Raising a Glass to the Constitution; Patchwork Alcohol Regulation Reflects American Diversity
Purser, Craig A., The Washington Times (Washington, DC)
Byline: Craig A. Purser, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
Created to withstand the test of time, the U.S. Constitution shines brilliantly today as a beacon for human rights and for committing to
parchment the government's mandate to ensure the blessings of liberty for all U.S. citizens.
Yet one amendment, the 18th, stands apart as an amendment specifically designed to limit, not advance, individual freedoms. Enacted in 1919, the 18th Amendment banned the manufacture, sale and transportation of alcohol within the U.S. Thus began the era of Prohibition, which remained the law of the land for 13 long years before it was repealed by the 21st Amendment.
These events come to mind as HBO's popular Prohibition-era series Boardwalk Empire has launched its second season and renowned director Ken Burns' three-part television documentary Prohibition premiered on PBS last week. Clearly, Americans remain interested in this fascinating, yet dark, chapter in our nation's history. Mr. Burns powerfully documents the unintended consequences of Prohibition while also addressing the proper role of government and the need for civil discourse in public-policy debates - issues as relevant today as ever.
Prior to Prohibition, alcohol abuse was widespread. However, instead of dealing with the issue through appropriate regulation, a wide variety of political interests aligned and a one-size-fits-all nationwide approach was adopted - banning alcohol outright. The effort drove drinking underground, created celebrity gangsters and made a mockery of our justice system. The well-heeled continued to imbibe, while working-class men and women often were targeted for violating the Volstead Act and jailed for drinking.
At one end of the spectrum, excessive and unconstrained consumption before Prohibition led to the backlash. The result was that the Constitution was used not to balance freedom with responsibility but to criminalize a behavior that previously had been legal. Nonetheless, what happened after Prohibition's repeal is that our government got it right and restored the Constitution to being a consistently positive force.
Following ratification of the 21st Amendment in 1933, the easiest thing for elected politicians to do would have been simply to walk away from their duty to promote the general welfare and let the nation slip back to a pre-Prohibition, anything-goes arrangement. …