Geoffrey Wheatcroft in Slate:
On Capitol Hill, as well as Westminster, drink once oiled the political process. “Cactus” Jack Garner, the genial Texan reactionary who was FDR’s vice president in the 1930s and who famously said that his job wasn’t worth a bucket of warm piss, confined his work to asking senators in to “strike a blow for liberty” over a flask of bourbon, so much of which flowed that Cactus Jack had a malodorous urinal installed in a corner of his office. If he wasn’t the best advertisement for the virtues of booze, the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a notably serious drinker who was also several cuts morally and intellectually above most of his Senate colleagues.
More alarming were Richard Nixon’s last years at the White House. After a good many evening martinis, he would call Henry Kissinger, and the secretary of state would grin silently as he passed around the telephone so that others could listen to their commander in chief’s unbalanced ramblings. Since Nixon was in a position to blow us all up, this suggests a somewhat esoteric sense of humor on Kissinger’s part…
In 1911, Winston Churchill wrote to his wife about Prime Minister H.H. Asquith: “On Thursday night the PM was very bad: and I squirmed with embarrassment. He could hardly speak and many people noticed his condition. … [O]nly the persistent freemasonry of the House of Commons prevents a scandal.”
There is a certain irony here, given Churchill’s own reputation. Few people ever saw him grossly drunk, but in 1935, Neville Chamberlain reported almost good-naturedly that “Winston makes a good many speeches considerably fortified by cocktails and old brandies,” and his all-day-long consumption of champagne, whisky, and brandy, not least in the years 1940-45, would have him marked down by many contemporary doctors as a functional alcoholic.