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Beer carries its own presidential flavor and ferver

Puts leaders, Joe Sixpack on a common level

Chicago Tribune

It seems a waste, but people keep spilling beer on America’s political stage.

Just as the nation had begun to black out memories of the overused campaign term “Joe Six-Pack,” an Indiana woman last week suggested to President Obama that he sit down for a beer with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity. The president, knowing the importance of presidential beer liking, wisely replied that he’s “always up for a beer.”

Somehow the humble beer, and the ability to sit down and drink one, has been elevated from a totem of the tailgater to a prerequisite for the presidency.

“Beer has become kind of the cultural leveler in our society,” noted Ken Janda, professor emeritus of political science at Northwestern University. “It can go across all classes of society – it’s a symbol of equality. You’d never say, ‘He’s a nice guy to have a glass of wine with.’ ”

At least you’d never say that about someone you wanted to be president.

This past campaign involved ample references to average, beer-drinking Americans and concerns about which candidate would best get along with them, as if the Oval Office might be turned into an after-hours bar for longshoremen. Hillary Clinton at one point drank a shot of whiskey and a beer with a group of Hoosiers, just to flaunt her love of malt beverages and people who aren’t as rich as she is.

And let’s not forget the previous presidential campaign in which about 60 percent of undecided voters conceded they’d rather have a beer with George W. Bush than with John Kerry. (The irony there, of course, was that Bush doesn’t drink.)

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when Americans hoisted their presidents off a pedestal and plunked them down on a bar stool, but presidential scholar Bert Rockman posits it may have begun with President Eisenhower. He was certainly one of the first presidents widely referred to by a nickname – in his case, Ike – marking a decided shift away from public reverence toward the office.

With the increase in television coverage, John F. Kennedy became a media darling, and most presidents that followed – think Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton – trended toward some form of folksy charm.

George W. Bush seemed to mark the culmination of our perception of the president as a regular guy, and by 2005 he was duly satirized in The Onion under the headline: “Long-Awaited Beer With Bush Really Awkward, Voter Reports.”

In the fake story, the voter recounts: “Then George mentioned that he used to be a cheerleader at Yale. I didn’t know what to say to that one, so I just drank the rest of my beer real fast.”

Real-life beer aficionados are pleased to see their beverage of choice fermenting its way into the world of politics, even if they can’t fully explain the phenomenon.

“I don’t know exactly what that special quality is,” said Peter Gallagher, a Chicago-based Internet marketer and founder of the Web site chicagobeerbars.com. “Obviously it’s got alcohol, so there’s a draw there.”

Indeed.

Gallagher also noted that craft beers and microbreweries have introduced beer to an even broader demographic, cementing its status as a drink embraced by an overwhelming majority of Americans. So perhaps in seeking a woman or man of the people these days, it’s not so far-fetched that they be judged in part on their ability to imbibe communally.

Gallagher certainly doesn’t think so. If he were to belly up to a bar with Obama, he’d order a locally brewed Three Floyd’s Alpha King Pale Ale.

“It would be interesting to see if the president has a particular taste, like a style of beer or a particular brand,” Gallagher daydreamed. “I know his preferences toward food run pretty fancy. I have to believe he’s probably had some pretty good beers.”

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