"You'd better be prepared for the jump into hyperspace. It's unpleasantly like being drunk."
"What's so unpleasant about being drunk?"
"You ask a glass of water."
-- Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
So, the National Enquirer is reporting that the President is drinking (no, I'm not linking to it; it's bad enough that I have to talk about it). My first reaction, honestly, was John McCutcheon's:
Though the National Enquirer says that it's so
For their lies and distortions they're paying good dough
But there are some things enquiring minds don't need to know
I don't care
But, of course, it seems important, being the President and all, so I had to give it some thought.
On further reflection, I've discovered that not only don't I care, but that it doesn't matter. There's an old Jewish joke (with apologies to Chris Bray, inter alia):
War was on the horizon. Two students in the Yeshiva were discussing the situation.
"I hope I'm not called," said one."I'm not the type for war. I have the courage of the spirit, but nevertheless I shrink from it."
"But what is there to be frightened about?" asked the other."Let's analyze it. After all, there are two possibilities: either war will break out, or it won't. If it doesn't, there's no cause for alarm. If it does, there are two possibilities: either they take you or they don't take you. If they don't, alarm is needless. And even if they do, there are two possibilities: either you're given combat duty, or non-combatant duty. If non-combatant, what is there to be worried about? And if combat duty, there are two possibilities: you'll be wounded, or you won't be wounded. Now, if you're not wounded, you can forget your fears. But even if you're wounded, there are two possibilities: either you're wounded gravely, or you're wounded slightly. If you're wounded slightly, your fear is nonsensical, and if you're wounded gravely, there are still two possibilities: either you succumb, and die, or you don't succumb, and live. If you don't die, things are fine, and there is no cause for alarm; and even if you do die, there are two possibilities; either you will be buried in a Jewish cemetery, or you won't be. Now, if you are buried in a Jewish cemetery, what is there to worry about, and even if you're not . . . but why be afraid? There may not be any war at all!"
-- Nathan Ausubel, A Treasury of Jewish Folklore (abridged by Alan Mintz) p. 63.
It's entirely possible that the story is wrong, either through error or deliberate falsehood. I'm sure the Enquirer was sufficiently careful not to be liable for libel, but that doesn't mean that their sources are unimpeachable (sorry). There's several ways the story could be wrong, including the possibility that he's had other episodes of alcoholism in the last five years. More to the point, even if the story is true, it's not at all clear to me that it matters in the slightest.
First, political perception. Either you think George Bush is a good president, or you don't. If you think he's a good president, it's pretty likely that you're going to be sympathetic to his plight (if you believe it) and trust enough in his aides, advisors, family and Christian faith to pull him and the country through. If you thought he was a good president until Katrina, then this story is tailor made for you, because it describes the hurricane's aftermath -- and American losses in Iraq -- as the proximate cause of his putative return to drink. If you don't think he's a good president or nice person, this isn't likely to decrease your opinion of the administration or man.
Second, policy and governance. Again, if you think the Bush presidency has largely been a failure (or worse, successfully wrongheaded), then logically you can't argue that his drinking is a bad thing: this administration wasn't going to make things better, anyway.
If you think that the President is largely an"idea man" who relies heavily on his staff for details and follow-through (and no matter whether you think this is a good or bad model for the presidency), then alcohol is not going to change the way things are done in the West Wing.
Now, if you think that the administration has been on the right track, and that the President has played a significant and detailed role in that, you have something of a problem. It might be that occasional or even regular drunkenness would not interfere in the performance of his duties (I'm not going to be the first to cite Lincoln's line about Grant, am I?). It certainly wouldn't be the first time that a drinker occupied the White House (I'll toss that question over to our presidentialist neighbors) or someone preoccupied with something other than the presidency. The Republic has survived and if we all do our duties as citizens, it will survive this as well.
So that's it. Unless there is a significant question of policy which hinges on the sobriety of the President, it's not something that deserves any more attention.