Boozy Politicians

Bush set a dry tone for Republicans in Washington. But Tuesday's election and the rise of a certain orange-hued Ohioan put the party back in Republican Party. Prepare for John Boehner, uncorked.

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Tip O'Neil

The omnipotent House Speaker was known for his working-class mien and preferred a shot and a beer when winding down. By Capitol Hill legend, O’Neill, who shacked up with fellow Massachusetts congressman Edward Boland, stocked his fridge exclusively with beer. O’Neill frowned upon abstemiousness when he found it. Once treated to a particularly austere breakfast by Jimmy Carter, who was new to the White House, O’Neill remarked, “Mr. President … you know, we won the election.”

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Richard Nixon

Richard Nixon’s aides were concerned at times that his personal demons might become a threat to national security. According to historian Robert Dallek, Henry Kissinger complained to outsiders of "our drunken friend, the maniac." During the Yom Kippur War, when Egypt sparked an international crisis by invading a nuclear-armed Israel, Nixon drank so much that his staff had to hide him from the British prime minister's phone calls for fear he would be unable to function. This was, according to aides, not unusual. "Nixon drank exceptionally at night and there were many nights when you couldn't reach him at Camp David," one former aide, Roger Morris, told Seymour Hersh in an interview for The Atlantic.

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Charlie Wilson

You know him as the Tom Hanks character who helped Afghan rebels fend off the invading Soviets in Charlie Wilson’s War. But the real-life congressman was a colorful character in his own right. The congressman from Texas was known as “Good Time Charlie” because of his fondness for alcohol and other indulgences. It took a woman to bring Wilson back to the straight and narrow. According to the Houston Chronicle, Wilson gave up all the debauchery in his 60s when he met his wife, Barbara.

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Franklin D. Roosevelt is said to have had a no-politics rule at his cocktail parties. At his Hyde Park retreat, he'd mix a "Haitian libation"—dark rum, brown sugar, orange juice, and an egg white, served up in a frosted tumbler. The drink, his son said, was designed for lady guests. During the heat of World War II, FDR would cool off with lengthy drinking periods alongside sometime houseguest Winston Churchill. The sessions—nicknamed "Winston Hours"—were so severe that the president spent days sleeping them off. At the famous Tehran Conference, Roosevelt charmed Stalin with his martinis. And of course, FDR is the man who signed away Prohibition, announcing as the 21st Amendment went into law, “I believe this would be a good time for a beer.”

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Ulysses S. Grant

President Ulysses S. Grant has long been synonymous with problem drinking, but historians are still debating the nature and scope of his alcohol abuse. While there's no arguing that Grant liked to drink, at one point losing his Army captain's commission due to showing up visibly intoxicated at a function, it's questionable whether his occasional binges hampered his ability to perform as a general and as a president. "Grant did not fit the stereotype of the falling-down drunk," writes Civil War historian Edward Longacre. "At times he imbibed moderately, with little or no noticeable effect, and he was capable of refusing a drink, explaining that alcohol brought him nothing but trouble." Grant was aided in his battle to stay functional by his adjutant general, John A. Rawlins, who during the war would stick to the general's side to keep him from hitting the whiskey too hard.

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The Kennedys

The Kennedy myth is all bound up in booze. John F. Kennedy is said to have been a daiquiri man. For the critics of the Democratic family, one need only say the word “Chappaquiddick” to call up images of a family under the influence and out of control. For others, there is the great myth that the family fortune, created by Joseph P. Kennedy, was made in bootlegging—the illegal production of alcohol during Prohibition. In his recent history, Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition, journalist Daniel Okrent dispenses with that story—the Kennedy liquor business was all on the up-and-up—and explains how the bootlegging story, once uncorked, could never be put back in the bottle.


Lyndon Baines Johnson

LBJ was a Scotch man—Cutty Sark, to be precise. His special counsel Harry McPherson  told The Daily Beast that Johnson's legislative achievements were “oiled over an awful lot of drinks.” A lot of that drinking happened with Senate Republican leader Everett Dirksen on Capitol Hill or in the White House. But some of the imbibing happened away from Washington. According to another Johnson aide, Joseph Califano, Jr., LBJ would drive around his ranch in a Lincoln convertible drinking "Cutty Sark scotch and soda out of a large white plastic foam cup. Periodically, Johnson would slow down and hold his left arm outside the car, shaking the cup and ice. A Secret Service agent would run up to the car, take the cup and go back to the station wagon. There another agent would refill it with ice, scotch, and soda as the first agent trotted behind the wagon. Then the first agent would run the refilled cup up to LBJ’s outstretched and waiting hand, as the president’s car moved slowly along."

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Bob Packwood

Oregon Republican Bob Packwood served in the Senate for 26 years before being forced to resign in 1995 amid a raft of allegations of sexual harassment, abuse, and assault. The senator, a former president of his college fraternity, was long known as a heavy drinker and spent five days at Minnesota’s Hazelden center being evaluated for alcohol abuse while the Senate Ethics Committee investigated claims by 10 women that Packwood had harassed or assaulted them.

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Joseph McCarthy

Communist-hunter Joseph McCarthy struggled with alcoholism all through the period of his famous hearings in the 1940s and 1950s. “He had always been a heavy drinker,” wrote journalist Richard Rovere, “and there were times in those seasons of discontent when he drank more than ever.” After the Senate voted to “condemn” McCarthy in 1954, his health declined precipitously, as he suffered from cirrhosis of the liver. He died in 1957 of hepatitis related to his drinking.

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Wilbur Mills

Some politicians have a less easy relationship with alcohol than others. In 1974, the Arkansas Democrat and House Ways and Means chairman admitted that he suffered from alcoholism after he was discovered frolicking in the Tidal Basin with a stripper known as the “Argentine Firecracker,” Fanne Foxe. Mills left office that year and later revealed that his drinking was so heavy that he sometimes suffered from blackouts while at work.

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John Tower

Tower faced a brutal grilling when George H.W. Bush nominated the Texas senator to serve as his secretary of Defense. Conservative activist Paul Weyrick said Tower was “morally unfit” to lead the Pentagon because of his overindulgence in alcohol. The FBI had even put together a file on Tower’s drinking habits. Tower said he would become a teetotaler if he were awarded the nomination. Instead, his colleagues rejected him, and Tower became only the ninth Cabinet appointee in United States history to fail to win confirmation.