Debating the Issues, Glasses in Hand

The relationship between drinking and American Presidential politics is ripe with history. James Buchanan was known to purchase a ten-gallon cask of whiskey every Sunday to last him the balance of the week; John Adams started each morning with a tankard of cider. So it was, perhaps, in solidarity with these former Commanders-in-Chief that a fleet of graduate students in Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies took to Burke Auditorium –– drinks in hand –– to watch the first Presidential Debate of 2012.

Troy Hill (PhD ’16, Captain Lawrence Pale Ale) didn’t have very much to say about the Republican challenger. “What do I think of Mitt Romney?” Troy asked aloud, sipping from a bottle of Captain Lawrence. “Not very much.”  Nathan Chan (PhD ’14, Brooklyn Lager) had views that likely resonated well with the pro-regulation crowd in the auditorium that night. “Jim Lehrer has really got to regulate on Obama and Romney a bit harder,” he opined, in reference to both candidates consistently cutting off the moderator and running overtime.  The answer of how best to regulate, however, proved more elusive. Offered Nathan Chan: “Maybe a microphone mute button, or something…”

For the five gentlemen seated in the front row, each decked out in suit jacket, tie, and forty of malt liquor, hearing Mr. Obama’s and Mr. Romney’s competing visions for improving the lot of the struggling American populace was a welcome topic, though one with perilous consequences for the Presidential Debate Drinking Game to which they had committed themselves. “The combination of comments about the ‘middle class’ and ‘families’ has really proven to be deadly,” confided Ben Butterworth (MEM ‘14, Colt 45), holding up his half-empty forty.

Somebody get John Adams a hard cider before he totally loses it.

Drew Veysey (MEM ’14, Smirnoff Ice) was also feeling the effects of a Presidential Debate Drinking Game of his own devising. Tweeting @SAGEMagazine, Drew noted: “These smirnoffs are going quick with those rapid-fire ‘energy’ mentions.” For Drew’s set of drinking rules, not all drink-worthy words carried equal weight, and any mention of a certain now-defunct solar company had grave implications.  Eventually, that word was spoken, and Mr. Vesey quickly took to the Twittersphere: “SOLYNDRA!!! FINISH YOUR DRINK. #denverdebate.”

For those who can remember back to late last winter, Mr. Romney’s popularity among the voting bloc of dog-lovers plummeted when stories resurfaced of a 12-hour Romney family road trip to Canada in 1983, during which the Governor strapped his dog to the roof of his car.  While many assumed this story was long buried in the news cycle, that may have been wishful thinking. Jasmine Hyman (PhD ’15, Pinot Grigio), had to rush out of the auditorium cradling Maude, her miniature dachshund, who –– seemingly on cue –– began barking uncontrollably the moment Romney began his opening comments. Eventually, after a few minutes of rocking Maude in her arms while pacing the third floor of Kroon Hall, the “third-year doctoral doggie” calmed down sufficiently and was able to re-enter the auditorium.

The crowd in Burke peaked halfway into the debate, as a new pack of FESers hustled in to the room after the conclusion of Wednesday night’s ritual Veggie Dinner. After taking in some of the debate, one of this magazine’s editors and Veggie Dinner devotee Ben Goldfarb (MEM ’13, Thomas Hooker Pale Ale), conceded that Mr. Romney –– referred to by some as Robot Romney, or more affectionately, MittBot –– was managing to put on an impressive performance. “He has been well-programmed by his programmers,” Mr. Goldfarb applauded.

Many noticed the tears that seemed to be forming around Mr. Romney’s eyes as he delivered his final comments, but it was that same Mr. Goldfarb who was the first to tweet the broader health implications of the Governer’s spontaneous surge of emotion: “Mittens has some red eyes … been crying? Conjunctivitis? For your own health, Ann, don’t share Mitt’s pillow.”

Some non-Yalies were in the crowd, including Scott Vignola (drinking a home-brewed cream stout from a stainless steel water bottle), who explained that a home brew was most appropriate for the Presidential Debate because, “Obama himself home-brews beer… he actually makes a honey brown ale at the White House.” President Buchanan would certainly approve.

Of interest: no comments were made about the likelihood of the Presidential candidates themselves participating in a Presidential Debate Drinking Game, perhaps because Mr. Romney is known to be a devout Mormon and has not imbibed since the one time he tried “as a wayward teenager.” In contrast, vast corridors of the internet are devoted to chronicling President Obama’s exploits in alcohol. The two candidates do indeed represent starkly contrasting visions for the future of drinking and the Presidency in this country.

The debate ended; the projector was flicked off; students quickly filed out of the auditorium, and beer bottles were recycled. Ben Friedman (MEM ‘14, Olde English), part of the well-dressed coterie of five at the front of the room, proudly declared on his way out that he was the first in his group to finish his entire forty.  Friendman praised Obama’s efforts and endorsed his candidacy, but thought that Romney had bested the President in the first round of debate. When asked about any general regrets for the Presidential Debate he just witnessed, Mr. Friedman adjusted his tie and pondered a moment. “I really wish I hadn’t drank an entire forty. I’ve got Econ tomorrow at nine o’clock and that was just a bad idea.”

Noah Sokol

Noah Sokol is an Associate Editor at Sage Magazine and a second-year PhD student in the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies.

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