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GROB: Put the bartenders in charge

By James Grob,

His name was Joe, and he tended bar at place called Fitzpatrick’s in Iowa City back in the late 1980s.

As the song goes, he was “quick with a joke, or to light up your smoke,” although I didn’t smoke, and I honestly don’t know much more about the guy. It’s been 30 years since I’ve seen him, and I have no idea what became of him.

But if he ran for president of the United States, I’d probably vote for him in a second.

Fitzpatrick’s was located just a block away from my apartment when I was in college, and it was a good place to stop on my way home, walking back from my classes on campus. In fact, I stopped there a lot — so often that when I walked in, Joe would have my Miller Genuine Draft poured before the door closed behind me.

GROB: Put the bartenders in charge
James Grob

The bar was mostly empty that time of the day, and often it was just Joe and me, talking about whatever there was to talk about — politics, movies, women, our families, classes, the Cubs, the Hawkeyes, religion, music — anything on our minds was fair game. Joe had a unique and interesting insight into just about every topic, but he also had a unique way of listening and understanding.

He liked to paraphrase Mark Twain. “It’s not what you don’t know that will kill you, James,” he’d sometimes say to me. “It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

That’s the kind of thing you need to hear from a bartender. Thanks to Joe, I’ve come to believe that bartenders are the backbone of society.

Fast forward to present day, and we have a woman known as “AOC.” She’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a recently-elected representative of New York’s 14th congressional district — the Bronx. At age 29, she is the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress.

She advocates for some ideas that seem crazy, at best, to some people, and so she’s become an easy target for her political adversaries.

Among other things, she supports a progressive, socialist-leaning platform that includes free Medicare for all, the much-misunderstood “Green New Deal,” abolishing ICE, free college and trade school, and much higher tax rates for people with incomes over $10 million per year.

She is frequently attacked for those points of view, and that’s fair. All ideas need to be scrutinized, and when you’re an elected official, you should expect to be proverbially slapped around a little when your ideas seem, on the surface, to be out of step with conventional wisdom.

But what isn’t fair, to me, is the fact that she’s being personally attacked because she once worked as a bartender.

Even the president of the United States has called AOC out publicly because she once tended bar and waited tables.

“The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old,” the president mocked, to snide cheers from other elected officials of his party. “A young bartender, young wonderful woman.”

As if serving beer somehow disqualifies a person from being taken seriously. The representatives and pundits who are mocking and jeering AOC for tending bar have obviously never done any real work in their lives, and they don’t understand the importance of a good bartender.

Beer is of significant importance to our nation’s history. Thomas Jefferson wrote much of the Declaration of Independence in a bar —Philadelphia’s Indian Queen Tavern. Did his bartender help him? It seems to me that the idea that government should derive its power “from the consent of the governed” is exactly the kind of thing Joe would have said to me 30 years ago as he cleaned the mugs and wiped off the tables at Fitzpatrick’s.

John and Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry and James Madison were all on record as strong believers in the unifying power of beer, and all vigorously promoted the brewing industry in the colonies.

George Washington, still the father of the country, operated a small brewery at Mount Vernon. It is well-known that during the Revolutionary War, Washington insisted that his soldiers receive a quart of beer as part of their daily rations.

And aside from all that, is there anything more American than the idea that someone can rise up from a poor, working-class background and become an elected official, or even something more? To me, that’s the whole point of being an American — it’s why I like living here.

And AOC isn’t just a “young bartender.” She actually has over a decade of formidable political experience with various campaigns and grassroots organizations. Before running for Congress, she served as an educational director for the 2017 Northeast Collegiate World Series for the National Hispanic Institute. She graduated with Latin honors from Boston University with degrees in international relations and economics. She also founded her own successful publishing company, Brook Avenue Press. All that, and she isn’t even 30 years old.

Her ideas may seem crazy to you, but they are legitimate ideas, worthy of discussion.

I have no idea if AOC was as good at tending bar as my old friend, Joe, but she took a job working 18-hour shifts as a bartender and a waitress after her father died. Her mother, who cleaned houses and drove a school bus, wasn’t going to be able to keep up with the payments on her home without some help.

So AOC put in the work to help her mother fight foreclosure.

I think we need more people like that governing — at the consent of the governed — not fewer. And I certainly believe that if you’re going to disparage AOC, you should be criticizing her policies, not mocking her because she once worked for a living.

If my old friend Joe had told me 30 years ago that the United States Congress was one day going to be filled with working-class people like bartenders, bus drivers, nurses, teachers, farmers and factory workers, my reply would have been simple and straightforward.

“I’ll drink to that.”