Once upon a time so many years ago, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness. We decided alcohol was the root of all evil and to rectify this catastrophe, we rose up on our collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of the manufacture and consumption of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States. The separate (but closely related) Volstead Act specified how authorities would enforce Prohibition, including the definition of “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 (did I mean prosecute?) 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 a doctor’s note.
That left a lot of room through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition. Those who had never imbibed before were so titillated by the idea, they had their first alcoholic beverage while it was illegal. This, no doubt, made it more fun 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 illegality. A whole criminal class was born from prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then. 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 voting for a better (or at least different) candidate won’t 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. Take a look at our current GOP and you can see the results in full color with flashing lights. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created the underworld of crime. Now that it’s (mostly) legal, the prices have dropped and it’s not such a big deal after all, though it’s a great calmer downer for dogs. The knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes considerable pain and suffering. As often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before and quite possibly never imagined.
Throughout history, “morality” laws have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly. You’d think we’d have already noticed this, but ignorance being bliss, we don’t.
We haven’t learned anything, maybe it’s because no one recognized that history is repeating itself.
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 a minor issue to a major social force. Now that is 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 has been repealed. Today, whenever I hear someone declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of booze in 1920.
No one has had a drink since 1920.