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$200 an ounce, and I feel not-fine
Notes on James Carville's expensive whiskey and obsolete centrism
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On Tuesday night, longtime Democratic operative & pundit James Carville got on MSNBC with an expensive bottle of booze and told the network’s left-leaning audience that despite how unexpectedly tight the race was, there was no reason to kill themselves. LOL! Your Fingers editor is a couple days late to the clip because as a rule I avoid cable news at all costs, but folks… it’s a doozie!
“First thing is every Democrat—just put the razor blades and the Ambien back in the medicine cabinet,” the Ragin’ Cajun told anchor Brian Williams with a chuckle. “We’re gonna be fine, we’re gonna be fine.”
Making suicide jokes on national TV at a time when ordinary Americans are financially strapped thanks to the Trump administration’s catastrophic pandemic non-response, and stressed the fuck out at the very-plausible prospect that the Democrats might blow it again is one good indication that the Clinton acolyte is not actually very attuned to the concerns of working-class voters.
Another indication was the booze itself: a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle Family Reserve bourbon that peeked out over Carville’s shoulder on the video feed.
“That’s stuff is about $200 an ounce,” he told Williams, who had asked if the bottle started the night full. “I parsed it out pretty good… Uncle Pappy, he’s not coming out until I’m sure, but right now I feel good.”
To which I say: Of course you feel good, James! None of this will affect you very much! You’re drinking whiskey that costs more than than insulin! Shut the fuck up!!!
It makes some sense that a Clintonian Democrat who once wrote a book purporting to understand the political importance of the American middle class would nevertheless get on TV in 2020 to condescend to rank-and-file voters while brandishing this particular pricey bourbon.
As spirits writer/Hacking Whiskey author/pal Aaron Goldfarb explained in a March 2020 piece for Wine Enthusiast, Pappy is fairly cheap at retail—but only if you can actually find it at retail, which you almost certainly cannot, because hype has turned it into an “impossible-to-find unicorn” that’s “famous for being famous.” This self-fulfilling myth, combined with the whiskey’s genuine scarcity, has led to a brisk, social-media abetted secondary market where Pappy prices soar. Goldfarb:
The rise of Facebook allowed strangers an unfettered grey market to sell Pappy for whatever the economics would bear. Though tens of thousands of new bottles are released each November, with the rather-reasonable price tag of $249 for the 23 Year, the secondary market continues to soar. That same 23 Year sells typically for closer to $2,000. Meanwhile, in 2017, a newly released Old Rip Van Winkle 25 Year Old sold for more than $16,000.
For perspective, an American worker working full-time at federal minimum wage stands to earn $15,080 annually. Anyway.
I don’t know which particular Pappy varietal was sitting on Carville’s liquor cabinet—I’m far from an expert on the stuff, and the picture is too blurry to make out the age statement on the bottle’s label. But if we take the pundit at his word that it’s $200/oz, and it’s sitting in the Pappy-standard 75cL vessel, that means the bottle would cost around $5,072 total.
Now, it’s possible that Carville meant his Pappy would cost $200/oz at a bar, where you’d pay a premium mark-up on the pour. In 2017, for example a Manhattan bar was charging $315/oz for super-rare Pappy 25, according to CNBC’s Secret Lives of the Super-Rich—but the bottle was purchased for around $72/oz. (The show appears to have been canceled after that season; no word whether guillotines were involved.)
It’s also possible that Carville—being something of the famous-for-being-famous sort himself—was given his bottle of Pappy Van Winkle as a gift, I guess. But the whiskey’s provenance doesn’t really matter. What matters is the pundit’s perspective is still somewhat representative of the mainstream Democratic Party’s approach to electoral politics today. At 200 bucks a shot, it’s increasingly out-of-touch with this country’s political reality.
Back in February 2020, Ed Burmila at The New Republic nicely summed up how Carville’s elitism—and by extension, the Democratic establishment’s obsession with cozying up to corporations rather than run left towards this country’s beleaguered working class—was costing the party elections:
Carville represents much that’s wrong with the Democratic Party—its refusal to learn from its mistakes; its obsession with appealing to wealthy suburbanites while telling its traditional base of the working class and people of color to suck it up because the Republicans are worse; its preference for the performative over the substantive (Pelosi ripped the speech!); and, above all else, the belief that “operatives” and “consultants” know the pulse of the nation and can soothsay the will of the common man.
Sure sounds a lot like the sort of guy who would flash a $5,000 bottle of hard-to-get whiskey on live air during an election in which his party’s obsession with flipping white suburban Republicans (speaking of “impossible-to-find unicorns,” ahem) was at that very moment biting it in the ass. If people like Carville are still setting the tone on how mainstream Democrats approach the vast American Middle (or at the very least, how that approach is then pitched to voters via media hits like Tuesday’s) rank-and-file voters are right to be worried.
Maybe Biden will pull out a squeaker after all this. But even if he does, it never should have been this close in the first place. The fact that a president as demonstrably bad as Trump might get reelected after killing 230,000 Americans in an the election year is as good (bad?) a sign as any that this brand of Democratic politics—the politics of Clinton insiders and expensive whiskeys and hypothetically persuadable McMansion inhabitants—is less than average Americans deserve. And judging by the returns, average Americans know it.
Jack Mirkinson at Discourse Blog has it right:
We should remember that Biden’s campaign was built consciously around vibes rather than material change; that one of the final messages that the Biden team had Barack Obama deliver to the country was to vote for Biden so that they wouldn’t have to think about him—literally telling people to turn out so they could tune out; that the Democrats deliberately centered white, wealthy, Republican-leaning suburbanites while scoffing at people who told them to, say, knock on more doors or come up with a serious offering for Latinx voters, many of whom have broken for Trump by drastic margins; that Democrats and their allies persuaded their supporters to throw absolutely staggering sums away on doomed candidacies and Republican grifts; that after the horror and hell of the last four years, and particularly this last year, Trump has expanded his base.
James Carville would probably prefer if you didn’t remember any of that. Drink your swill and stop thinking about offing yourselves, rubes! The Ragin’ Cajun says everything is fine.
The bottom shelf
Big thanks to everyone who dropped in on our first-ever Fingers open discussion thread about drinking on election night! I enjoyed talking to each and every one of you. Let’s do it again real soon, yeah?
Terrific piece from Emily Cassell and Jay Boller at Minneapolis’ City Pages about Unite Here Local 17’s push to organize the food service industry in the Twin Cities. As you (probably) know, Surly’s restaurant workers came up one vote short on their union drive. Heartbreaker. Another heartbreaker: a couple weeks after running this story, the City Pages ended its four-decade run and shuttered. Solidarity to all involved.
The Fingers Reading Room is open for business, so if you’re looking for a new book, check it out!
Here’s an election-related beer meme. Or is it a beer-related election meme? Whatever, you get it.