Presidential Alcohol Awareness - Part 4

by: Mike Miller

As the 20th Century began to unfold and the United States was flooded with new immigrants, the attitude of a strong majority of people was to sour on alcohol consumption.  This 4-part series on the history of “presidential drinking.”  If you care to go back part 1, part 2 or part 3 which cover the alcohol consumption habits of presidents up through Theodore Roosevelt and into the Prohibition Era.

Role-Model Presidents

As we learned in the third-installment of this series, Teddy Roosevelt was a teetotaler.  Getting back to our original premise that the president is a role model for Americans, the presidents of the early 20th Century led the way.  Following Teddy were Taft and Woodrow Wilson.  Neither Taft nor Wilson drank alcohol.  It was during Wilson’s second term in office that the 18th Amendment was passed and ratified.

It has been said that Warren G. Harding won the presidency in 1921 because of his stature and charisma.  He was a tall (almost 6’4) and supposedly gave off a charismatic aura that drew people to him. 

He, like many US residents, completely disregarded Prohibition Laws.  He liked to drink and was smart enough to realize he really wasn’t smart enough to be President of the United States of America.  He drowned his guilt of being overwhelmed with a constant influx of alcohol and tobacco.  If he wasn’t smoking tobacco he was chewing it.  If it was evening, you could bet there was a drink close by.

A New Deal

While Harding drank despite the laws, Franklin Delano Roosevelt truly ushered in a “New Deal” for alcohol by overturning the 18th Amendment in 1933.  While not a heavy drinker, Franklin was known to indulge in a little bit of spiked egg not.

Following in FDR’s footsteps couldn’t have been easy.  But fortunately for our country the perfect man for the job, although few though him capable of the job, came into the picture.  A man of action who coined the famous phrase “the buck stops here” to show he takes responsibility for all under his command, Truman liked to have at least one shot of Bourbon each day.  He definitely could drink to the point of intoxication on occasion, but certainly was a man of moderation.

All in Moderation

All of the presidents since Truman have been drinkers at some point in their life.  All were fairly moderate drinkers with the exception of Reagan who drank almost no alcohol, and George W Bush who was an alcoholic but did not drink a drop during his presidency.

Some would argue that Gerald Ford was too fond of his gin and tonics, or that Nixon loved his rum and coke, but neither of these two demonstrated drinking problems before, during or after their presidencies. 

During the 60s alcohol seemed to be all the rage.  Just watch an episode of the television series “Mad Men” to get a decent glimpse as to the large role alcohol played in people’s lives.  Perhaps JFK drank more than we thought.

Slick Willie to Obama

Does William Jefferson Clinton have a drinking problem?  They say that if you ever had an accident and were heavily intoxicated at the time, you have a drinking problem.  I do recall Bill tearing his knee while falling down the stairs at golf great Greg Norman’s estate in Florida.  He was intoxicated at the time.  Other than that one incident, Clinton kept his name clean on the alcoholism front, so we’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.

As we mentioned earlier, Bush (the 2nd) was a teetotaler his entire time in office.   Current president Barack Obama is definitely a moderate drinker.  They serve sparkling wine at all state functions and he has been known to tip back a beer (Bud Light is his favorite).

That concludes our look at “presidential drinking.”  For the most part the presidents behaved themselves.  Certainly there has not been a heavy drinker in the oval office since Warren G Harding.  Hopefully we will continue to have presidents who model the behavior we should seek ourselves and we hope for our children.