At the end of the 1987 movie, “The Untouchables,” a reporter accosts Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner): “Mr. Ness, they’re saying that Congress will repeal Prohibition. If that happens, what will you do?”
And Ness–who has just spent the entire movie trying to put arch-bootlegger Al Capone out of business–replies: “I think I’ll have a drink.”
“The Untouchables” (1987)
In 1920, America went “dry”–officially.
The reason: Congressional passage of the Volstead Act–named after Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who managed the legislation.
For Americans generally, the law had a shorter name: Prohibition.
For 12 years–from 1920 to 1932–the United States Treasury Department declared war on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the country.
It was a losing war. Untold numbers of local police officers gladly turned a blind eye–for a price–to the bootleggers operating in their midst. So did legions of agents of the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau.
And police weren’t the only ones willing to ignore the law. So were politicians at all levels. At the highest level: Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States.
Warren G. Harding
Harding allowed bootleg whiskey to be served to his guests during after-dinner parties. Some of this alcohol had been confiscated from the Prohibition department. His wife, Florence, known as “The Duchess,” mixed drinks for the visitors.
There was definitely a “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do” morality at work during the 12 years that Prohibition was the law of the land.
Many of those public officials (and private citizens) who regularly indulged felt the law was needed to enforce “morality” onto others–especially the poor and immirgants.
Prohibition ended in 1932–to the sorrow of two major organizations. The first was anti-alcohol groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The second was the Mafia–which had raised millions of dollars via the sale of forbidden spirits.
Today Americans (except those living in officially “dry” states like Florida, Georgia and Alabama) can easily and legally obtain all the booze they can afford to buy.
But even in “wet” states, it’s illegal to drink and drive–as third-term United States Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) recently found out.
On December 23, Crapo was arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for driving under the influence.
Crapo was pulled over after an officer saw him run a red light.
According to CBS News, Crapo failed several field sobriety tests and was taken into custody without incident. He was later released on an unsecured $1,000 bond.
He must appear in court on January 4th.
At a time when America stands poised to go over “the fiscal cliff” courtesy of Republican extortion demands, it’s hardly reassuring hat Crapo is slated to take the top GOP spot on the Senate Banking Committee.
But there’s more to this tale than mere political embarrassment. There’s also a story of religious hypocrisy to be told.
Crapo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–the Mormons. He graduated from the church’s Brigham Young University in 1973 with a B.A. in political science.
Among those acts that Mormons are forbidden to partake in is the drinking of alcohol. It’s part of the “Word of Wisdom” embraced by staunch church members: A ban on any use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea.
Indulging in any of these won’t get you excommunicated (as will, say, adultery or murder, which the church puts on the same level of evil). But it can get you banned from entering a Mormon temple, reserved for only the most devout members.
It is in their temples that Mormons perform such rituals as wedding ceremonies and proxy “baptisms for the dead.”
This must inevitably come as a huge embarrassment for a man who represents Idaho, a state:
- Where government maintains a monopoly over sales of beverages with greater than 16% ABV;
- Where beer can be sold in grocery stores but not wine;
- Where the sale of distilled spirits is allowed only in certified Liquor Dispensary stores;
- Where 311,425 Mormons comprise the largest single religious group–at 23% of the population.
Thus, no one should be surprised that Crapo quickly released the following statement:
“I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance. I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me.
“I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter. I will also undertake measures to ensure that this circumstance is never repeated.”
If Crapo becomes the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, a major target for him will be the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, which Republicans believe is too powerful and needs to be weakened.
Democrats believe the Bureau is a major achievement of the Dodd-Frank financial law–passed by Congress to prevent a repeat of the 2008 Wall Street “meltdown” caused by the unchecked greed of speculators.
So if Crapo’s status is undermined by his recent bout with DUI, American consumers may well be the beneficiaries.