On New Year’s Eve, the same day she announced her intention to run for president, Senator Elizabeth Warren cracked open a cold one on Instagram Live. After exiting a swearing-in ceremony for state lawmakers yesterday, reporters clamored to know just what was in the bottle. Sen. Warren initially ignored the question, but when asked again, she quipped, “I drink Michelob Ultra, the club soda of beers.”
The vitriol from right-wing media was immediate. The Daily Mail sneered, “Presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren is blasted for 'desperate' and 'try hard' Instagram Live video which shows her chugging on a beer.” Meanwhile, Breitbart News attempted to lump Sen. Warren in with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who has been known to talk politics while cooking via Instagram Live. At least one conservative outlet cried foul that Sen. Warren was free to talk about her fondness for beer after Judge Brett Kavanaugh was criticized for it—nevermind that the latter controversy was about accusations of sexual assault and perjury. Beer wasn’t the point in that trial, just as it isn’t the point here.
Nevertheless, panelists on the Fox News show Outnumbered demanded, “Somebody tell me why beer? Why that beverage? Is that to appeal to, like, male voters? I’m just wondering because she’s playing the gender card, but I’m confused.” Another of the panelists went on to say, “It’s not misogynistic to think that Elizabeth Warren is a terrible candidate and a terrible human being. Those things are true.”
It is, however, decidedly misogynistic to gender beer in the first place, or to smear a female politician for drinking it. Attempting to tie Warren’s beer to male voters is nothing but unvarnished sexism. The fact that it’s even a story is evidence of this. Who would bat an eye if a male senator drank a beer?
Attempting to tie Warren’s beer to male voters is nothing but unvarnished sexism. Who would bat an eye if a male senator drank a beer?”
Sen. Warren’s drink may well have been a calculated decision, but that would hardly make it an anomaly. Plenty of politicians have grabbed a brewski over the years—either because they felt a need to show what a good-old-regular-Joe they are or because running for office drives one to drink. Beer can act as “a badge of down-to-earth authenticity, a sign of fellowship with ordinary folk,” as Mark Arsenault wrote in The Boston Globe. President Obama famously brewed beer at the White House and used it to try and defuse a tense conversation in what the media dubbed a “beer summit” in 2009.
Pundits have a long history of over-analyzing the food and beverage preferences of politicians, just as politicians from both the right and left have a long history of using their consumption habits to identify with voters. Pancake breakfasts and church potlucks were a requisite part of the campaign trail long before Rep. Ocasio-Cortez busted out the Instant Pot to make mac ‘n’ cheese. And while posing with a corn dog at the Iowa State Fair may be “worth its weight in electoral gold,” a dietary misstep can have dire ramifications, like the pointless firestorm Cynthia Nixon inadvertently over her bagel order. In the run-up to the midterms last year, Senator Ted Cruz attacked his Democratic opponent Beto O’Rourke by saying he planned to ban barbecue in Texas—Cruz later claimed it had been a joke—though O’Rourke had attempted to garner support by hosting more than 100 barbecues in a single day the previous fall. Ordering decisions have become such a minefield that both presidential candidates tried to avoid eating in public during the last election.
Regardless of whether or not you think Sen. Warren would make a good presidential candidate, the level of bile is wildly out of proportion for the situation. If this is how electoral proceedings are kicking off, it’s going to be a long, long two years. In the meantime, we might all be better off if we let the women (and men) in question drink whatever they damn well please.