Some Dreams Are Bad Dreams

Prohibition is all the rage these days. Terry Gross interviewed Daniel Okrent who recently published Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition. Then, Ken Burns is working on a documentary about prohibition that will come out sometime next year. Then, last week, Rachel Maddow gave the commencement address at Smith College (click here for the video) and told the story of Carry Nation, whom God spoke to and told her to go and destroy saloons. Maddow’s cautioned Smith’s graduates “don’t be like Carry Nation”…”some dreams are bad dreams.”

The story of prohibition is an interesting one. American’s actually voted to give up their right to drink alcohol for 13 years (1920-1933). During that time organized crime thrived, thugs became celebrities,  and, ironically, liquor consumption actually increased. By one estimate, for every bar that closed, 16 speakeasies opened in its place. Prohibition turned law-abiding citizens into criminals, and empowered corrupt government officials to break the law and profit from it. It was a complete failure.

Ultimately prohibition was repealed in the midst of the Depression basically to raise much needed tax revenue. Maybe we fix our current budget woes by legalizing (and taxing) marijuana?

But, how was the 18th Amendment ever passed in the first place? And, what can we learn from it today? Okrent explains it this way:

Somebody said at the time of Prohibition that the difference between the pro-Prohibition and the anti-Prohibition groups in the years leading up to the passage of the 21st Amendment was that the pro-Prohibition people were out there marching and organizing and voting and the anti-Prohibition people were too busy drinking to do any of those things, I think that’s a joke of sorts, but not entirely. That is to say, we don’t fight to keep things the way they are; we fight to change things. And I think we’re seeing that again today. We’re seeing groups that want to change the way we live our lives in America and very few who are defending existing means of government.

Ponder that message with Maddow’s conclusion to her commencement address:

Do not for yourself today, but for yourself to be proud of at the end of your life. Do not for the fame, but for the glory – learn the difference. Do not just for your own life, but for the life of your nation, that is still, for all its challenges and its flaws, is in many ways the best hope on earth. A country that needs you and the best you have to offer and your best judgment.

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