So, with all the foofaraw about the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates, what President Obama said about the actions of the arresting officer and his police department, and the president’s ensuing invitation for the officer and Dr. Gates to join him at the White House for a beer, it’s refreshing to see people getting their panties all a-twist over what really matters- what beer will be served?
The folks at The Awl seem to believe that the LBJ-era policy directing that only domestic wines and beers be served at official functions means that the president, the professor, and the cop will be knocking back mass-market, watery crap. Personally, I don’t see any reason to believe that- while even as a non-beer-drinker I know that Budweiser is awful beer, as the wife of a beer enthusiast I also know that there are many fine regional beers and microbrews made right here in the US that could be offered to White House guests without bringing about national shame.
But there’s also some debate about the merit of the policy at all. Is it a protectionist, knee-jerk “Buy American” policy made increasingly irrelevant in a globalized world where InBev of Belgium owns Anheuser-Busch? Personally, I’m in favor of the policy- not out of some desire to protect American businesses, which should rise or fall on the value of their products (do you hear me, GM?)- but because I think it’s great when representatives of a government showcase the finest products of their nation to visitors. I wouldn’t go to a party at the French embassy and expect to be served California wine. I wouldn’t go to a bar in Germany and order a Sam Adams. Why shouldn’t visitors to the White House expect to be served the best possible examples of American products?
Wine and beer are unique among consumable products in that they are ordered and referred to by their brand and company name, which means unlike the possibly imported beef on the table, wine and beer carry around their ethnic, national, and regional baggage with them. That’s what causes wine service at the White House to be such a fraught political minefield, and it seems to me that sticking to domestics would reduce the possible pitfalls facing the White House sommelier.