It's time for loyal Democrats everywhere to give two cheers to former Arizona governor Bruce Babbitt and a noisy Bronx cheer to the rest of their party's 1988 field. This testimonial to Babbitt is totally unrelated to his lonely candor on important public questions. No, by his answers to a magazine survey on personal data, the Arizonan has revealed himself to be the only 1988 Democrat who is faithful to his party's heritage.
On his inaugural day, unless he is a terminal ingrate, President Babbitt will personally thank Life magazine for asking all the 1988 presidential candidates (before Gary Hart's return to the race), among other questions, what their favorite drink was. By his answer, Babbitt proved to be that rare politician, one with a sense of roots and an understanding that historically his party has been the home of the immigrant, of religious and economic dissidents, of the outsider. Most respectable elements of society have belonged to the party other than the Democrats, first the Whigs and later the Republicans.
Here are the candidates' responses to the drinking question: Rep. Richard Gephardt might have been expected to answer Budweiser, which is brewed in his home town of St. Louis; instead he named milk. Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis' reply of ''not a drinker'' may explain his dry platform style. In an obvious bid for support from his Dixie base, Tennessee Sen. Albert Gore named ''Gator-ade.'' Sen. Paul Simon turns out not to be a shot-and-a-beer man; Pepsi-Cola is his choice. Rev. Jesse Jackson, perhaps not surprisingly, left the question unanswered. But Babbitt bellied right up to the bar and named his preference: Tecate beer, a truly democratic beverage and a popular choice among southwestern truck drivers.
Apparently the other Democrats forgot that, with one exception, the nation elected nothing but Republican presidents from 1856 to 1912. The only Democratic winner was Grover Cleveland, who owed his 1884 victory to the Rev. Samuel Burchard, a bigoted New York clerical error, who publicly censured Cleveland for belonging to the party of "Rum, Romanism and Rebellion." That was enough to enable the Democrats to carry New York State by 1,149 votes out of more than a million cast.
That same class fight broke out again during World War I when the strongly nativist anti-Saloon League skillfully pushed the Prohibition Amendment to the Constitution. Shrewdly investing their political arguments with the glow of patriotism, the Drys turned their campaign into a crusade against German brewers (Anheuser-Busch, Schlitz, Pabst). The outlawing of alcohol meant the closing of saloons where working people (read Democrats) stopped after work and the opening of speak-easies for the affluent, while sales of silver flasks skyrocketed among the children of the country club set (read Republicans). Prohibition, which had effectively raised the price and lowered the quality of booze, was enacted over Democrat Woodrow Wilson's veto and repealed by Democrat Franklin Roosevelt. And it's a good bet that Democrat Harry Truman's definition of "wine and cheese" would have been Velveeta and muscatel.
And what about the 1988 Republicans? Boy, they are a salty crowd. Sen. Bob Dole's favorite is coffee; Rep. Jack Kemp, like Simon, prefers Pepsi; Al Haig chooses orange juice; Pete du Pont relaxes with a tall iced tea; Rev. Pat Robertson favors tea, no temperature specified; and Vice President George Bush, with an uncanny sense of symmetry, names milk as his favorite drink. The only Republicans who wouldn't order a sarsaparilla are not running: former Nevada senator Paul Laxalt favors Scotch, and Jeane Kirkpatrick, a former Democrat, likes "a good red burgundy."
It's time for the Democrats, having lost both power and their way while nibbling on nouvelle cuisine and sipping imported water, to remember who they are and where they came from. They can start by recalling the story about the woman temperance candidate whose stump speech ended with the line: "I would rather commit adultery than take a glass of beer." From the back of the crowd came the logical question, "Hell, who wouldn't?" If Americans want an Eagle Scout in the White House in 1989, they won't elect a Democrat. Won't you drink to that?