popularity sinks to the 50-yard line, his landmark climate change and healthcare bills in deep doo doo, the stimulus bill tied up in bureaucratic knots and his continual flummoxing over Bush Administration torture and secret CIA operations, one thing remains certain.

The public has an insatiable thirst for the guy. It ranges from the fanatical extreme right fringe which went ballistic over his elder daughter wearing a T-shirt sporting a 1960s peace symbol that elicited threats from readers a bullet short of assassination. To empathy (a la Sonia Sotomayor) for his penchant of smoking an occasional cigarette and downing a glass of liquor.

As a smoker and retired drinker, I prefer to dwell on the latter. It tells us a lot about the man. After all that messiah and parting of the Red Sea talk during the last presidential campaign, it makes him appear human.

One of the guys. Which reminds me, and sorry for the digression, but wasn't it during the 2004 presidential campaign that Republicans asked who you would prefer to have a drink with, George Bush or John Kerry? That was always a disconnect with me. By that time we knew Bush didn't drink because of bouts with alcoholism earlier in his life.

At any rate, Amie Parnes of Politico explores Obama's drinking preferences in a remarkable straight-forward post that reports first and foremost he is not a lush but does enjoy a toot of wine, beer, margarita or martini on appropriate occasions. Actually, she reports, he'll drink a sip or glass of about any liquor. He can't be pigeon-holed on his preference for booze.

In my drinking days, Obama would be considered an amateur. I suppose nerd would be more in tune to today's lexicon. My drink of choice was scotch on the rocks no matter what the occasion. Come to think of it, I didn't need an occasion.

Parnes related what I consider the perils of presidential parameters when seen drinking a beer at a National Basketball Association game in Washington D.C.

After Obama was seen with beer in hand at the Wizards game, callers lit up the lines at WWL, a sports radio station in Louisiana, according to the station’s website.

“People are losing 5, 10, 20,000 dollars a day in the stock market, and he’s sitting there drinking a beer,” one caller said. “It’s insulting. There’s a lot of people suffering.”

Another caller complained, “The president is the president 24 hours a day. I don’t think he should drink on the job.”

Let's be honest. Obama is the 44th president and at least 10 of his predecessors were either drunks, philanderers or both. Politico's Parnes is more polite:

Drinking is not an uncommon thing for presidents, historians say. Franklin D. Roosevelt had a thing for martinis. Richard Nixon loved Ch√Ęteau Margaux. Lyndon Johnson preferred scotch.

“Drinking was part of the Washington culture,” says Julian Zelizer, a professor of history and public affairs at Princeton University. “It was pretty common, and it didn’t raise any eyebrows.”

Zelizer says drinking became less accepted during President Jimmy Carter’s administration in the 1970s. “Carter brought a piety to the White House,” he says. “He emphasized his personal morality.”

Bush was the same way, Zelizer says, in that he explained his struggles with drinking and why he had given up alcohol years before.

Obama himself admitted to having “made some bad decisions” in his youth when it came to drinking.

Speaking to high school students in New Hampshire during the presidential campaign, Obama said he “got into drinking and experimenting with drugs. ... There was a whole stretch of time where I didn’t apply myself.”

Now, as an adult, a sip now and then only humanizes him, says Robert Thompson, a professor of pop culture at Syracuse University. “It certainly plays in his favor,” Thompson says. “It gives people the sense that he’s a regular guy. He’s doing what one does at a basketball game. He’s having a beer. It adds to the notion that he’s kind of a cool guy, and it might be nice to have a drink with him.”

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