In a few hours, our President, Barack Obama, will sit down at a picnic table with two men in an event that’s been blown way out of proportion with the even more ridiculous title “Beer Summit.” The idea is to discuss race relations in America after events that unfolded much like the beginning of the Nicholas Cage film Amos & Andrew last week in Cambridge, Mass. I won’t go into all the controversy about the incident, and who was right or wrong, and what can be done about it. That’s been talked about to death. But there’s something else, a bit more under the radar, which has to do, I think, with the “teachable moment” that Obama was hoping to accomplish with his “Beer Summit.”
For me, the over-looked “teachable moment” is that three adults can sit down and discuss an issue, any issue really, over a beer. Sharing a beer is a way people have bonded for centuries. It’s the reason the Tavern was so critical to the success of the American Revolution. Drinking beer, I think, is particularly good as a shared experience and that adults can enjoy having a convivial conversation while responsibly enjoying a beer or two is beer’s power and an underlying reason for its popularity.
That should be obvious, but I’ve noticed a number of odd statements towards the end of various news reports, presumably in an effort to get a balanced perspective. But since having a couple of beers to talk over a problem seems like such an ordinary experience for a majority of people, they’ve had to go pretty far into the fringes to find dissenting opinions.
Rita K. Wert, the group’s national president, said her organization is disappointed that the president is serving beer at all. “There are so many other beverages he could have chosen that would have served just as well,” she said, mentioning lemonade or iced tea.
Served, maybe, but as well, doubtful. I love Iced Tea more than anyone really should [I drink at least a liter a day, usually more], but neither it nor lemonade is appropriate for a discussion of race relations. They might be fine if you were planning a high school dance. But for the harder issues, you need the harder stuff.
Then there’s this gem, from Politico:
But it wouldn’t be a contrived Washington event without a contrived Washington protest. Already, “Citizens Against the Beer Summit at White House”, a makeshift gathering spearheaded by Baltimore pastor Dr. Emmett Burns, will picket the White House today between 12 and 3 p.m. “The president’s actions are sending the wrong message to our nation’s youth who are becoming alcoholics at young ages,” reads an announcement for the protest. “This pernicious habit is also the reason for the large number of teen motor vehicle accidents throughout the country.”
Burns is not exactly just a pastor, but also a politician, a 4-term Democrat in Maryland’s House of Delegates. And he’s a Baptist minister, a denomination that generally comes out against alcohol, so it’s not too surprising.
But there are two things I just don’t get about what’s he’s saying. How are three adults, legally entitled to drink alcohol, sending a bad message to kids, who aren’t yet allowed alcohol? That makes no sense whatsoever. People allowed to do something, doing it (and doing it responsibly) does not send any rational person the message that it’s alright for anyone to do that same thing, especially if they’re not permitted to do it. A torturous sentence to be sure, but it’s a ridiculous notion, but one that’s often trotted out. “What about the kids.” Well, I’d say they’ll get to see a great model of responsible behavior, and perhaps learn that drinking can be done in a responsible manner instead of the scare tactics employed by Burns and people of his misguided ilk. That’s exactly the teachable moment I see. To say that seeing adults enjoy something legally can be the cause of teenagers having car accidents is so utterly a stretch of logic, that I have to seriously wonder about the mind of the author who included the quote. As I, and literally millions of responsible adults can attest, drinking beer does not always, or even usually, lead to a “pernicious habit” (defined as “highly injurious or destructive”). What does it add to the conversation, except to give voice to the fringe element?
Despite these rather pathetic attempts to admonish the President for doing something perfectly legal, something that’s a time-honored tradition, and take any opportunity to get their crazed anti-alcohol message out there, the real message is just the opposite. No matter what you think about Obama’s politics, having people sit down to talk over a beer is always a good idea. Beer as social lubricant: it bonds people, opens them up to talk more freely and discuss uncomfortable issues head on. If the three men walk away from the “Beer Summit” with a successful result — and how could it be otherwise? — beer will have played the role it’s been facilitating throughout history. This is nothing new. When enjoyed responsibly, like the vast majority of legal drinkers do, beer can have countless positive effects on society. If only all our differences could be tackled over a beer, now that would be real progress. We might actually get somewhere. But the real message is that anybody, from President to average citizen, can sit down and discuss the world, and any issue in it, over a beer in a positive, responsible and effective manner. To me, that’s the “teachable moment.”