Booze & Presidential Politics

Recently Hillary Clinton strolled into a Fort Wayne, Indiana bar and proceeded to very publicly throw back a shot of whiskey and chase it with a beer.  Call me a political cynic but I’d take even money on the proposition that there was a fairly substantial discussion on the bus with her advisers prior to arriving at the bar as to whether or not the presidential candidate should drink…and if so, what she should drink.

I’m willing to further bet that during this discussion the question of whether or not Clinton should have some wine was not even brought up. I’m willing to bet the question was "Whiskey or Beer?"

Here’s the thing: on the campaign trail wine is something of the kiss of death, politically, for its elitist reputation.

I went googling for a photo of Clinton with wine and Obama with wine and McCain with wine. Nothing. Poor Obama is already so associated with elitism I suspect that he’d cancel any campaign stop at this point that even held the possibility of seeing him holding a glass of wine. Hillary has made her "Beveragoligical" proclivities clear with her whiskey throw back and public sudsing. McCain? Well, his connection to beer is pretty strong. His wife, Cindy, sits on the Board of Directors of her family’s Arizona Beer Distributorship, Hensley & Company, which has been very generous to his campaign.

There is some evidence that wine drinkers are more likely to vote Democratic and beer drinkers more likely to vote Republican. However, this appears to have more to do with issues of gender and socioeconomic status than real drink preferences.

Nevertheless, don’t expect any of the current candidates to make a public display of wine drinking. The image of a candidate swilling Chardonnay just has too many negative, elitist connotations in our culture. You know, the pinky-out, I’m-better-than-you, high-falutin-limo-sitting, down-my-nose-looking kind of image that most candidates rightly understand doesn’t go over too well in flyover country, let alone in the less liberal areas of the coastal states.

But that’s not to say that candidates don’t receive support from drink-associated folks. Obama seems toObamabeer
have the support of this group that wanted to encourage folks to "have a glass of wine on the patio and talk about changing the country." However, no one has produced a wine that celebrates Obama, but they have produced a beer.

Meanwhile, the alcohol industry seems willing to support the presidential candidates, though not show too much partisan support. As of March 1st, the Beer, Wine & Alcohol industry has given Clinton $228,000, McCain 160,000 and Obama $158,000 in donations. This number will skyrocket after the the two parties have chosen their nominees.

I can imagine if any of the presidential candidates came to Sonoma or Napa for a public event they just might, possibly, maybe, perhaps show themselves with a glass of wine in hand, risking national humiliation for the opportunity to connect with locals. However, Napa and Sonoma are so completely democratic in make up that the only reason for a presidential candidate to come to this neck of the woods is to slip behind closed doors and privately scoop up some of that wine-soaked money.

So then, we are left with the old, tired stereotype that wine is elitist and beer/whiskey is "of the people". I’m not sure what it would take to rid us of this stereotype. But I do know that it won’t be shaken this political season.

14 Responses

  1. Morton Leslie - May 6, 2008

    About stereotypes, I don’t think it is a stereotype that politicians pander to the electorate. It’s not fair to make generalizations about any group, but there is ample reason for Americans to see wine drinkers as elitists. We create the stereotype ourselves and we do it intentionally. Just take an honest look at any wine publication. What are we talking about and who is advertizing? For that matter, what is the real motivation of the person subscribing to the publication? Stand behind a table pouring wine at a tasting event anywhere in the country and take a good look at the people who are coming to your table. Look at how they are dressed and how they are interacting. Why is it so effective to ‘be on allocation’ or have a waiting list to get on the mailing list? Is it a message that only special people have the opportunity to enjoy your wines?
    Is that the way beer or spirits is sold? No, it’s time to party! Wet tee shirts anyone? Visit the ballpark or the racetrack or get on a plane and take in Octoberfest. Beer IS the beverage “of the people.”
    We should know this, Hillary does.

  2. Arthur - May 6, 2008

    When did “elite” become the evil antonym of great, superior, etc?
    Navy SEALS are an ELITE tactical fighting force and Rhodes scholars are the academic ELITE. You’d *WANT* the elite carrying out military missions, running the country, making laws, representing you in government and teaching your kids for one simple reason: These people *ARE* better and superior to the rest of us in their respective fields – just as Michael Jordan *IS* superior to me in his athletic prowess.
    Since when is democracy about the bottom third bringing down the status quo rather than the top third bringing it up?

  3. Tom Wark - May 6, 2008

    The problem is not with “elite” but with “Elitist”.
    The only message that I think can rationally be said to be sent when a wine is allocated is that it is in great demand. Not that those who get it are necessarily special.

  4. pinot drinker - May 6, 2008

    nancy pelosi owns two vineyards in napa. does that take the liberal wine snobbery one step further?

  5. Morton Leslie - May 6, 2008

    Jackie and Dunlap weigh in on the candidates not being elitist among other things. Note their beverage.

  6. Arthur Przebinda - May 6, 2008

    I understand that the issue is the distinction between ELITE and ELITIST, but I think that too often that label is applied to those who are the Elite by those who are somehow threatened or intimidated by the Elite’s knowledge, expertise or status.
    I guess I should have included that in my original post.
    I would take you point one further and say that ELISTIST, by definition, hold the NON-ELITE in contempt and somehow opress, repress or supress them.
    How often do we see sour grapes sentiments (wow, a pun) of those who did not get on the allocation lists of a winery, or who cannot afford a specific wine or just don’t see a particular wine’s or all of wine’s intricacies turn into accusaitons of ELITISM?
    But returning to a more relevant point:
    Can’t our candidates learn a thing from Nicholas Sarcozy’s track record with the wine French wine idustry during his campaign?
    But then again, would they be as willing to let their hair down as he did here: ?

  7. Thomas Pellechia - May 6, 2008

    there’s another way that allocation works: it’s called produce only so much so that you create the illusion of greater demand and can raise your prices. I’ve seen it done more than once in the wine business.
    On the subject of wine and politicians, Hillary Clinton has no problem drinking wine when she panders to the New York wine industry once a year at a celebration of NY wine and food. And anyone who saw how she downed that drink knows that she did it wrong.If she really knew what she wad doing, she would have put the shot glass filled with booze into a larger glass filled with beer and then guzzled the beer and caught the booze without breaking a front tooth! But that’s what comes of pandering…

  8. Tom Wark - May 6, 2008

    “Tom, there’s another way that allocation works: it’s called produce only so much so that you create the illusion of greater demand and can raise your prices.”
    Thomas, if the demand outstrips the supply, it’s no illusion.
    I do relish the idea of a shot of clinton bombing the beer and a shot….Funny picture in my mind now.

  9. Arthur Przebinda - May 6, 2008

    Tom W.
    I agree with Thomas P’s contention that the supply is artifically curtailed to raise revenue. This is part of the common marketting approach to seeling wines by first overhyping them.

  10. Thomas Pellechia - May 6, 2008

    “Thomas, if the demand outstrips the supply, it’s no illusion.”
    The illusion is that the winery had no choice but to produce a limited supply, or, as Arthur put it, “the supply is artificially curtailed…”
    I remember two particular CA wineries distributed by the company I worked for that created the illusion regularly.

  11. Tom Wark - May 6, 2008

    “”Thomas, if the demand outstrips the supply, it’s no illusion.” Tom, The illusion is that the winery had no choice but to produce a limited supply, or, as Arthur put it, “the supply is artificially curtailed…” I remember two particular CA wineries distributed by the company I worked for that created the illusion regularly”
    I don’t see what the “illusion” is. If a winery wants to only produce 1000 cases of wine, even though they have the capacity and the financial ability to produce more, why is it an “illusion” when they don’t? Maybe they just dont want to deal with more than 40 barrels of wine. Maybe they feel like they hit their quality sweet spot focusing on 1000 cases. Maybe they don’t want to have to sell too hard. These are all legitimate reasons for producing less than they want to.
    The question then is if the relatively small supply is less than the demand they’ve created either through strict marketing or reviews or whatever, why not increase the price to the point where the supply now only slightly outstrips the demand. I think it’s legitimate and no illusion.

  12. Thomas Pellechia - May 6, 2008

    What don’t you understand about the term, “artificially curtail?”
    The illusion is that the short supply is unplanned when in fact, it is planned to manipulate the lemmings.

  13. Morton Leslie - May 6, 2008

    Tom, I think you are missing an important point. Why does the image of allocation make a wine sell? The reason is that a person seeks out something that is “limited” or “allocated” to enhance their own self image. Why have two or three hundred people plunked down in excess of $100,000 each for the privilege of buying wine for $45 a bottle from a vineyard on heavy soils next to Meadowood. (A vineyard that was turned down in the 1980’s as a grape source for Cabernet blanc for quality reasons by a large commercial winery?) Have you ever talked to the person that brags to you about their allocation of Harlan or Screaming Eagle? Inevitably they know little about wine except names, scores and that having a bottle makes them someone… someone important.
    When you collect $30 million from people as a entrance fee to then sell wine to them at a $30 per bottle profit you are selling something else.
    And those that pander to people like these them really piss off middle America (and Jackie Browles, as well.)
    That said, before Indiana was important last harvest, Hillary was here in the Napa Valley under a big tent on a tennis court below the latest McMansion schmoozing with the wine industry, glass in hand…for $2500 a plate. She swings both ways.

  14. Arthur - May 7, 2008

    “She swings both ways.”
    I always felt that haircut of hers was telling…

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