What is it about beer? Former President George Bush was elected partly because he was a guy most Americans could imagine sitting down and having a beer with…ironic, given the fact that he doesn’t touch the stuff.
This week, knocking back a cold one became the symbol for a “cooling off” event involving President Obama, Harvard’s Professor Henry Gates, and Sgt. James Crowley, the Cambridge police officer who arrested Gates at his home recently. I think the beer detente (or beerastroika) was a decent move to effect damage control by the White House. It’s clear from their efforts to lower expectations that they didn’t welcome the outpouring of media attention, however. But, once opened, you can’t put the cap back on the bottle. The photo op that summarized what one blogger called “Cold Beer Diplomacy” is now international news.
The roughly 30 seconds of video has been scrutinized by scores of reporters, bloggers, and even body-language experts. Most entertaining was the on-air pun-ditry. ABC served up a segment headlined “The Audacity of Hops,” while MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow went with the more classic “From Beer to Eternity.” Of course, I was interested in the branding sidebar, so I tapped into the coverage of each participant’s choice of drink. There was a potential brou-haha at first. Some Summit-watchers were in a lather because three of the beers originally mentioned -Bud Lite, Blue Moon, and Red Stripe – are not American brands.
Craft brewers protested, and, as recounted in a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal, Massachussetts congressman Richard Neal lobbied for a more patriotic choice. In the end, Professor Gates traded his Red Stripe for a Sam Adams, a great beer and a hometown favorite. (And what could be more fitting than a beer named for a Founding Father?) Blue Moon, which is brewed in Canada, is a product of Molson Coors, so I give it half-credit. And, though the President’s choice of Bud Lite is an Anheuser Busch beer now owned by Belgian conglomerate InBev, it’s still an iconic American brand. (Later, Vice President Joe Biden crashed the party with the choice of a “near beer,” the low-alcohol Buckler brand, owned by Heineken. Meh.)
My first thought was that the White House planner should have had the guys in shirtsleeves, sharing a pitcher of the same beer; after all, it’s better symbolism. But, perhaps in a celebration of their diversity, each ordered his own favorite. And, they did it, we hope, while sharing views and building bridges, which would be the best and most ideally “American” outcome of all.
I’ll drink to that.