A retired New York Times columnist offers an incredibly classist take on alcoholism

Nicholas Kristof is an Ivy League– and Oxford-educated journalist who spent his entire career at the New York Times, a gig that culminated with having his own, regular op-ed column for twenty years.  He's an avowed progressive — and, it turns out, an incredible snob.  When you read what he has to say about alcoholism, wine, and class, it's the kind of garbage we associate with Marie Antoinette and her (probably apocryphal) statement about peasants who couldn't afford bread: "Let them eat cake!"

Kristof grew up on his family's sheep farm and cherry orchard in Oregon — although you should think that means he was a working-class kid.  Both his parents were professors at Portland State University.  He ended up going to Harvard and, after that, to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar.  (That was when straight, White men could still get Rhodes scholarships.)  As soon as he left Oxford, he went to the New York Times and spent the rest of his working life there, retiring only last year.

When it comes to politics, Kristof makes no bones about it: hHe's a progressive.  He wouldn't have survived at the Times as long as he did if he hadn't been.  He wants a socialized system; believes that Israel is the problem in the Middle East; and, of course, supports all Democrat political candidates.

Nevertheless, Kristof has occasionally written interesting things.  For example, he's not reflexively hostile to sweatshops in third-world countries.  I agree with him because we both understand that they may be the necessary starting point out of poverty for these countries.

Years ago, too, long before the internet, Kristof wrote movingly about the terrible crisis of obstetric fistulas in Sub-Saharan Africa, which leave young women leaking urine and fecal matter.  In America, it's a simple surgical fix.  In Africa, it's devastating social isolation.  Since writing that column, Kristof has continued to work to alleviate this problem.

So, despite his execrable political views, Kristof seems like a decent human being.  It's that decent quality that makes all the more interesting his strange views about alcoholism.  As far as Kristof is concerned, people in his class don't have that problem.  It's a poor person's thing.


Image: Mom wine meme.  Origin unknown.

In an article published in New York Magazine's Intelligencer, the author describes a walk-through Kristof's vineyard, on the farm on which he grew up, where he grows grapes used for Pinot Noir.  Kristof acknowledges the scourge of alcoholism but denies any connection between that and his grapes:

"I don't think that most people appreciate that most years, alcohol kills more people than drugs," Kristof told me, though he clarified that he does not believe this is true of the type of alcohol that he makes. He also does not think that profiting off the sale of alcohol and lowering rates of alcohol addiction, two of his stated immediate goals, are in conflict. "You know, I've lost friends to alcoholism, but I haven't lost any to Pinot Noir alcoholism," he said.

The article's author apparently suggested that Pinot Noir could be a "gateway" alcohol, but Kristof wasn't buying it:

"I take your point that some people start with nice Pinot Noirs and then… ," he trailed off. "But I think that is much less common, and those who die, the mortality from alcoholism, it's driven really by working-class Americans, and it's in kind of bulk hard liquor particularly. I don't think that good wine and cider add significantly to the problem."

And there is the classism that can only come from decades in the world of the White progressive elite: his kind don't become wine alcoholics.  Your kind, with the dirty collars and the hard liquor, are the alcoholics.

In fact, alcoholism knows no class boundaries.  I certainly knew my share when I was living in the affluent Marin suburbs.  Of special note were the upper-class suburban mommies who posted regular "joke" posts on Facebook about wine.  After a few years of these posts, I started seeing a new kind of article on the internet:

I could tell some pretty awful stories about the wine-aholics and other heavy drinkers in an economic and political corner of the world similar to that which Kristof inhabits.

In some ways, you could say Kristof's comments about alcoholism and wine are rather charmingly naïve.  But I'm not going to say that.  He reflects the complete disdain that the affluent progressives driving America's political and social issues have for the bulk of Americans: good, hardworking people with traditional values and, perhaps, a fondness for drinks other than Pinot Noir.

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