Reviews, Commentary and Opinions on Midwest Craft Beer and Microbreweries

March 6, 2008

Beer Diary:

Have A Beer And Vote, But Donâ??t Vote For Beer

As much as we love the nectar of the gods, the idea of voting for the candidate you â??most want to have a beer withâ? is just plain stupid.
by Nigel Tanner

"It takes beer to make thirst worthwhile."
Contact Nigel»
As we are all painfully aware of by now, 2008 is an election year. By this time next year we will have a new person in the White House who will face a number of challenges over the course of the next four years. As the primary season winds down, it’s clear that our options will be Arizona Senator John McCain on the Republican side and either New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton or Illinois Senator Barack Obama on the Democratic side. While I’m not here to debate the candidacy or platform of any of these individuals, I feel the need to share my thoughts on one topic that the media seems to be focusing on thus far in the ’08 race: the so-called “beer vote.”

First of all, I want to quell any debate as to who Nigel supports and why. This is not a political web site, and I’m not here to champion the candidate that I back. I’m a political independent and a firm believer in voting for the best candidate regardless of party affiliation. While I do fully support one of the candidates in this year’s race, that’s neither here nor there. We’re just here for the beer, and I don’t feel it’s necessary for me to debate politics with everyone (actually, I’d LOVE to do that, but it makes the head of this site a bit uncomfortable  … ).

The idea of the “beer vote” in the 2008 race is similar to the “soccer mom vote” in 2000 and the “softball dad vote” in 2004. Basically it’s a randomly assigned term by the mainstream media to distinguish a group of hard working, middle class voters in swing states (many of which are in the Midwest) that will play a significant role in deciding who our next president is. We all know the media wants things to sound as sexy as possible; simply referring to this group as “blue collar independents” doesn’t sell as many newspapers or attract as many viewers. Make it sound interesting by calling it the “beer vote” or bring up “soccer moms,” and suddenly the upper classes on the coasts and in the major cities perk up, wondering what exactly these poor folks are thinking when it comes to politics. I guess this would be my biggest beef when it comes to the “beer vote”: there really is no such thing.

The “beer vote” demographic does not necessarily favor one party over the other, which is why it’s been designated as key by the media; or, to put into CNN/Fox News terms, “the beer vote is not necessarily a blue state/red state issue.” Calling Republican states “red” and Democratic states “blue” is another example of random terminology created by the media, who apparently believe each state is defined solely by which color they turn on election night. On the surface, many believe that beer drinkers fall into the conservative, “red” state category, but that isn’t necessarily true. Many unionized, blue-collar Midwesterners (the stereotypical “beer and a shot” types) tend to vote Democrat and there’s a large number of social and political conservatives who consider themselves blue collar and tend to vote Republican. Thus, using the idea of using the beer drinker as a gauge as to which party an independent voter in a swing state may lean toward is totally bogus.

The idea of a “beer vote” further perpetuates a common stereotype that most of the country holds in regards to Midwesterners. It’s the image of Hank Hill and his buddies standing by the curb, swigging cans of macro-brewed swill while discussing the latest advancements in lawn mower technology and who’s got the better pickup truck. It’s the Bud-Miller-Coors beer drinking masses being targeted, and the national media, as they so often do, have lumped most of us Midwesterners into this category without taking into consideration the ability of each individual to make his or her own educated decision. It doesn’t matter if you’re a craft beer connoisseur, a lover of the mass-produced beer, a wine connoisseur, a lover of fine spirits, or a non-drinker: if you live in key swing states like Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, or Wisconsin, you’re unwittingly a member of the “beer vote” demographic. As a life-long resident of Wisconsin, Nigel knows full-well how superficial this designation is. Wisconsin is often considered a conservative, “red,” beer-loving, blue collar state by most people on the coasts, despite the fact that we’ve voted for the Democratic presidential candidate every year since 1960 (with the exception of Reagan’s landslide re-election in 1984), have 5 of 8 House members who are Democrats, two Democratic Senators, and a Democrat as governor. Again, I’m not trying to make this a political debate, but merely trying to demonstrate that the commonly held ideas of what we Midwesterners believe in is not necessarily true. Be you Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we’re from the Midwest and are apparently too ignorant to make an educated decision as to who is best qualified to lead this country for the next four years. Listen to CNN, NBC, ABC, Fox News; they’re the first to tell you that we’re going to vote for a candidate based on the fact that we’d like to drink with him or her, not based on their politics.

The basic premise that we’re going to vote for a candidate based on personality and not necessarily ideology isn’t new. While many may connect this with the 2000 election, I think it goes back at least to1992, and more likely beyond. In ’92, George H.W. Bush was considered a shoo-in for re-election following the first Gulf War, but faced an unlikely challenge from a previously unknown former Arkansas Governor, Bill Clinton, as well as the unexpected challenge of Independent candidate Ross Perot. Clinton won based not only on the split of the conservative vote between Bush and Perot, but also based on something that had been utilized by other 20th century candidates from Teddy Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy: personality. Clinton appeared to be the more approachable candidate, the one that many independent voters felt like they could sit down with at a diner or a bar and chat with about the economy as they ate a burger and drank a beer. Trace it back to the 1960’s: whom would you rather spend an evening at the local pub with, the smooth, suave JFK or the sweaty, uncomfortable Richard Nixon? The easy-going former actor Ronald Reagan, or the seemingly oblivious Jimmy Carter (let’s not even bring up Walter Mondale in ’84)? The smooth, sly Bill Clinton or members of the so-called political establishment like the elder Bush in ’92 or Bob Dole in ’96? The seemingly stiff, monotone Al Gore in 2000 or the straight-talking, down-to-earth former Texas governor George W. Bush (a theme repeated in 2004 with John Kerry)? These are the roots of the so-called “beer vote.”

It’s bad enough that the media jumped on the idea of the “beer vote”; now some other groups are trying to capitalize on it. The National Beer Wholesalers Association set up a web site to see which candidate in either party the public would vote for based on whom they’d most like to drink with. For the record, Obama is winning that vote, but other popular “beer candidates” like Rudy Giuliani, Ron Paul, and John Edwards quickly fell by the wayside (John McCain also scored fairly well in this “poll”). The candidates themselves have begun to latch on to this idea. Recently Senator Clinton was observed having a beer with potential constituents as she tried to revamp her campaign after losing major ground to Senator Obama. It seemed like the perfect pitch to blue collar voters in the key state of Ohio, and her victory in the primary there seems to indicate it may have worked (a sad testament, if you ask me, IF in fact her victory was aided by that campaign gimmick). Senator McCain is trying to woo conservatives, moderates, and independents alike with a laid-back approach that would seem to scream to the potential swing voter “I’m Joe Everyday  … vote for me and we’ll discuss future strategy over a beer at the local steakhouse.” Perhaps Senator Obama should quit smoking and start drinking; his popularity might soar (it may also finally prove to the doubters that he’s not really Muslim).

Honestly, how many of us are really going to stand in the voting booth and say “hmm  … candidate “A” doesn’t really stand for many things I believe in, while candidate “B” does  … but that candidate “A” sure seems like a good person  … I’d love to sit down with him or her at a local tavern and talk sports over a brew, so I’m going with ‘A’.” That’s ridiculous. A seemingly approachable personality does not necessarily a good politician make, and it’s flat out foolish to vote for someone based solely on that. The global political scene in the 21st century is far too complex and volatile for ANYONE to vote based on whom they’d most like to sit down with at a local tavern. While most of us can’t get into the minds of politicians, there’s often a reason why they seem too stiff, too intellectual, and too inapproachable: with the myriad of problems facing this country, and the world as a whole, who really has time to sit down, relax, and casually interact? I give major credit to any candidate that can take these problems in stride with a relaxed, laid-back attitude, but that’s not necessarily what we’re looking for in 2008. The economy is teetering on the verge of recession, we’re at war in Iraq and Afghanistan, terrorism remains a major threat to us both home and abroad, gas prices are soaring as the reliance on foreign oil stifles the potential prosperity of this country, the mortgage crisis is threatening a number of homeowners, the dollar is at an all-time low against most foreign currencies, there’s a massive credit crunch  … and we’re supposed to vote for the person we “most want to have a beer with”?

We’re all Americans. It matters not if your Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, Communist, Independent  … whatever. This is far too important a decision to be made based on someone you’d feel comfortable socializing with. We’re also Beer Dorks. Craft beer is a passion of ours, and I can think of no better forum to discuss the difficulties of the world with a candidate than at the local pub over a tapper of IPA. I don’t care who that candidate is: McCain, Clinton, Obama, Ralph Nader  … hell, even the “has-beens” like Mitt Romney, Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, Edwards, Joe Biden  … it doesn’t matter. I’d sit down with any or all of them over a cold one, discussing the ills of the world and what their plan is to fix them. BUT  … whomever I feel is most laid back, most personable, and most approachable is NOT going to sway my vote one way or the other. I will vote for the best candidate, regardless of party, regardless of how personable I feel they are, regardless of whether or not they chose to relax with a tall, cold one. I’ll vote for whomever I feel will best lead this country forward for the next four years.

Ultimately my plea is this to my fellow beer dorks: VOTE, but don’t vote based on superficial ideas. Vote for the candidate you believe will best lead our country, the candidate that can best help relieve the many challenges facing the nation. Be it McCain, Obama, Clinton  … whomever. Just vote. But don’t vote for beer  … vote from your heart, and vote from your mind. Let’s show the nation that there’s far more to us Midwesterners than supporting a candidate that we want to sit down and drink with. We have a rare opportunity to shape the future of this country for the next four years and beyond, and that decision should not be wasted on some half-baked idea put into our heads by the national media. Have a beer and go vote, just don’t vote for the beer.

Drinkin’ And Thinkin’

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