Beer has been a surprisingly significant part of our politics in 2023. First, Bud Light was transformed from a blue-collar brew with working-class connotations to a symbol of the liberal elite, all for reasons that are frankly too complicated to get into right now. Now, as the summer months wane, beer’s back on the political menu—this time, because of a ginned-up controversy involving George Koob, director of the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism.
Last week, the British tabloid the Daily Mail asked Koob what changes to its drinking level guidelines might be made in 2025, when the Institute is due to revise its advice to Americans about how much alcohol to consume. His response? “They’re not going to go up, I’m pretty sure.” He was, he said, interested in guidelines that had been adopted by the Canadian Center on Substance Abuse and Addiction earlier this year, which suggests that risks are lower if folks limit themselves to around two drinks a week. Koob didn’t say that the Institute would be making changes to the existing guidelines, but, he said, if it did, “it would be toward Canada.”
Soon thereafter, we were off to the races! Peter Doocy, a White House correspondent for Fox News, asked during Monday’s press briefing, “Does President Biden want to limit Americans to two beers a week?” to which press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre asked, “Where’s this coming from?” When Doocy referred back to Koob’s remarks, the press secretary responded that she “cannot speak to this,” and that she’d “leave it to the experts.” Conservative media outlets seized on her confusion, suggesting that it was perhaps an attempt to obfuscate and dodge the question. Then, the podcaster, gleeful conservative online troll, and junior senator from Texas Ted Cruz picked up on the mood from his base, and filmed a quick . . . comedy sketch (?) for Newsmax surrounded by a bunch of fellas in cowboy hats and trucker caps, each holding a bottle of Shiner. (Not, as Cruz noted in an attempt to play the hits, Bud Light.)
Grimly warning viewers about a New York policy regarding gas stoves in newly constructed apartment buildings, and a proposed Biden administration recommendation that could, in 2028, require ceiling fan manufacturers to meet new energy efficiency standards, Cruz began his stand-up routine. “What is it with liberals who want to control every aspect of your life?” the junior senator said. “And now these idiots have come out and said, ‘Drink two beers a week. That’s their guideline,’ ” before reaching off-camera for a bottle of Shiner. “Well, I gotta tell ya, if they want us to drink two beers a week, frankly they can kiss my ass.” Then he—and all the fellas behind him—took a long pull from the bottle. The choreography wasn’t exactly impressive, but we imagine they had fun taking a few practice drinks!
Regardless, Cruz’s characterization of the beer affair (and the ceiling fan affair, for that matter) has, at absolute best, only a passing acquaintance with the truth. No one in the Biden administration has said “drink two beers a week”; it’s not the administration’s guideline; and even if it were the recommendation from a government agency that offers guidance around curbing alcoholism, who cares? Quick—name the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism’s current guideline for how much to drink, and the penalties for breaking it! Or don’t, because it doesn’t matter, and there aren’t any.
One can argue with whether it’s an appropriate use of government resources to study alcohol abuse, or to create efficiency standards for ceiling fans, or to regulate the stoves that go into new apartment buildings in New York, but that’s a pretty boring discussion. Back in his debate team days, Cruz would probably have relished the chance to have it—but those of us who’ve been cursed to follow closely the exploits of Second-Term Ted have noticed that he’s lost a lot of his taste for wonky policy debate. Instead, he appears to be on the hunt for a system to fight, a machine against which to rage, an evil empire to whose rebellion he can lead. When no authority figure manifests to attempt to force the junior senator to comply with stringent guidelines or face a penalty, he just makes one up—in this case, he’s the #resistance hero of the battle to prevent an obscure government institute from making a non-binding recommendation.
Is it a good time to get together with a bunch of pals, drink beer, and tell the people you don’t like to kiss your ass? Sure, that’s a longstanding pastime, in Texas as elsewhere. It’s just a little sadder when the person doing it is a United States senator who needs to make up a bad guy so he can do it on the news. Still, we hope he had a fun night with his friends.
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