At the height of Prohibition, columnist H.L. Mencken proclaimed, “There is not less drunkenness in the Republic, but more. There is not less crime, but more. There is not less insanity, but more.”
He was right. Though single-issue politics had held sway over public policy with the 18th Amendment, the result had been exactly what proponents feared.
This did not deter the full-of-itself Anti-Saloon League from exerting the influence that resulted in Prohibition.
The single-issue influence made such figures as Wayne Wheeler and Howard Hyde Russell king-makers, as they could deliver hundreds of thousands of votes, mostly of pious Protestants.
Lest we think of the Anti-Saloon League’s power as fleeting, the 18th Amendment was the law of the land for 13 years before sanity took hold and Americans could toast Prohibition’s end.
Today we see the same single-issue clout with the National Rifle Association. Like the Galactic Empire of “Star Wars,” it can unleash a veritable clone force to assail anyone who dares suggest even modest reforms.
Hence, though most Americans support such measures as universal background checks, such policies will go nowhere.
However, if we are to identify a modern-day heir to the Anti-Saloon League’s single-issue pathology, it is the religious right and its devotion to fighting reproductive rights.
We aren’t just talking about anti-abortion politics. We are talking, really, about forces devoted to making sure that the sex act has a punishment phase. Call it the Anti-Sex League.
Observe efforts to gut the infrastructure that allows women to avoid unwanted pregnancies and therefor abortions. Observe efforts to foist the fraud of “abstinence education” off as sex education.
What could motivate Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to yankfunding from Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast for HIV testing and prevention services?
It’s the same mentality that caused Abbott to pull Planned Parenthood from the list of the state’s Medicaid providers.
All any of these steps do is undermine public health. Smart. Very smart.
We are to presume that all of these steps are linked to Planned Parenthood’s dedication to preserving women’s right to legal and safe abortions. In that regard, we can see symmetry with Prohibition’s unintended consequences.
Anyone alive in the dark days before Roe vs. Wade knows that if one had the means to have an abortion, one had one. That was as plain as day, and Roe or not, it will not change. The question is who was so empowered or so prohibited.
Back during Prohibition, as Mencken wrote, the drinking, and the hypocrisy, did not stop. Chief among hypocrites was President Warren Harding, who supported Prohibition, but who had his own substantial stash of booze for his own entertainment.
The Anti-Saloon League, as with the anti-abortion movement, advertised its cause as protecting human life. However, countless Americans died from alcohol poisoning from illegal hooch, because – yeah – people were going to drink despite what the government said.
(Hmm. Sounds like the deadly back-alley abortions of pre-Roe, for whatever Bible-thumping policy makers may say, people are going to have sex, and abortions.)
It is amazing that the Republican Party, which has made “liberty” and “less government” rallying cries, would be so devoted to the intrusive and presumptive state actions that a ban on abortion would require.
Yes, just like Prohibition.
Let us take heart with knowledge that Harding’s hypocrisy and the clout of the Anti-Saloon League finally withered. Franklin Roosevelt ran and won against the forces that gave us Prohibition. His words upon inauguration: “What America needs now is a drink.”
Longtime newspaperman John Young lives in Colorado. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.