For this month’s Session on Beer in History, I’ve decided to go to a place rarely explored on this blog: straight into the political arena. I normally avoid politics on my blog since as I see it, the roads are open to everyone to run on and all walks of life are welcome to join me for a pint. However, looking over the history of Presidential politics and beer over the past 100 years, Democratic Presidents have been far kinder to the beverage than their Republican counterparts. In the interest of full disclosure, I must admit to being one of those damn liberals. So yes, you might say I’m a little biased on the subject. But any objective look at the facts over the past 100 years shows that Democratic Presidents have been far more supportive of beer than Republicans. Let’s start by going back to the year 1919.
|Woodrow Wilson tried, but couldn’t
That was the year Republican Representative Andrew Volstead introduced legislation which become known the Volstead Act banning the sale of alcoholic beverages in the United States. The Republican held House and Senate passed this legislation. Democratic President Woodrow Wilson tried to veto the measure, but Congress overrode his veto, and this Republican-led Federal regulation ushered in the Prohibition era. As we all know, Prohibition was a complete disaster. People continued to drink flouting the law with black market booze and organized crime flourishing during this period of general lawlessness. Curiously enough, when Republicans today talk about all the failures of government regulation, they never bring up Prohibition.
|Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the
Cullen-Harrison Act and Beer Flowed Again
Through Our Great Land
The next three Presidents of the United States, Warren Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover were all Republicans. None of them did a thing to overturn Prohibition.
Which left things to our next President, Democrat Franklin D. Roosevelt, who ran for office in 1932 with a campaign promise to overturn Prohibition. True to his word, after becoming President, he signed the Cullen-Harrison Act named after the two Democratic Congressmen who introduced the measure, authorizing the sale of beer with up to 3.2% alcohol by weight.
After Roosevelt died in office in 1945, he was succeeded by Vice-President Harry Truman. Truman wasn’t know for drinking much, and was said to favor wine and bourbon.
The Republicans retook the White House in 1952 when Dwight Eisenhower was elected President. He wasn’t much of a drinker either, but he once said, “Some people wanted champagne and caviar when they should have had beer and hot dogs.” Eisenhower said that to illustrate how America was losing its identity to foreign aspirations. But reading it today, it sounds like somebody who doesn’t respect beer all that much.
The next two US Presidents were John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. Both liked to drink and have a good time, but mostly favored cocktails.
In 1968. Republican Richard Nixon was elected President. Nixon fancied himself as a wine connoisseur. That probably explains a lot.
|President Jimmy Carter grabbing some lunch with
his brother Billy at a service station
When Nixon resigned over the Watergate scandal, his Vice-President Gerald Ford became President. Ford wasn’t in the White House long, and he wasn’t known to drink much either.
In 1976, Democrat Jimmy Carter was elected President. Booze rarely touched Jimmy Carter’s lips, but the same thing couldn’t be said about his brother Billy. As indifferent as he was to beer in his personal life, as President, Jimmy Carter signed the second most important piece of Federal legislation after the repeal of Prohibition. Of course, I’m talking about HR 1337, which he signed on October 14, 1978. This bill was a fairly nondescript reform of the Federal tax code, but included an amendment to legalize home brewing for personal use up to 200 gallons per year. The amendment to legalize home brewing was actually a collaboration between Republican Representative Barber Conable and Democratic Senator Alan Cranston, harking back to a quaint era where Republicans actually worked with Democrats to craft legislation. Little did anyone realize this small act of deregulation would release a legion of home brewing entrepreneurs who’s passion for beer inspired them to start their own businesses, launching a wave of capitalistic brewing frenzy across America that continues to this day. Funny, when Republicans today talk about deregulation stimulating the economy, they never bring up Jimmy Carter legalizing home brewing.
|Ronald Reagan Toasting the Faithful in 1983
at a New England Pub (photo credit)
Our next President, Ronald Reagan was unique in many ways. I’m no fan of Reagan, but must admit that unlike previous Presidents, he often appeared in bars and pubs hoisting a brew during his two terms, bolstering his “man of the people” image. Maybe he wasn’t such a bad guy after all.
The next few Presidents, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were not often seen drinking beer in public or were involved in any meaningful Federal legislation affecting brewing.
If you’re keeping score at this point between Democratic and Republic Presidents, here’s where things stand on beer:
Democrats: Wilson’s Attempted veto of the Volsted Act, Roosevelt’s repeal of Prohibition, and Jimmy Carter legalizating of home brewing
Republicans: Questionable quote about beer from Eisenhower and a few Reagan photo-ops.
|President Bill Clinton with US Soccer Star
Carlos Bocanegra (photo credit)
Which brings us to our current President, Barack Obama. Has any President since FDR done more to elevate the status of beer than Obama? Early in his Presidency, he tapped into the awesome social lubrication powers of to overcome racial discord. I’m talking about the Beer Summit involving African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and Cambridge Police Sargent James Crowley.
On July 16th, 2009, Professor Gates returned from an overseas trip late at night to find himself locked out of his own house. As he broke into his home, a neighbor placed a 911 thinking a crime was taking place, and Officer Crowley responded to the scene. Things did not go well when Officer Crowley came on the scene and asked Gates for identification, who angrily responded, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Things rapidly escalated from there and Crowley finally arrested Gates for disorderly conduct.
|President Barack Obama at the Beer Summit
The incident became national news and divided the country largely along racial lines. When Barack Obama, America’s first African-American President was asked about the incident and seemed critical of the Cambridge Police Department, sympathizing with Professor Gates plight as a black man in America, it sparked national outrage. Looking to quell the flames of the first major racial discord of his Presidency, Obama invited both Professor Gates and Officer Crowley over to the White House for a beer in hopes all parties would come to an understanding.
The meeting was a rousing success and the conflict was quickly patched over their beers. Officer Crowley speaking afterwords, remarked that he and Professor Gates discussed the incident “like two gentlemen, instead of fighting it out either in the physical sensor or in the mental, in the court of public opinion.” Gates was enthusiastic after the meeting with Crowley and quipped, “We hit it off well from the very beginning….when he’s not arresting you, Sargent Crowley is a very likable guy.”
In addition to highlighting the power of beer to bring people together, in his first term Barack Obama initiated a home brewing operation in the White House, becoming the first President to do so. Obama’s small operation produced a few bottles of beer for special White House events, as he described on the David Letterman Show. Obama’s second term has been more quiet on the subject of beer. While one can only speculate what 2012 Republican Presidential challenger Mitt Romney would have accomplished if he defeated Obama, since Romney was a practicing Mormon, it’s a safe bet “elevating the profile of beer” would be pretty low on his agenda.
As we look to the 2016 Presidential Election, the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton looks to face off against a yet to be determined Republican challenger. As I speak, Republican strategists are feverishly hatching their plans to retake the White House. I doubt Republican strategists look to Left Coast Liberals like myself for advice, but if they’re willing to listen to me, I have a genuine suggestion for Republican success in 2016: Embrace beer.
|Will beer propel Hillary to the White House in 2016?