Nondrinkers are terrible presidents. Discuss.

RonaldReagan wine Timothy Egan has a piece up on the Opinionator column of the NYT with a provocative thesis on the correlation between teetotalism and presidential leadership: “The nondrinkers, at least over the last century or so, were terrible presidents.” Our country has a history of both binging on alcohol and abstaining so it is in an interesting lens for looking at leadership. However, it’s not perfect since Nixon liked wine but his presidency undeniably ended in disgrace and even Herbert Hoover apparently once had a large wine cellar. (For a timely, overseas example on whom voters have yet to render final judgment, President Sarkozy is also a teetotaler.)

But in gazing at the drink preference of Mt. Rushmore’s faces, George Washington liked Madeira and became a whiskey distiller after leaving office, Jefferson, of course, was the best friend wine geeks ever had in the White House, Lincoln once had a liquor retail license and later owned a tavern and Teddy Roosevelt apparently had a nightcap from time to time.

Clearly defining good and bad presidencies skates a little close to partisan coloring for this blog. But Lincoln had a good perspective: “The problem with alcohol, he said, was not that it was a bad thing, but a good thing abused by bad people.”

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6 Responses to “Nondrinkers are terrible presidents. Discuss.”


  1. And we all know who was behind the addition of the warning statement on wine labels…….a major tee-totaler……Strom Thurmond!


  2. I wish airline pilots were all teetotalers.


  3. Does this theory apply only to U.S. Presidents? If not, could you please research the drinking habits of the following?

    Dick Cheney

    Donald Rumsfeld

    Karl Rove

    Alan Greenspan

    Ben Bernanke

    Hank Paulson

    Timothy Geithner

    Robert Rubin

    Larry Summers

    LLoyd Blankfein

    Thanking you in advance!


  4. Interesting to contemplate. Is it significant that our most totalitarian Presidents of the 20th Century, Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, were teetotalers? Or that Grant and Bush were both drunks, whereas Carter was also teetotal? Our least stylish Presidents, Truman and Johnson, drank only cocktails; our most stylish, Kennedy and reagan, drank but very little. Perhaps all that matters is the long view, which is that we have fallen from Jefferson, a oenophile of note, to Obama, who drinks Kendall-Jackson Chard, Korbel “Champagne”, and South African sparkling plonk.


  5. Though not a U.S. president, Churchill was 50% American, partial to a tipple or two and the odd cigar, and pretty effective on balance…


  6. You have that image of Reagan there to demonstrate that even drinkers can be terrible presidents, right?


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