Dec

5

2008

Session #22 — Repeal Day and the Failure of Representative Government 

Welcome to The Session, a monthly event in which beer and brewing bloggers get together to all write about a chosen topic on the same day! This is Session #19, for which 21st Amendment Brewery writers Nico Freccia and Shaun O’Sullivan has chosen the topic, “The Repeal of Prohibition”.

Happy Repeal Day! 75 years ago today, the United States of America ratified the 21st Amendment to the Constitution, repealing the 18th Amendment, which banned the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages, and returning to the people the right to consume alcohol! The system works, and no harm done! Obviously!

Agh, my head…

A lot of people, especially beer drinkers and brewers, view December 5th with a great deal of reverence. In ways, it’s justified; not having a freedom restricted is probably something to celebrate — I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone their revelry. To me, though, Repeal Day symbolizes the inherent failure of modern democracy to govern effectively.

Prohibition was one of the most universally reviled pieces of legislation in American history. It was an act of cut and dried oppression that, despite public disapproval, lurched through Congress and state legislatures on a platform of moral and religious activism (separation of church and state indeed!), turning the American people into a nation of criminals overnight.

Few people are still alive who remember the days of Prohibition vividly enough to appreciate the gravity of the 18th Amendment’s passing. It forced higher federal income taxes — thanks for setting that up, 16th Amendment! — to counter the loss of revenue from alcohol taxes. It created violent black markets. It turned some law enforcers into corrupt pawns of gangs looking to smuggle their newly illegal wares around the country, and turned the rest of the police into goons enforcing an unjust law.

Though remarkable, it should not be the least bit surprising that such an unpopular piece of legal detritus could ever appear in the United States Constitution. I stress this to people all the time: No public official at any level of the United States government is required to execute the will of his or her constituents. We expect our legislators to answer to us, and in many cases, they do, but a Republic is nothing more than a dictatorship with the blessing of the people.

We give our elected officials free rein the moment they enter office, rarely removing them for misbehavior until their term of office is up, usually long after the damage has been done. But we tolerate this by comforting ourselves with the belief that we’ve got freedom and democracy right and that no other country has figured it out. Meanwhile, our government erodes our freedoms on a daily basis under the marionette strings of wealthy benefactors and pious zealots.

Repeal Day reminds me of the inherent flaws in representative governance, and of the lolling complacency that Americans have given themselves to about it. It reminds me that in politics, it is far less important to be right than it is to be convincing. Most of all, it reminds me that the desires of the powerful few will always outweigh the needs of the common many, so long as the people remain so ignorant as to believe any suited figure that tells them that it knows what’s best for them.

3 Responses to “Session #22 — Repeal Day and the Failure of Representative Government”

  1. A well written piece, as always. Though I am a little sad to see a political diatribe in a blog that’s supposed to be about all things beer.

    That being said, I repeat: well written, as always. You make some valid points. The idea that we are living in a “democracy” is one of the greatest fallacies perpetrated against the American people since Hoover was painted as an “elitist”. You are correct in asserting we live in a republic, which is a form of representative democracy. The only problem with this is, as you point out, that the people do not hold their representatives accountable.

    IMHO, this is a result of a lack of education and general apathy amongst the electorate (oooh, big words). The so called “real Americans”, those flag waving my country and no other morons who seemed so enamored with Palin and march to the drums of Limbaugh and O’Reilly, have been duped into believing this populist falsehood. This is not meant to be an attack on Republicans or conservatives. There are plenty of well spoken, educated, and intelligent Repubs and cons. out there who are sincere in their beliefs, and as close to pure in their efforts as one can get in modern politics. This is an indictment against the uneducated masses. Both Washington and Adams recognized that for this experiment in government we call the United States to succeed, the American people would need a solid liberal education, in mathematics, literature, philosophy, and history.

    The 18th Amendment is unique in American history, in that it is the only time we have amended the U.S. Constitution to curtail rather than protect a freedom. While this is certainly a terrible thing, the fact that it has happened only once in the 217 years that we have been amending Constitution illustrates a rare strength of the system: amending our national charter of government is not easy. As both feminists and homophobes have discovered, the system is set up to prevent the Constitution from being changed at every whim of the uneducated masses. The lessons of Prohibition and the 18th Amendment should be that the protection of our liberties requires constant vigilance, that well intentioned people can be easily swayed by pie-in-the-sky promises, and that elected officials do, ironically enough, sometimes respond to what they perceive to be the will of the people, no matter how misguided that perception may be.

    I feel I should also point out that the 21st Amendment was passed, not out of a desire to restore some fundamental right but, in an effort to boost tax revenue for the federal government during the depths of the Great Depression. In fact, some historians have argued that it was capitalism that saved alcohol in the United States.

  2. While I agree with much of the sentiment expressed here, and even some of the sentiment expressed by the commenter, I have to ask, what better alternative do you find or propose?

    Sure the Founders expected an educated electorate to ensure that representatives that did not follow the will of the people (or more accurately, did not govern with reason and ethics), would be voted out. They obviously did not expect the people to blindly vote for their incumbent politicians 95% of the time as is common these days in some public positions.

    Still, the uneducated voters get some things right from time to time, anyway and the 21st Amendment is one of them. It is simply our jobs as citizens to vote for honest, ethical and responsible people for all of the positions that we fill by public election. We get the government we deserve, after all.

    The march toward more freedom continues. Its foes are not all conservatives, Republicans or even Christians but they are certainly working to further restrict your individual freedoms even now! Choose well.

  3. One possible solution to the problem of incumbents being perpetually re-elected would be to impose term limits on Congress, similar to those placed on the President. The two-term limit on the presidency was put in place following FDR’s unprecedented four elections, out of fear that with the concurrent rise in power of the presidency during his 12 years in office, a man who could hold so much power and continually be re-elected could lead to dictatorship. While I’m not going in to all the pros and cons of this concept, I would at least propose that since the Chief Executive is limited in number of terms and the national legislature essentially may serve for life, there is at least as much potential for an abuse of powers by members of Congress as their would be for a President, perhaps even more so, given the relative anonymity of most members of Congress.

    By limiting the terms of our legislators, it might force people to take a closer look at their representatives if they had to chose from a new field of fresh faces every few years.

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