So Which President, Living or Dead, Would You Like to Drink With?

Face in the Blue has a most excellent question of great historical and political import: In a Mass Knife Fight to the Death Between Every American President, Who Would Win and Why? Which brought to my mind the bit of campaign fluff about whether Barak Obama is the kind of guy the average American would enjoy drinking with, especially compared to Mitt Romney, who as a Mormon, does not drink. So I thought I’d do a brief peruse of our 44 heads of state and figure which ones would be the most fun to sit down with at a table in a bar and knock back a few. These are my utterly unfair guesses:

  1. George Washington. It should be a point of pride to every American that George Washington operated a distillery at Mount Vernon. That’s right, the Father of Our Country made his own blessed whiskey. So that right there would put him up high on any Presidential bibbing list. But I have a feeling that it wouldn’t be as much fun as you think it would be. Everything I know about Washington leads one to believe that he could hold his liquor — maybe too well. I just can’t see Washington getting crazy and talking out of turn. He’d be that guy that would pour shot after shot down his gullet and it wouldn’t touch him, while you get so hammered you can’t string a sentence together, and he just looks at you like you’re the world’s biggest clown. You’re not man enough to drink whiskey with George Washington. And he knows it.
  2. John Adams. I have a theory that John Adams would be hilarious once he had enough rum in him. I’ll bet he has diminutive nicknames for every other Founding Father, and I’ll bet his impression of Hamilton is an absolute riot. But I wonder if he would start getting morose and cranky after that one shot, and then start asking if you’d been a Tory during the war or voted Republican, all paranoid. It’s no fun to drink with the guy who turns on you.
  3. Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson is the guy to drink with if you want wine and eloquent conversation. It would be memorable and charming right up to the point where you realize that this guy has forgotten more than you’ll ever know, and you clam up so you don’t say something stupid, and you discover that you’ve drunk yourself sober.
  4. James Madison. Madison’s handicap is the same for drinking as for a knife fight; he’s just a little guy. He’d be game, but he’d fold early and pass out on the bench, and then you’d end up writing uncouth things on his face in permanent marker. In Latin, of course.
  5. James Monroe. Monroe might be interesting: he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War, taking a musket ball for George Washington at Trenton, studying law under Thomas Jefferson, and serving as Madison’s Secretary of War and Secretary of State. In other words, the guy knew all his predecessors, and has stories. A few rounds and he’ll start telling you “the untold tales,” which, even if they’re utter bunk, will be entertaining. Unless he has a chip on his shoulder about being the last of the Founder Presidents, in which case, get ready for a long night of complaining.
  6. John Quincy Adams. Being the son of John Adams means he could probably hold his liquor at least as well as his dad. Plus, according to Cracked, he kept an alligator at the White House, and was a strong advocate of outdoor lovemaking. No way this guy is not a hoot.
  7. Andrew Jackson. And no way am I drinking with Andrew Jackson. He has “mean drunk” written all over him. Even if he doesn’t decide to take a swing at you, he’s going to challenge the bartender to a duel over the tab, and before you know it you’re standing out in a field in the middle of nowhere while he crows his victory over another corpse. That’s enough to make someone swear off drinking, which is not the point.
  8. Marin Van Buren. In the 1840 election the Whigs made a point of making Van Buren out to be an effete, champagne-sipping aristocrat. That might sound unworthy, but recall the last time you had champagne. It was a good time, right? And who ever said aristos don’t know how to have a good time? On the other hand, I suspect before the night is done he’d start jabbering in Dutch, which would kill your buzz right quick.
  9. William Henry Harrison. Given that a good portion of his success in the aforementioned 1840 election was based upon the impression that Harrison had a powerful taste for hard cider, it’s hard to discount the potential. But the circumstances of his 32-day presidency also lead one to conclude that Harrison is one of those guys who vastly overrates his own tolerance. Basically, you’re going to drink him under the table, and it’s going to be embarassing for everyone.
  10. John Tyler. Enh. His Accidency does not impress. He had a certain longevity, but nothing about him sounds like he’d be fun.
  11. James K. Polk. As a young man, James Polk had to undergo urinary tract surgery with nothing but brandy as an anesthetic. So either he’s entirely comfortable with liquor, or he’s one of those “not a big drinker” guys. Your guess is as good as mine.
  12. Zachary Taylor. Ol’ Rough and Ready would be like Jackson, but without the threat of impending violence. Full of fun, salty language, and good stories about kicking tail and taking names in the Mexican War. You could do a lot worse.
  13. Millard Filmore. No one who joined the Know-Nothings is a suitable drinking companion. I’ll put up with a lot, but once you start yammering about Popery, the fun has left the building.
  14. Franklin Pierce. Lifelong alcoholic; it destroyed his marriage and killed him via liver cirrhosis. I can’t say I’d actually enjoy anything about this.
  15. James Buchanan. On the one hand, our only bachelor President is the one guy who doesn’t have to be anywhere that evening. On the other, he’s going to start making ambiguously homoerotic comments before the night is very old. You’re going to end up splitting the bill and leaving early.
  16. Abraham Lincoln. I just don’t know. I mean, Rail-Splitter, Prairie-Wrestler, Anecdote Machine. But somehow, I don’t get the “fun” vibe from him. I’m sure he can hold his own, but he’s going to be all melancholy. However, if I play my cards right, I might be able to get him to recite the opening speech from his favorite play, Richard III, which may be the most awesome thing that’s ever happened at a bar.
  17. Andrew Johnson. No one likes Andrew Johnson. A Unionist in the South, a Southerner in a Republican administration; this guy seemed to go out of his way to annoy his fellows. It takes a lot to come within a vote of getting kicked out of office, but I’ll bet he knows how to get kicked out of bars.
  18. Ulysses S. Grant. I’m a big fan of U.S. Grant. I think he’s one of the more underrrated Presidents, in policy if not in administrative management. He basically won the Civil War. But it’s debunking time, and Grant’s reputation as a drunk is greatly overstated. He wasn’t a drunk; he was a lightweight. He drank when he was bored, and he couldn’t hold his booze. While his two-day bender during the Siege of Vickburg has a certain comic grandeur, this is the one President most likely to yak all over the table.
  19. Rutherford B. Hayes.  Hayes was shot five times during the Civil War and lived. The last time he took a bullet to the head, but it was spent, and it didn’t even faze him. So there’s more than enough manliness to make for some fun drinking. But his wife was a teetotaler, and that may have constrained him some. Or it’s gonna make him try to chug everything at the pub, which won’t end well.
  20. James Garfield. Garfield was a scholar and a soldier; he was also a lay preacher for the Church of Christ, which uses grape juice in place of wine for communion. I really can’t say how this one turns out.
  21. Chester A. Arthur. Arthur’s father was a teetotaling Baptist Minister, but Arthur himself appears to have been Episcopal. So there’s at least the possibilty that he enjoyed his booze. But his health was never great, and that can’t speak well for him.
  22. Grover Cleveland. A guy who gains the Presidency, loses the Presidency, then battles back and regains it has to have something going for him, and the rumor that he fathered an illegitimate child lends some credence to the idea that he could party.
  23. Benjamin Harrison. Everything about Harrison suggests mediocrity mixed with rectitude. That’s a recipe for something, but not a fun night at the pub.
  24. Grover Cleveland. Then again… they’re just rumors, aren’t they?
  25. William McKinley. Temperance speaker who enjoyed the occasional glass of wine, they say. Which could mean he was an utter souse behind closed doors, or it could mean… he enjoyed the occasional glass of wine. People like that drink to prove a point, not to have a good time.
  26. Theodore Roosevelt. Everyone likes TR. He was so darn likable, in a boyish kind of way. But I don’t know if he’d ever devote his energies to something as frivolous as drinking. Sure, he’d knock back a pint like a man, but then he’d want to go shoot a lion or something. Which would be awesome, but not exactly what I had in mind, and not too far away from the way Andrew Jackson would conclude the evening, when you think about it.
  27. William Howard Taft. You can drink with Taft, but you have to eat with him, too. He’s not going to get too drunk because every libation is but lubrication for another plate of beef ribs. So this would be more like having a gargantuan, epicurean round of gourmandizing than a strict night of drinking. But hell, that doesn’t sound too bad.
  28. Woodrow Wilson. You know, even if Wilson wasn’t a teetotaler, drinking with him sounds about as much fun as drinking with a vegan in the middle of a three-day-cleanse. He’d order a glass of sherry, to be polite, and then glower at all the fun everyone else was having, and then answer your attempts at conversation with monosyllabic disdain.
  29. Warren Gamaliel Harding. Now we’re talking. It was an open secret at Harding’s White House that bottles of bootleg hooch were given to the upstairs guests. Harding enjoyed his poker, his cigars, his whiskey, and his women. Plus you’d just know he’d have a fountain of jokes to crack at Wilson’s expense.
  30. Calvin Coolidge. Coolidge has many virtues. Gregarious imbibing is not one of them.
  31. Herbert Hoover. While I don’t doubt that Hoover was drinking something during his tenure in the White House (Smoot-Hawley Tariff anyone?), I don’t think it was for fun.
  32. Franklin Roosevelt. The guy ended Prohibition. Snark flowed from his mouth like water. He spent decades in a wheelchair; smoking and drinking were the only fun he had. He’d have you laughing, hard, during your first martini.
  33. Harry Truman. While I don’t doubt that Truman could hold a pint, I don’t see him as the social type. He’d drink what he liked, and then he’d go to bed. And if he ever did have a few too many, he’d spend the evening running down all his successors. No fun.
  34. Dwight D. Eisenhower. Only problem I’d see with drinking with Ike is I only figure he’ll do it at the clubhouse after a golf game. Which is fine: have a few beers, grouse about your handicap, shoot the breeze. But less that the epic quality you’d want your Presidential Drinking to have.
  35. John F. Kennedy. Sure, Kennedy knew how to party. He’s Irish, Saints preserve us. But I don’t know how much fun it would be. JFK strikes me as the kind of guy who’d ditch you for the first pretty girl that caught his eye, and then come back from the bathroom with a lecherous grin, say “You still here?” and then chat up the next lovely.
  36. Lyndon Johnson. Nope. Johnson would be a complete d-bag. He’d size you up in a millisecond, figure out how many rounds you could stay strong for, and then order that many for you, plus a few nasty shots that people get bought for them on their 21st birthday and bachelor parties (mind erasers, cement mixers, and whatnot), and then knee you in the gut when you started to look queezy. And then he’d cackle at you.
  37. Richard Nixon. If you wanted to just have a few brews and talk football, Nixon is your guy. Only problem is, he’d try to be more than that, ordering top-shelf scotch that you just know he doesn’t even like, just so you’d thank him. And then he’d get mad when your thanks weren’t sincere-sounding enough.
  38. Gerald Ford. Your first instinct would be to just see how long it takes to get him fall-down drunk (get it?), but I wonder if Ford would surprise you, and go shot for shot, and you end up paying him a complement on how well he stands up, and he just grins, as if to say “not my first rodeo, son.” And then he does his Nixon impression, and you fall off your chair.
  39. Jimmy Carter. Yeah, no. Billy Carter, on the other hand . . .
  40. Ronald Reagan. Reagan would be fun; a fine bottle of Bourbon, a few cigars, and a lot of the jokes that he could never tell in front of Nancy. Sounds like win to me.
  41. George H.W. Bush. I feel like Bush the Elder would sit down with you, and before two drinks are over he’s telling you CIA black-ops stuff that makes the hairs on your neck stand up. And you just stare at him like you’re seeing him for the first time, and then he shows you the scar from the the time flak tore through his Grumman TBM Avenger over the Pacific, and he says, “it’s amazing what a man will do to keep alive in shark-infested waters.” And then you wake up on a bench by the Lincoln Memorial with cab fare in your pocket, doubting everything you thought you knew.
  42. William J. Clinton. Hell yeah, I wanna drink with Clinton. I’ll bet you could bust on him all night long, and he’d laugh. Plus, unlike JFK, Clinton would be the Best Wingman Ever. And around 3:00 am, when everyone’s flagging, Clinton would suggest getting some cheeseburgers from this one place he knows that’s still open. And they would be the best cheeseburgers you have ever eaten.
  43. George W. Bush. You can’t drink with a guy that’s given up drinking. It just won’t work. Either you’ll push him off the wagon (and you do not want to be around one of these guys when they fall of the wagon), or you’ll spend the night listening to him talk about how he doesn’t drink anymore. You might as well try to smoke pot with Ned Flanders.
  44. Barack Obama. And so we come to the man who prompted this entire exercise. I’ve tried to avoid partisanship in this fantasy sequence, but I really don’t know if I buy the concept of Obama as Joe Beer Guy. I seem to recall that his poison of choice for that “Beer Summit” back in 2009 was Budweiser. Unimpressive. Plus, I’ll bet he skips out early, citing some early meeting or whatever, and when he’s gone, you discover that he stuck you with the check.
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