Leading up to St. Patrick's Day, there were so...

IN THE DAYS

March 19, 1992|By THEO LIPPMAN JR.

IN THE DAYS leading up to St. Patrick's Day, there were so many beer commercials and ads ringing an Irish theme that the more sensitive of the nation's cultural watchdogs were woozy with outrage.

William Fugazy, chairman of the National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations, strongly and publicly protested a Bud commercial featuring cover girl Kathy Ireland in a bar with Irish decorations. She says Bud is "the official beer of Ireland [pause, in which bartender and patrons do a double take] -- Kathy Ireland."

The Wall Street Journal quoted Mr. Fugazy as saying, "We have the same problems as the Italians with [stereotypes of] Mafia ties and the Polish with jokes."

Other beer companies didn't escape. Coors has been criticized for naming a beer "Irish Red" and for giving away leprechaun ears and shamrock hats as promotion items. Miller was hit for a newspaper ad campaign that featured car keys on a green shamrock key chain and the message: "A key thing to remember this St. Patrick's Day. Think when you drink."

Whether a lot of Irish-Americans do more drinking than normal on St. Patrick's Day, I wouldn't know. (That's "Theo Lippman" above, not "The O'Lippman.") I've heard that even teetotalers show up in Irish bars to celebrate that once-a-year holiday. So I stay home on March 17. I agree with the wise advice of Sean Fitzpatrick, vice chairman of McCann-Erickson, a big advertising agency. "I never go to an Irish bar to drink on St. Patrick's Day," he told the Journal when asked about the protests, "because I don't like to drink with amateurs."

Mr. Fitzpatrick is reportedly going to work for President Bush's campaign team next fall. In the unlikely event that Paul Tsongas is the nominee, the Bush team ought to consider running a negative ad based on something Mr. Tsongas said in the South Dakota debate last month.

The moderator asked him to comment on what one of his opponents, Sen. Bob Kerrey, was supposed to have said in that state more known for its agriculture than its sophistication: "Tsongas knows so little about farming that he thinks a combine means mixing a martini."

Kerrey promptly denied having said it. "Okay," said Tsongas, "but answer me this. What's a martini?"

Actually, Tsongas has no shot at the nomination, and that's one reason. His base of support was white suburbanites with above-average incomes. They are why he (barely) won Maryland, a suburban state. These people are distrustful of politicians who don't understand their culture. Tsongas lost 17 percent of his suburban support when word got around that he didn't know what a martini is.

Bill Clinton's campaign advisers are prepared to reveal that Tsongas once said he doesn't know what Chablis and Brie are, either, but they're saving that for where it would work best -- California.

But will Tsongas even go on to California after his many defeats?

Monday: They always do.

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