Winegate Update

Byron York:

Susan Feinberg, an associate professor of management and global business at Rutgers University, caused a stir in the left-wing blogosphere over the weekend with her account of witnessing House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan drinking a glass of $350-a-bottle wine at an upscale restaurant near the Capitol. (Feinberg, who was at the restaurant, Bistro Bis, with her husband to celebrate her birthday, knew the wine was pricey because she could make out the name on the label and checked it on the wine list.) Feinberg confronted Ryan, accusing him of hypocrisy for drinking an expensive wine while advocating reduced spending for Medicare and Medicaid. But she didn’t stop there. Feinberg also suggested Ryan might be guilty of ethics violations, secretly snapped a photo of him and two dinner companions, and then took the “story” to Talking Points Memo, the lefty site which ran a high-profile piece suggesting Ryan might be guilty of some sort of wrongdoing.


On Saturday, I sent Feinberg an email asking a few questions about the incident and about her unhappiness with Ryan. First, the photo she snapped of Ryan and two men sitting a few tables away appeared to be taken from her own table, and on that table was a bottle of wine. (Feinberg told TPM that she and her husband had shared a “bottle of great wine.”) A check of the Bistro Bis wine list — in much the way that Feinberg did at the restaurant — shows that the wine was a Thierry et Pascale Matrot 2005 Meursault, which is $80 per bottle at Bistro Bis. Was that, in fact, Feinberg’s bottle of wine?

I asked Feinberg, an economist, what price constituted outrageous in her mind. Would she have been as upset if Ryan’s wine were $150 a bottle? Or $100 a bottle? Or perhaps $80 a bottle, like her own — which is, after all, more than a day’s labor for a worker making the minimum wage.


Feinberg’s response was brief: “I’m sorry. I have no comment on this.”

This is really a silly controversy. No laws or ethical rules were broken. He wasn’t even doing anything immoral like cheating on his wife.

Is it bad optics?

Sure, a little, but I seriously doubt people will really be that shocked to find out a Republican millionaire has expensive tastes. Democrats are much more vulnerable to charges of financial hypocrisy. In the past two years when she was Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi racked up over $100,000 for “in-flight services” – including food and liquor – and we picked up the tab for it.

What Feinberg did was a bad precedent though. I was raised to believe that people should mind their own business. Our elected officials and other public servants do have a right to privacy when they are off the clock as Ryan was.

Having the right to do something doesn’t make it the right thing to do.

BTW – I realize photographs can be deceiving as to size and distance, but I can’t help but wonder how Ms. Feinberg was able to read the label on the wine bottle on Ryan’s table. My eyes aren’t that good.

Did she move closer or did she simply recognize the distinctive label? What prompted her to check the price anyway?


This is what I’m talking about:

Michelle Obama orders 1,700-calorie meal at Shake Shack

Did she chew her food thoroughly before she swallowed? Did she chew with her mouth closed? Did she brush and floss afterwards? What brand of shoes was she wearing?

Seriously, who gives a fuck?

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19 Responses to Winegate Update

  1. crawdad says:

    Maybe Obama should hold a wine summit

  2. Mary says:

    The bigger outrage is that TPM , when the stupid woman whined about it to them, thought this would “important” to put up on their blog.

    Poor Kevin…..he’s become a gossip-monger now. Idiot.

  3. WMCB says:

    Our political process has gone crazy. I hope Rep. Ryan enjoys many more bottles of wine, and that Michelle Obama enjoys all the fries she wants.

    Mind your own damn business. And BTW, I don’t think that Michelle’s healthy eating initiative has much to do with her having a real burning desire to take away our donuts. I think that the “handlers” decided that a First Lady has to have a cause, so they focus-grouped and picked one for her. And she is dutifully playing her assigned role. If I were in her shoes, I’d want a freaking Twinkie and some ribs too.

  4. yttik says:

    “Seriously, who gives a fuck?”

    Under normal conditions, nobody. The problem is when our leaders start dictating behavior down to the rest of us and attempting to enforce consequences if we don’t comply. Do as I say, not as I do. It’s hypocrisy.

    Just as the Republicans got called out on their family values crap, Dems are going to be called out on their 400 dollar haircuts, 80 dollar bottles of wine, and 1700 calorie meals. Do I care what the first lady eats? No, only when she puts up posters in my school cafeteria with a list of rules that apparently only apply to the little people.

    She Who Shall Not Be Mentioned understands this well. That’s why she fired her chef and sold her private plane. If our leaders are asking everybody else to eat their peas and tighten their belts, they better be doing the same. Otherwise we start to feel like suckers.

    • WMCB says:

      Yes, there is hypocrisy on the left re: this as well. Politburo members had country houses and never stood in bread lines. The rules don’t apply to those who are benevolent enough to make a “better society” for the rest of us. They expect a lot of material reward for their “labors” on behalf of those being oppressed by those nasty materialists.

  5. WMCB says:

    I asked Feinberg, an economist, what price constituted outrageous in her mind.

    This is the achilles heel of relying solely on an “eat the rich” message. What constitutes rich? Are any of those railing against the rich richer than any of their neighbors? Where are the lines? Is it always okay to take from one who has more and give it to one who has less? Should the entire US then cut our standard of living by 2/3, so poor countries can have more?

    Please note: I am not opposed to a progressive tax system. I’m all for it. What I am saying is that these things have to be approached with pragmatism and “what works” in mind, not mere moralizing emotion about the essential goodness or evilness of having “too much” money. Because when you make it all about eat the rich, then the logical conclusion is that YOUR flat screen TV and cell phone needs to go away just as much as Ryan’s wine does.

  6. DeniseVB says:

    The Michelle lunch was important in a hypocritical way that she championed legislation that affects poor people. To pay for her healthy foods in schools bill, millions of dollars were to be cut from the food stamp program.

    Say, if Ryan were advocating banning box wine, THAT’s what I’d be ticked about 😛

  7. JeanLouise says:

    Screw the box wine, Marie Antoinette Ryan is all for taking away clean water and a cup to put it in for the most vulnerable in our society. I say, go, girl! to Feinberg and anyone else who calls out hypocrisy.

    • WMCB says:

      So how much money is Ms. Feinberg allowed to make? And how is she allowed to spend it, without falling into hypocrisy?

      Please, enlighten me. If I get a camera and start following Ms. Feinberg around and documenting all the potentially hypocritical ways she spends her own funds,, is this okay? What if she’s having a nice family dinner with her elderly parents? Can I still barge in and start snapping pics and berating her in a restaurant? Can I do that to all public union leaders?

      See, what you are saying, JL, is that so long as you think someone is “wrong and evil”, there are no real rules as to how one is to treat them. But do you grant the same leeway to those who think YOU are wrong, and evil? Can they do whatever it takes short of violence to bring you and yours down? Because if you don’t think that would be perfectly okay, then who is the big hypocrite here?

      • 1539days says:

        Yeah. I understand that people hate Ryan because he wants to spend as much on the poor as the budget allows and not go into debt. Frankly, though, why is it our obligation to make sure the people with no money have all the things everyone else has? If it is our social obligation, then we should set up everyone on government assistance in big building complexes and serve them all from the same cafeteria. It would be more cost-effective.

        I don’t like rich liberals who get a pass because they want to tax the middle class (and the lower working class) and give the money to people with no jobs. And don’t give me that tax the rich crap because the Democrats had a massive majority in both houses for 2 years and I didn’t see any tax increases on the tich.

  8. djmm says:

    Some will care; most will not. Aren’t there more important issues to focus on?


  9. Sandress says:

    I know that “How rich is too rich?” is problematic. But it’s not unsolvable, I promise. CEOs have valuable skills, but not skills that entitle them to treat their workers like shit and take home salaries and bonuses that net them more than 500x what their workers make. Jim Sinegal, CEO of Costco famously made (in 2006) only $350,000 plus modest (as defined by TIME) bonus and stock options, while paying his workers an average of $17/hr. and giving them good health benefits. Seriously, $350,000. Even if you doubled that, $700,000 is not a crazily ostentatious household income, and it sure as hell isn’t impoverished..

    There IS a moral problem with allowing a small set of humans to amass obscene amounts of wealth when others are deciding between medicine and food this paycheck. Sure, you get some good ones like Bill Gates and Angelina Jolie who give back in a big way. But that isn’t the way to structure things. I know that the American ethos is for the poor to “see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires” (Steinbeck), but that needs to change. There needs to be unity among the working class, especially as it expands upwards to encompass the entire former middle class.

    I get that it is crass to play gotcha with the personal decisions of the high profile. But it is much much worse than crass to grind the working class of the nation into the mud and then pretend that this is simply the way of things, that anyone has some inherent meritocratic claim on billions of dollars while others starve and freeze.

    • jjmtacoma says:


    • 1539days says:

      And that behavior could be controlled if we used the power of the 401k. Do you know who you’re invested in? I don’t. But imagine if there were funds available where people could invest specifically incompanies with 10:1 CEO to employee pay ratios or contracts without golden parachutes.

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