A Brief History of Drunk-Ass Politicians, From Susana Martinez to Martin Van Buren
The New Mexico governor’s raucous party carries on a proud tradition of sloshed statesmen.
New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez has been slammed by critics and the opposition as vindictive, petty, and weak. Federal agents have probed years-worth of the Republican’s sketchy fundraising activities, and in 2010 she was caught on tape calling a political opponent “that little bitch.”
The governor is also accused of throwing one hell of a Christmas party.
A newly released audio clip from the Santa Fe police reveals a sergeant stating that Martinez was “inebriated” during a hotel holiday party thrown for friends and staffers—a party that allegedly escalated into loud, drunken revelry that included party-goers hurling bottles from the fourth-floor balcony.
“To be clear, this is not about the governor enjoying a few too many at her holiday party,” the state’s House Minority Leader Brian Egolf said. “This is about her breathtaking lack of honesty and her appalling treatment of our law enforcement officers and the workers of the Eldorado Hotel.”
Martinez may be spiteful and at times juvenile—but she has just (allegedly!) joined in on the proud, time-honored American tradition of very powerful, very hammered (or very high) politicians.
“Throughout those who ran for executive office who I have studied, it is rare to find that once someone gets into office that that sort of rambunctiousness—that kind of partying—would continue,” Brian Abrams, author of Party Like a President: True Tales of Inebriation, Lechery, and Mischief From the Oval Office, told The Daily Beast. “Once you get into power, your time becomes more precious and there are so many more eyeballs on you, it’s just surprising. To even manage to find the time to party at that level [once governing] is remarkable.”
Here is a brief history of American lawmakers and heads of government accomplishing the remarkable.
President Nixon carpet-bombed while bombed.
President Richard Nixon’s drunken behavior during wartime is the stuff of White House legend—appalling, deeply unflattering legend.
In 1970, Nixon and co. were prepping for the invasion of Cambodia, which expanded the Vietnam War and resulted in several White House staffers resigning in protest. On one occasion, the president—drunk and slurring—called National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger to shoot the shit about the coming invasion. Nixon proceeded to put Bebe Rebozo, a friend and Florida businessman, on the line, during which Rebozo (like a stock character in a mob movie) uttered the following:
“The president wants you to know if this doesn’t work, Henry, it’s your ass.”
Kissinger subsequently lobbied the administration heavily in favor of greenlighting the Cambodia campaign, and soon enough, it was done.
JFK: responsible pothead?
Tales of President Kennedy’s unflinching womanizing, heavy painkiller use, and celebrity-abetted partying have all been well-recorded and widely promoted. But there was also that one time JFK turned down some more pot thanks to Cold War anxieties.
As the story goes, on one evening in July of 1962, Kennedy invited one of his mistresses over to the White House because he wanted to smoke some marijuana. Mary Pinchot Meyer, the ex-wife of a top CIA agent, brought over several joints. Kennedy sucked down three, but when presented with a fourth, the president (wisely?) resisted.
“Suppose the Russians did something now,” the playboy president said.
A few months later, the Russians did in fact do something, and the Cuban Missile Crisis began.
Martin Van Buren: notorious binge-drinker.
“Van Buren very much was a guy who behind the scenes was really great at using booze as a social lubricant,” Abrams explained. Our eighth president was a heavy enough drinker (a habit he began as early as 25) that it earned him the nickname, “Blue Whiskey Van.”
His job took a toll on his hard-partying ways, as he at least attempted to conceal his rate of consumption shortly after ascending to the White House as Andrew Jackson’s veep in 1829. Five weeks after Van Buren became president, the country suffered the Panic of 1837, a financial crisis that sparked a major, years-long recession. The economic catastrophe effectively ended his big-league carousing because he didn’t want to appear to rub the lifestyle in the faces of constituents.
The American people voted the bum out in the 1840, anyway.
Charlie Wilson: skirt-chasing, drunk-driving, anti-communist.
Yet another womanizing, debauched Democrat from the Cold War era, Texan congressman Charlie Wilson (nicknamed “Good Time Charlie” and portrayed by Tom Hanks in Charlie Wilson’s War) definitely had his fair share of booze-sodden moments that were anything but charming.
On one night in 1980, while he was sloppily drunk-driving home to have sex with his hot date, the congressman managed to slam his Lincoln into a Mazda on Washington, D.C.’s Key Bridge. Instead of swapping insurance info or apologizing, Wilson left the scene of the crime, and quickly drove home to avoid the cops.
He later got off easy with a $25 fine for a misdemeanor charge.
It was moments like these that were curiously left out of the Tom Hanks movie, directed by Mike Nichols and written by Aaron Sorkin, which dramatized his efforts to arm and support the Afghan mujahideen in the Soviet–Afghan War.
“They [the filmmakers] were kind to me,” Wilson said after seeing the 2007 film. “I had the idea when they started out that the movie was going to be rougher, a little more sex, a little more bad language.”
Ted Kennedy: the drunkest Kennedy.
The Chappaquiddick incident—where the “liberal lion” senator managed to drown and kill his colleague Mary Jo Kopechne—renders accounts of Kennedy’s rampant hedonism darker, and ever less amusing.
A 1990 profile of the senator by Michael Kelly paints a decent picture of how certain behavior runs in the family:
A former mid-level Kennedy staffer, bitterly disillusioned, recalls with disgust one (now ex-) high-ranking aide as “a pimp…whose real position was to procure women for Kennedy.” The fellow did have a legitimate job, she says, but also openly bragged of his prowess at getting attractive and beddable dates for his boss. The former staffer also recalls attending a party at Kennedy’s McLean, Virginia, mansion and finding it “sleazy and weird” to see that the senator had apparently established as his live-in girlfriend a young woman known to the staff as the T-Shirt Girl, a New Englander who had previously sold tees at a beach resort and who had reportedly met the senator through his son Teddy junior. A waiter at La Colline, a French restaurant near the senator’s office, remembers a drunken Kennedy and a fellow senator recently staging a late-night scene out of The Three Musketeers, grabbing long-stalked gladiolus from a vase in the front hall and fencing “just like D'Artagnan.” At the same restaurant in 1985, Kennedy and drinking buddy Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut did a “Mexican hat dance” on their own framed photographs. According to The Washingtonian magazine, which broke the story, “Kennedy spotted Dodd’s framed photo [on the wall] and shouted ‘Who’s this guy’ Laughing, he grabbed the photo from the wall and threw it on the ground, breaking the glass in the frame. Dodd, not to be outdone, located Kennedy’s photo and returned the favor.” A new Kennedy photo adorns the wall today, inscribed with “Laissez les bons temps rouler—Let the good times roll.”
So clearly, if the allegations against Governor Martinez are true, she will have entered what is historically just another male-dominated, and dissipated, club in American politics.