I was outside the news bubble all last week, happily ignorant of most of the goings on stateside. I left just after the infamous Beer Summit, a relatively non-event that was blown completely out of proportion but which allowed the news media to avoid talking about more important issues for a while. The San Jose Mercury News even asked me to weigh in on the beer choices. And I was certainly not the only one, as the Brewers Association had a summary of links about it. Consensus seemed to be that we were all glad beer was in the public spotlight, we just wished it had been better beer. Of course, not everyone was happy about beer getting a moment in the sun, and the usual chuckleheads started complaining even before it took place. But afterward, it got even worse.
The head of the Delaware chapter of the notorious neo-prohibitionist group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Nancy Raynor, said she “hopes those images don’t send the wrong message to the millions of young people who saw the president drinking on TV” during a radio interview on WDEL Radio 1150 AM. I’m not exactly sure how an adult being shown doing something that’s perfectly legal sends the “wrong message,” whatever that even means, but logic is not apparently her strong suit. She also said that “it’s a well-known fact that young people tend to mimic the actions that they see be adult (sic).” I’d think she might then be more concerned about images on TV of people shooting each other with guns. That would be a greater threat than drinking if indeed young people are mimicking what they see on television.
And that might have been the end of it except that the American Beverage Institute (ABI), a trade organization representing primarily restaurants serving alcohol, issued a press statement taking MADD to task for what Raynor said during her interview.
“MADD is no longer an organization that opposes drunk driving, but an anti-alcohol group that has been hijacked by the modern day temperance movement,” said Sarah Longwell, ABI Managing Director. “That someone in a position of leadership at MADD would criticize President Obama for simply drinking beer, illustrates the neoprohibitionist mentality that now dominates the group.”
Last week, President Obama met with the men involved in the Cambridge police incident in an attempt to diffuse the situation. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, and Cambridge police Sergeant James Crowley enjoyed cold beers while working out their differences. But in an interview this weekend, the President of the Delaware chapter of MADD, Nancy Raynor, expressed concern that the event could send the wrong message to young people who saw the president drinking on TV.
“MADD’s position on the ‘Beer Summit’ should remind Americans that the group once dedicated to preventing drunk driving has transitioned into leading the anti-alcohol movement,” said Longwell. “MADD has even been denounced by its founder Candy Lightner as ‘very neo-prohibitionist.’”
“MADD should return to its original mission of stopping drunk driving,” said Longwell. “The more time and resources the group spends pushing an anti-alcohol agenda, the more irrelevant it becomes.”
I’d say that the ABI statement is accurate from my experience watching how MADD operates and what they do, say and support. But MADD at the national level chimed in to defend both their position and the organization’s Delaware chapter head. Frank Harris, a spokesman with MADD’s national office in Washington, D.C. (though some accounts label him a “state policy specialist”), “emphasizes that his organization has no problem with safe alcohol consumption” and “is not against responsible drinking of alcohol for those over 21 years of age.” If that were true, of course, there would be no reason for Raynor to have been “concerned” about the Beer Summit sending “the wrong message.” She’s the head of an entire state, after all. She wouldn’t have attained that position without drinking the Kool-Aid. Everything that followed her statements was just damage control. And one of the most common tactics used to is to simply discredit your opponent. Harris attempted to do just that in hilarious fashion, by claiming that the ABI represents “the angry arm of the alcohol lobby.”
After I stopped laughing, it got me to thinking. The real question shouldn’t be that some people are angry, but that why aren’t more people angry? Why shouldn’t we be angry? For many years now, the anti-alcohol neo-prohibitionist groups have set the agenda. The media and politicians more often than not fall into lockstep in letting their side of the story be told, and very rarely give any meaningful time to any contrary position. That’s primarily because neo-prohibitionists pretend to own the moral high ground, forcing everyone into a defensive position. But there’s nothing remotely moral or immoral about alcohol. It just is. Like any other consumable food, it cannot be good or bad, just delicious or unappetizing. Despite our dysfunctional history of puritanical posturing, it can only be a sin to drink if you believe it’s a sin to drink. Not even different religions agree on this point. Not even different denominations of Christian religions can agree on whether or not drinking is a sin. That it’s wrong to decide for everyone through legislation what is essentially just personal preference should be obvious. That it didn’t work here, or anywhere else Prohibition was tried, should be a potent reminder that what they want is already a failed idea. Yet still they persist.
But as much as they wish it were otherwise, alcohol is legal is the United States, and the majority of people who drink do so responsibly and without the societal burdens or problems that are ascribed to alcohol by these groups. So something perfectly legal, used correctly by most people, is under constant attack by a minority who distort facts, prey on fear and will use almost any tactic to stop people from enjoying it. And people aren’t angry? Why not?!? I firmly believe we have every right to be angry — and not just the ABI — but everyone who drinks responsibly, isn’t a burden on society, and whose life didn’t turn into a bad country song the moment alcohol touched their lips should be angry that there are people who just won’t let them be. This is an issue that should have been settled over 75 years ago, but anti-alcohol groups not only won’t just admit defeat but have been fighting just as relentlessly as ever. They’re like that Japanese soldier on the deserted island who didn’t get the word that World War II was over, except that neo-prohibitionists are actually making headway and many people listen to these cranks because of the way they frame their arguments and because people are afraid to stand up to them, especially politicians.
So when they accuse the ABI of being the angry arm of the alcohol lobby, I say we embrace that idea and be angry. I am. I’m angry. Why aren’t you?
My wife had the wonderful idea that we should make t-shirts, and she’s rarely, excuse me, never wrong. Anyone out there with some artistic skills want to create a logo for the “Angry Arm of Alcohol?” I’m picturing simply an outstretched horizontal arm holding a full pint glass or other beer glass. Perhaps with “The Angry Arm of Alcohol” tattooed on the forearm.