Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil. To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition including defining “intoxicating liquor” for anyone who needed an explanation.
The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor or if you could get a doctor’s note.
That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before and whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.
Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.
Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class.
There are no fewer gay people because we made their lives difficult any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people. Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want?
How is that better or more moral? This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. And as often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before. Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.
We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?
The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?
Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.
Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920. No one has had a drink since! The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.