What Were They Drinking?

I recently mentioned to an acquaintance that I had begun blogging in various subjects, including politics.  His instant response was to ask, “Are you conservative or liberal?”  It seems that in his mind that context needed to be established as a preface to further discussion.  (My reply was that I considered myself neither, but “in the middle”, which is true.)

What people really ARE is not always apparent by daily observation.  This was solidly brought home to me by a fascinating newly-published (Scribner, May, 2010) history book I just finished, “Last Call”, by Daniel Okrent.  It is an outstanding and perceptive history of Prohibition, a period of almost 14

Whiskey Down The Drain!

years when a strange combination of forces in the United States attempted to legislate morality.  The forces that impelled the approval and ratification of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution under the banners of the ASL (Anti-Saloon League) and the WCTU (Women’s Christian Temperance Union) included not only the Baptist and Methodist churches but the Women’s Suffrage movement (WCTU), industrialists (who had their own liquor supplies and thought the workers would be more efficient sober) and the KKK!

Prohibition failed in spectacular fashion and was repealed by the 21st Amendment in 1933, but in the process it changed our culture in profound ways, mostly for the bad.  It was not unusual for people to permanently damage their health or go blind by drinking bad booze such as wood alcohol or sterno strained through a sock.  Organized crime, epitomized by Al Capone, blossomed as Americans of all stripes smuggled, brewed, sold and bribed their way through this absurd period.  At the same time, the government re-instituted the income tax to make up for lost revenue from liquor sales, an action without which Prohibition would not have been possible!

To me the most intriguing aspect of this vast social experiment was political self-deception.  American pols voted for it and the state legislatures ratified it, but it was not what the people wanted.  What made it possible was the concentrated efforts of disparate political-pressure groups fixed on a single, all-consuming issue.

Are there parallels for this in today’s politics?  Yes, I think so.  In this political season of polarized ideologies I see abortion, health care, financial reform and immigration as monolithic issues that are being legislated with massive paperwork that hardly anyone understands, all as the government  bureaucracy bloats to its largest size in history.  The ultimate disposition of these issues will ultimately be determined not by scholars, nor by what demagogues say we need, but by the eventual effects on us, the people.  The jury is out.

There is no question that the collapse of the housing bubble was virtually unprecedented and required extreme measures to prevent further damage, but

Out Of The Frying Pan, Into . . .

now that it appears at least stabilized we would be wise to get back to fiscal sanity.  I have heard the President say he intends to and I hope he means it.

It is my belief that smaller government is better than bigger government and that we desperately need to downsize government, reform entitlements, create meaningful budgets and stick to them.  For a suggested list of places to start cutting, see THIS LINK.  History is replete with examples of government power out of

control and Prohibition is a prime example.

Speaking of history, and remembering the adage that those who ignore it are doomed to repeat it, did you know fewer than 15% of major colleges and universities require a class in American history or government to graduate?  The list of those which do NOT includes Harvard, Princeton and Yale!  A link to the listing of such is found HERE.

About Jim Wheeler

U. S. Naval Academy, BS, Engineering, 1959; Naval line officer and submariner, 1959 -1981, Commander, USN; The George Washington U., MSA, Management Eng.; Aerospace Engineer, 1981-1999; Resident Gadfly, 1999 - present. Political affiliation: Democratic.
This entry was posted in Economics, Ethics / Morality, Federal Government, Fiscal Policy, Government size, Health, Sociology and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to What Were They Drinking?

  1. Jim says:

    I take a different approach – I tell folks that I am a commie liberal, and invite them to read my blog. If they avoid it, fine. Folks need a sense of humor to put up with me. If they read the blog, they get the real me. The real me even has some conservative attitudes. For example, I like some things on your government slash list. But no, we haven’t figured out how to teach math. The public ignorance of math is far larger than our world-leading incarceration rate. – Jim too


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