Presidential Party Politics

“Who would you rather have a beer with?”

Wasn’t that the deciding question of the 2000 and 2004 elections?

By the time the morning after of 2008 rolled around, we already hated ourselves for our choices over the previous eight years, and in 2012 the hangover is still too fresh to begin reliving that awful bender this soon.

But the question remains. Who would you rather have a beer with? To sweeten the deal, let’s say you could choose from any of the Presidents in American history.

I have a friend who is always up for investing an afternoon in armchair time travel, so I put that very question to him: “If you could drink with any U.S. President, which one would it be?”

“Interesting query, and so many contenders to choose from,” he responded. “If I had to pick just one, I’d probably go with Old Hickory himself, the man on the $20 with the rockabilly hair, Andrew Jackson.  This has nothing to do with politics. He just looks like a blackout drunk with a hair-trigger temper and few inhibitions, which is what I want most in a drinking partner.

For two terms, the male equivalent of Granny from the Beverly Hillbillies occupied the White House, carrying a hip flask and a sidearm with him at all times (one presumes). Old Hickory probably passed out on the White House lawn more times than all the other Presidents combined. Drinking with Ole Hic’ would be like walking around New York City with Billy Martin and an open whisky bottle; you’d never know what trouble you’d be getting into from moment to moment, only that it would never be a long wait.

POTUS drinking buddy #2 would be Abe Lincoln. They say manic-depressives make the best party guests. Lincoln had a way with words, a famously great sense of humor, and probably some eye-raising tales from his years of country lawyering. If you happened to catch him during a depressive phase, it’d be an unforgettable moment just to nurse a julep and gaze upon that beautiful, tragic, sulking face for a spell.

Jefferson…I’m conflicted about Jefferson.  He’s got a sweet pony tail alright, but with any of those plantation owning presidents, there’s just no avoiding the subject of slavery for long. Not even hippy hair and a hemp field can make up for that.

Plantation owners like to give you a grand tour of the place, show off all its attributes. They’ll uncork a bottle of good stuff from the still for you; you’ll go out to the smokehouse to sample a choice cut of cured ham still hanging from the hook; you’ll head off to the barn to admire the loins of his prize stud animal. But at some point it would all come back to the slaves.

I’ll tell you what though, it would be interesting to compare hemp farming notes with those guys.

The one Founding Father I’d like more than anything to share a beer with, or an absinthe, or even a jar of lukewarm mead, is no President at all; he’s a pear-shaped man by the name of Ben Franklin. Could you imagine drinking with him in San Francisco?

I can, and often do. I think he’d quite like the city. Of all the founding fathers, he’s best -suited to this rarefied place with its celebrated freedom of expression, its prosperous marketplace of ideas, and its bounty of life, libertines, and the pursuit of happiness. I think he’d also appreciate the prodigious work of the Invisible Hand behind the City’s many holes of glory.

After Lincoln’s tenure, the party potential really plummets.  The Gilded Age Presidents all seem like a bunch of wet noodles.

Other than banqueting with Taft, I don’t think there’s any Twentieth Century President that I’d particularly want to tie one on with besides Harry S. Truman. Eisenhower maybe, but I’d probably start getting paranoid under the cold scrutiny of his Five Star General glare. Nixon? Perhaps. But he’s already Hunter S. Thompson’s muse, and besides, Nixon’s private-most Oval Office rantings are already public domain. There’s no mystery there.

On the other hand, some of those Vice-Presidents must have been epic partiers who slipped below the radar. The Vice Presidency is a great place to park a troublesome heir apparent for four or eight years; giving him a “promotion” that takes up most of his day while keeping him at a safe distance from the real levers of power (as long as Mister President has a heart beat), but that shall remain a subject for another day.”

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Where Were You in ’72? (Reflections on the passing of time and of George McGovern)

Hi. My name is Dave. I’ve been thinking a lot about 1972 lately, and of what a long time 40 years is, even if it feels just like yesterday.

It was a big year for me. I started first grade, and not at just any school, but at “The Alternative School.” You can get a pretty good idea of what the school was about from the name and the fact that it started in 1972.

I was in class when I heard about Nixon beating McGovern. Our teacher’s name was Steve. It was the afternoon and we were in our makeshift classroom. The Cuisenaire rods were put away in the closet; math time was over. We were transitioning to the afternoon, sitting on little squares of carpet with the lights dimmed, attempting to have some sort of quiet time, but it was no use. “I think they had the election for the President yesterday!” a kid said.

“No way. Just for one day? That seems like a rip-off. Let’s ask Steve.”

Steve confirmed that it was true, that the elections had been the day before and the results were already decided. “Nixon beat McGovern in a landslide,” were his exact words. A landslide.

You take stuff literally when you’re six. I had just learned about the horrors of quicksand, and I was pretty sure people were killed in landslides. My take on the whole thing was that the popular vote was neither here nor there, but that Nixon became President by default because McGovern got taken out by falling rocks.

Aah, memories…Hard to believe 1972 was 40 years ago. In 1972, 40 years ago was 1932. Hoover was President. The New Deal was still in the future. The world changed unfathomably in those four decades. Sociologically at least, 1972 would have been unrecognizable to a citizen of 1932.

From our current vantage point, 1972 was a different world as well, but not nearly as different as 1932 was to 1972. The Alternative School opened for business in the fall of that year, meaning the school would have begun to be conceptualized and realized in 1970-71 or so. In other words, the Alternative School emerged during America’s most turbulent decade since the Civil War, founded by a small group of committed parents and educators.

It turns out that the tumult and upheaval of that period had largely run its course by 1972, but there was no way of knowing this at the time. The Weathermen and Yippies were still very much active as the 1970s began. The 1968 Democratic National Convention would have been the most recent presidential political marker. Kent State and Jackson State represented the contemporary state of relations between government and higher education.

To us they were Nixon, to them we were Manson. Having long hair in public could still land you in a fistfight.

This was the zeitgeist into which the Alternative School was born. Not all the goals of the school’s ideologues and their generational cohorts were attained.  Few of us first graders stuck with the program all the way through high school. Most of my former classmates who now have kids of their own have chosen to raise them in a far more structured environment. The Alternative School itself ceased to exist by the early 1980s.

But looking back now, 40 years later, in an era when the Rolling Stones play Super Bowl halftime shows, a multiracial former Occidental College student sits in the While House, and the term “alternative” itself has acquired mainstream cachet, it’s easier to appreciate how far we’ve actually come since “The Landslide” of 1972.

Categories: 1970s, counterculture, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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