Just before 9 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 30, Jose Soegaard ’06 and several of his friends gathered in his Calhoun College suite to watch the first presidential debate. In the first few minutes of the telecast, the group engaged in serious discussion of the candidates’ arguments and responses. But as time passed, the night took on a lighter tone. Instead of critiquing the debate word by word, Soegaard and his friends began mocking the debate shot by shot.
Following the rules listed on a joke political Web site, Soegaard and his friends had a drink every time the candidates uttered predictable catchphrases such as “September 11th” and “terrorism.” The parameters ranged from the predictable, “Drink one sip if anyone says ‘Saddam Hussein,'” to the comical, “Drink two sips every time you see anyone wearing the yellow ‘LiveSTRONG’ bracelet,” to the ridiculous, “Do a shot if Ralph Nader shows up insisting on airtime.”
“Towards the end of the debate, we were no longer cheering for what the candidates said because we thought they made a good point, but because it meant we had to drink more,” Soegaard said.
And Soegaard was not the only student who decided to replace typical Thursday night beer pong with a more political drinking game. While different students followed different rules, many said politics is more fun when combined with partying.
Nathaniel Loewentheil ’07, who played a similar game with eight of his friends in Rosenfeld Hall, said the creator of the Web site where he found the rules, www.wonkette.com, was impressively accurate in foretelling what each candidate would argue. For example, the site instructed participants to drink if Bush accused Kerry of being “French on terrorism,” and indeed, students’ wishes to imbibe more were graciously fulfilled.
“Needless to say, everyone was drinking heavily, seeing as both parties stayed true to form,” Loewentheil said.
Some students suggested that the rampant spread of political debate drinking games on campus could be due to a number of factors: they occur on nights when people are planning to drink anyway, they lighten the atmosphere if students of different political orientations are watching the debates together, and they make listening to the opposing party’s arguments bearable.
Yale Political Union President Lindsay Bliss ’06 said although she has not played any political debate drinking games, she does not think students who do are being disrespectful to the political process.
“I think it is more an indication that students think these debates don’t mean much because the candidates have little of value to say,” Bliss said. “It’s a good chance to make fun of the other side and get drunk too.”
Kimberly Marsh ’06 played drinking games with about 20 people in her suite in Pierson College every night of the Republican National Convention. They made up the rules beforehand, but added to the list as the convention went along, drinking whenever they saw cowboy hats and whenever the phrase “blatant lies” was mentioned.
Marsh said although most of her friends were already planning on watching the convention, she does not think they would have made it through the entire four days without the extra entertainment.
“We had to make the convention into a joke or a game to make it more palatable,” Marsh said. “Otherwise, it might have gotten too frustrating to keep watching.”
While Marsh said that all but one of the students participating in the game were “hard-core” Democrats and the lone Republican did not come back the second night, these drinking games do not aim to create partisan divides, but rather to make light of the whole situation.
Some members of the Sigma Phi Epsilon fraternity got together at their house to watch the debate and have some beers, but brother Ben Beinecke ’07 said the atmosphere was entirely friendly and not really competitive.
“We were all just laughing at the candidates and having a good time,” Beinecke said. “It was more just to hang out and bond for anyone who was interested in watching.”
The second of three presidential debates will be televised tonight from Washington University in St. Louis.