Could Booze Ease Senate Partisanship?

By Beacon Staff

There’s a neat story just out in New York Magazine on the deteriorating atmosphere of the U.S. Senate. While it starts out as just another piece lamenting the partisanship and gridlock there, acknowledged by just about everybody, the article, by Jennifer Senior, actually delves into a lot of poignant anecdotes from long-serving senators about how fun and rewarding service in the Senate used to be. The piece is long and sad, but worth a read if you have the time. Here’s one great anecdote from when Montana Democrat Mike Mansfield was leading the Senate about how late votes used to work, before the Senate open bar was closed in the 1980s. It truly is impossible to imagine the modern Senate operating like this:

Nor can one imagine senators sitting around having cocktails with one another today, at least openly, which is also a shame. Democracy worked a lot better when senators drank and smoked. Into the eighties, the secretary of the Senate kept an open bar for lawmakers who were milling around after hours, waiting for votes. As a young senator, Leahy was asked to bartend for his senior peers. “I remember sitting in Mike Mansfield’s back room”—Mansfield was the Democratic leader during the civil-rights era—“and suddenly I hear hrrrrrrrr. And I look over, and there’s Jim Eastland with his empty glass, glaring at me.” James Eastland, a white supremacist with a committee gavel, was a Chivas Regal man. “There were some wonderful discussions then,” adds Leahy. “You’d get Hubert Humphrey and Barry Goldwater telling stories. Mansfield would sort of puff his pipe. And then he’d say, ‘You know, boys, I’d like to wrap this up. Do you suppose that if you brought up your amendment, and then you brought up yours, we could pass the bill and go home?’ And they’d say, ‘Good idea!’ ”