Labor - And A Whole Lot More

George Bush, the Next Eliot Ness?
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President Bush and other righteous folks who want a constitutional ban on same-sex marriages better be careful. Think of the whole bunch of trouble that swept the country the last time the Constitution was amended in order to impose the moral views of some Americans on other Americans

We can only speculate on what sorts of trouble might be stirred up if Bush and his fellow moralists prevail. But we sure know what happened after passage of the 18th Amendment in 1920. That was the one aimed at protecting the citizenry from the evil of Demon Rum, just as today's proposed amendment is aimed at saving us from the evil of marriages that don't fit the moralists' definition of what a marriage should be.

It was pretty sweeping, the 18th Amendment. It prohibited the manufacture, sale, transportation, import or export of what vote-seeking politicians far and wide railed at as "intoxicating liquor," no less than the vote-seeking Mr. Bush rails against gay and lesbian marriages.

But as much as they ached to impose their ways on those who were evilly enjoying themselves, the prohibitionists knew, deep in their Puritan hearts, that they couldn't quite do it.

The prohibitionists compromised. They in effect agreed it would be all right if people did themselves in with drink - just as long as they didn't do it in public saloons, which the prohibitionists portrayed as the root of all evil.

So we got the Volstead Act to carry out the provisions of the 18th Amendment. It kept the saloons closed until the amendment was mercifully repealed in 1933. But though the act did halt the legal brewing and selling of booze, it actually increased consumption and the spread of alcoholism by giving liquor the allure of the forbidden.

It didn't really matter a great deal to the prohibitionists that the saloons merely replaced their open, swinging doors with closed, peep-hole doors, or that the saloons-turned-spreakeasies poured bootleg liquor that often was as poisonous as the stuff brewed at home by many drinkers. What mattered was that the drinking was being done in private, out of public view, so that righteous politicians could tell their righteous supporters that the supposed drinking problem they had invented or imagined was solved.

Ah, but they hadn't accounted for the gangsters. You know, the guys with tommy guns, gats and other means of persuasion who moved in to take over the manufacture, sale, transportation, import and export of "intoxicating liquor."

What a mess they made, those gangs violently vying for control of the lucrative liquor market, killing and looting, corrupting untold numbers of cops who for the right price looked the other way as the gangsters went about their often deadly business, and causing much other social and political mayhem.

It wasn't all bad, though. Without them there would have been no gangster movies. And without gangster movies, James Cagney undoubtedly would have remained simply a musical comedy hoofer, and Humphrey Bogart might never even have made it to the silver screen. And of course there wouldn't have been been those thrilling TV dramas and movies about the exploits of Eliot Ness and his intrepid band of incorruptible federal lawmen, "The Untouchables," forever chasing after bootleg king Al Capone and his cohorts, guns blazing, rat-a-tat-tat...rat-a-tat-tat!

It's a pity we can't expect quite as much excitement from George Bush and his band of moralists. But should they get the constitutional amendment they're after, it's certain that more than a few evilly-inclined same-sex couples would arrange to be married on the sly by scofflaw civil and church officials, despite what would be a constitutional ban against it.

Imagine that. A Bush-directed Untouchables squad raiding churches and city halls. What fun.

Copyright Dick Meister.