Barack Obama and Mitch McConnell of Kentucky should by all means have the so-called “bourbon summit.” The day after the Republicans won big in the recent elections, President Obama, a Democrat, said, “Actually, I would enjoy having some Kentucky bourbon with Mitch McConnell,” soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader.
Saturday Night Live recently spoofed such a summit in its opening. In it, the pair imbibed too much Woodford Reserve, placed a prank call to Hillary Clinton, and got in trouble with First Lady Michelle Obama.
If there is an actual bourbon summit Obama and McConnell should let Speaker of the House John Boehner, the son of a bartender, do the pouring. McConnell says the summit will happen, but adds that picking the bourbon to be sipped would be like picking the daughter he loves the most.
There are many fine options. One answer is to have regular sipping sessions so that the nation's most powerful politicians can enjoy more than one of Kentucky's best bourbons and perhaps get more done.
Indeed, settling on the bourbon to begin with might be a good sign of whether Obama and McConnell can compromise on other things. Old Forester is an obvious choice. It has been around a long time, is both very good and reasonably priced, and like Woodford Reserve is distilled by Louisville's Brown-Forman, to which both men have happy connections.
One of Obama's biggest fundraisers, and the man he made the American ambassador to England's Court of St. James, Matthew Barzun, is married to Brooke Brown Barzun, whom Wikipedia describes as an “heiress of the Brown-Forman Corporation distilling empire.” McConnell had a great relationship with the late Owsley Brown Frazier, who was long a director and executive of that company, which his grandfather founded.
Slowly sipping some bourbon together is not a bad idea for breaking down personal or political barriers between Obama and McConnell. Whiskey occupies a special place in American political history dating back to before the Revolution, and Kentucky's signature spirit is conducive to the sort of relaxation and warmth that could help some deals get done.
That said, there is something else Obama and McConnell ought to consider doing together. It involves a different kind of spirit.
They should go to church together. Yes, of course religion is an intimately personal matter and no one can or should tell other people what to do in that regard. So just consider this a suggestion.
Both men have a history of being influenced by their faith and religion, including at important or trying times of their lives. According to CBS News, a 26-year old Obama “committed himself to God” at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ “after years as a religious skeptic.” He is no longer a member there, but occasionally attends services at other churches now.
McConnell has in the past donated generously to Crescent Hill Baptist Church (which was recently expelled from the Kentucky Baptist Convention for performing same-sex marriages). He has also acknowledged seeking pastoral help at hard times in his political career, as when his father died during the hard fought 1990 reelection campaign against Harvey Sloane.
Regardless of theological differences, personal doubts, or any other apparent obstacles, it could not hurt Obama and McConnell to pray and worship together. Their doing so might also provide some reassurance to the country during these very dangerous and downright frightening times.
There is something about a worship service -- joining together in hymns and prayers; confessing one's own sins and shortcomings; and being mindful of the needs and suffering of others -- that opens a person up to the greater good and different perspectives. Humbling oneself and seeking divine guidance and strength is healthy and restorative, whether for an individual or an entire nation.
Washington has even more houses of worship than Kentucky has good bourbons. Obvious possibilities include St. John's Episcopal Church on Lafayette Square, where every president since 1816 has worshipped. Washington National Cathedral is “called to serve as the spiritual home for the nation.”
There are some other good options symbolically situated between Capitol Hill and the White House.
One is National City Christian Church at Thomas Circle, a Disciples of Christ congregation that seeks “to demonstrate fully our conviction that neither personal attributes nor public issues can be allowed to place divisions among people who love God.”
Another is New York Avenue Presbyterian Church, which is where Lincoln worshipped during the Civil War. It has a rich history, including a sermon credited with prompting President Dwight D. Eisenhower to recommend to Congress that the Pledge of Allegiance be amended to include “under God,” which Lincoln had used at Gettysburg. Martin Luther King also preached from its pulpit.
Many a man has gone to church in penitence after indulging in too much strong drink. Here's hoping Obama and McConnell will consume their Kentucky bourbon in moderation, but be bold in working together to faithfully pursue the country's best interests.
If neither bourbon nor God can get this done, it may not be doable. But both of them sometimes move in strange and mysterious ways.
John David Dyche is a Louisville attorney and a political commentator for WDRB.com. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @jddyche.