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Rarely in the history of the American republic have beer and junk food played such an important role in a presidential election.

At the Iowa State Fair last month, President Barack Obama stopped by the Bud Tent, posed for a few photos and bought a beer for himself and some of the folks in the tent.

When the president exited the tent, the patrons chanted “Four more beers! Four more beers!”

Then, last week, at a Sept. 11 memorial, Vice President Joe Biden told a deputy fire chief in Shanksville, Pa., that he and his firefighters were invited to the White House, where Biden promised to buy them a beer.

Pointing to an aide, Biden added, “He’s going to call you, no bulls—.”

There was also the recent revelation that Obama’s campaign bus is stocked with home brew made in the White House. What gives here?

My guess is that the president and his handlers are trying to telegraph the message that GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, a Mormon teetotaler, is not one of the boys, not a regular, beer-swilling American.

Hold the smoothie

This appears to be a subtle way of countering the widespread impression that Obama himself lacks true-blue American bona fides. Obama reinforced the message when, a bit earlier on the fairgrounds, he turned down the offer of a smoothie, saying he much preferred a beer.

Romney, if he chooses, can still spin this thing in his favor. Just imagine a series of ads asking people who they’d rather see with his finger on the doomsday button — a president who drinks smoothies or a president guzzling Pennsylvania Avenue Pale Ale.

That’s the trouble with any political ploy — the tables are so easily turned.

Just ask Scott Van Duzer, the pizza shop owner who famously gave the president a bear hug last week. Outraged Republicans across the country flooded Yelp — an Internet site that features user reviews of businesses — to post disparaging remarks about Van Duzer’s shop.

There was even talk of a boycott, which brings up another election-year food fight. I’m referring to the dustup over Chick-fil-A, whose president and CEO donated millions of dollars to anti-gay organizations.

That news led to a boycott of Chick-fil-A by liberal chicken eaters, quickly followed by rallies at which conservative chicken eaters gorged themselves on Chick-fil-A delicacies.

The great Chicken Controversy even came here to Billings, where opposing rallies were held last Saturday. The Magic City, alas, is apparently too far from the nearest Chick-fil-A outlet, so substitute chow came from an unnamed chicken vendor at the pro-family, anti-gay-rights rally. (Does anyone know where Col. Sanders stands on this issue?)

The easy way out

Meanwhile, at a counter-rally not far away, Pita Pit served “equality chicken and vegetarian pitas.”

You might think these culture-war controversies aren’t directly related to presidential electioneering, but come on. Do you think it’s a coincidence that these issues just simmer along for years and only flare up during election cycles?

You’d think people on both sides would get tired of being played for suckers by the politicians, but it never seems to happen.

The people running for office would much rather speechify about abortion, gay marriage and gun control than lay out their plans for cutting the deficit or, say, disarming Iran.

And they’d much rather drink beer and eat pizza than engage in honest debate and the search for meaningful solutions to the problems we all face.

Maybe the focus on beer makes sense. American politics seem to have descended to the level of those Detroit Tigers baseball fans who used to trade obscene chants from opposite sets of bleachers.

I can hardly even hint at what they used to shout at each other, this being a family newspaper and all, but you may recall that it was an extremely vulgar variation of the Miller Lite slogan, “tastes great, less filling.” You could probably Google it.

Much of the political campaigning and nearly all of the political advertising is about as substantive and about as well-mannered as those shouting matches.

It’s enough to drive a voter to drink.



I cover the city of Billings.