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Thursday, August 03, 2006

Looking for Votes in the Bottom of a Glass

Bellying up to the bar is one of those Every Man kind of things that politicians do on occasion -- often when it's election season. President Ronald Reagan made a memorable stop at the Eire Pub in Boston's Dorchester section in 1983, catching regulars by surprise. In a famous photo by Stan Grossfeld of the Boston Globe, The Leader of the Free World can be seen with a mug of Ballantine Ale chatting with locals. He is said to have finished the beer, washing down a hotdog with the brew. No doubt the nuclear football was close by just in case. In 1992, Bill Clinton visited the same bar on a campaign stop. Regulars still scoff at the fact Clinton posed with a pint of Guinness, but did not touch a drop of the brew.

Those type of photo-op visits have come to be the expected sort of thing in today's non-stop news cycle world. It sure makes better television than another stump speech at the local tractor assembly plant. Sometimes when the cameras are not around, politicians are more like the rest of us and end up just wanting to have a good time. Still, two recent reports of powerful people enjoying a relaxing moment caught even a grizzled journalist like myself a little off guard.

Case #1: The New York Times recently reported that during a Congressional visit to Estonia in 2004, Sen. Hillary Clinton, Sen. John McCain and others in the delegation engaged in a classic of any trip to the Baltics -- a vodka drinking contest. No one has stepped forward to announce a victor, but Sen. McCain is said to have told some fellow members of Congress that Mrs. Clinton had impressed him as "just one of the guys." The contest was her idea, according to the news reports. (And I always thought that it was Bill who was the party animal of that couple.) Perhaps Clinton and McCain might decide to use drinking contests instead of debates if they end up facing off in the race for the White House in 2008.

Case #2: British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently visited California on what some in the U.K. called part vacation and part politics. On one evening he ended up at Skybar, an exclusive watering hole at the Mondrian Hotel overlooking Los Angeles. A number of celebrities and some Chelsea soccer stars were in the bar. Prime Minister Blair is said to have been seen talking with Cordozar Calvin Broadus Jr., aka Snoop Dogg. I cannot help but wonder if the subject of the (alleged) near riot in April at London's Heathrow Airport came up? During a layover on a British Airways flight to South Africa, Snoop and his large traveling contingent (allegedly) became upset that they all could not enter the first class lounge. Some (allegedly) had coach tickets. In the end, after some liquor bottles had (allegedly) been thrown through windows at the duty free shop and seven police officers (allegedly) suffered minor injuries (allegedly) battling up to 30 people, Snoop and five of his traveling companions were arrested. British Airways also banned Snoop from future flights.

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