Alexander the Great is back in the news, and unlike so many of the notables mentioned there, the late Macedonian politico owes his current celebrity not to the artistry of clever public relations hacks, but to his own audacity and to the persevering scholarship of Prof. John Maxwell O'Brien. Writing in the current issue of Annals of Scholarship, O'Brien has revealed that Alexander, the youthful conqueror of the ancient world, was, like it or lump it, a common drunk.
The revelations have stirred an enormous controversy. Scholars of the period are in a stew. Americans of Macedonian descent are irritable. And then there are those members of the children's rights movement who had hoped to bring the drinking age down to conform with the voting age where such disparity still exists. After all, if an 18-year-old is old enough to vote, he ought to be allowed the tools to make a sound choice. Finally, there is the budding alcoholics' rights movement. Surely it does these reformers no good for some professor to be linking booze to the kind of antisocial behavior that characterized the late Macedonian's brief, albeit epic, career.
Yet you can be sure that O'Brien's researches brought rejoicing on Capitol Hill. There alcoholism has been spoiling a lot of fun lately, and many a matutinal hangover must have been relieved when word spread that bibulosity has been the occupational hazard of statesmen going back to the 4th century B.C. How I would like to have heard the learned conversations in the Senate Cloakroom as the solons speculated on the role booze has played in history.
Ever since the news of Alexander's guzzling got out, a surprising number of pols have stepped forward to testify to their own sturggles with the hooch. Apparently alcoholism is a danger that every statesman must court in pursuing the people's business, and many seem convinced that their struggles against the jug lend romance to the legend that they present to a spell-bound electorate on Election Day. Alcoholism adds a human touch to their otherwise superhuman lives. Moreover, in an age when all sorts of unfortunate circumstances supposedly free us from personal responsibility for our rascality, booze, it appears, is seen as a plausible alibi on Capitol Hill.
In the past two weeks, no fewer than three congressmen have claimed stong drink as their excuse for lapses into bribery, conspiracy and pederasty. What is more, there is a host of other contrite scamps, men who promise to sin no more, running for high office in the land. In the case of some, their trashy pasts and tearful confessions actually seem to have given them an advantage over their less wayward opponents. These are great days, proving once again that, despite the received wisdom about America's puritanical political expectations, we really do not mind being represented by slobs.
Consider the three congressmen who have most recently sought exoneration on the grounds of alcoholism. Like college boys on the morning after a dozen beers and a costly joyride, these distinguished lawmakers are now seeking to excuse their actions on the grounds that they had taken aboard a little too much firewater. They ask that their consitutents and fellow lawmakers let bygones be bygones. They want to retain their seats in the House. There they will continue the noble business of pork-barreling and distributing enough favors to their constituents to ensure reelection. This is modern American statecraft.
"I was intoxicated. I was drinking FBI bourbon," explained a petulant Michael ("Ozzie") Myers, Democrat from Pennsylvania. So too was the Hon. John W. Jenrette, Democrat of South Carolina. Both of these convicted boodlers were nabbed in the Abscam investigation. Then there is the most egregious of this bibulous trio, the Hon. Robert Bauman, Republican from Maryland and a vociferous spokesman for traditional American values. Alcoholism is his excuse for soliciting sexual delights from a 16-year-old boy, an adventure suggesting that the Hon. Bauman shares more than one of Alexander's indulgences. As a promient conservative, the Hon. Bauman has been fighting back the hedonistic hordes for years, and now it turns out he was juicing with them after hours. Today he wants to use their permissive ethic to exonerate himself; he is going to continue to campaign for reelection. "I will subit myself," he solemnly declares, "to the judgment of the citizens of my district." On what grounds does he expect his constituents to reelect him -- a sympathy vote? Is this not asking rather a lot from voters to whom in the past he has pledged a higher standard of conduct than is regularly practiced by his opponents? Of these three rogues, Bauman is quite the most intolerable.
To offer sympathy to a wrongdoer is an act of common decency; to return him to the House of Representatives is an act of frivolity bordering on the infantile. It is an indication of how far along we have come in releasing rogues from responsiblity for their roguishness that they would even suggest drunkenness as their alibi. America has had enough soap opera in the halls of government. Return the melodrama to afternoon television, and return candidates like Myers, Jenrette and Bauman to private life -- though if they enter my favorite saloon I shall exit via the alley.