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The Politics of Boardwalk Empire: Progressivism and Prohibition

boardwalk empire hbo poster 300x180 The Politics of Boardwalk Empire: Progressivism and Prohibition

The Noble Experiment!

By Tim Rodgers

It’s hard to imagine in today’s day and age, that the creation, distribution, and consumption of alcohol would be outlawed by our government.  WhiskeyGoldmine would not operate as freely or at all for that matter in the era of prohibition.  But the progressive mentality still exists in today’s society and rears its head in many forms.  For example, there is a strong movement (that is successful by the way) in many cities to ban trans-fats from its restaurants.  These same forces also want to regulate the consumption of salt, soft drinks, smoking, as well as many other aspects of society.  

The intent of the progressive is of course ideal and ultimately for the betterment of society.  What became known as the “Noble Experiment” grew over time out of sentiments of the ails of those who drank to excess.  Smaller towns whose economies relied on one industry such as coal mining, fisheries, or a steel plant, could be significantly impacted by a plague of alcoholism in its workforce.  As time went by grassroot movements grew eventually into a national movement and the Volstead Act was enacted.  “Section 1. After one year from the ratification of this article the manufacture, sale, or transportation of intoxicating liquors within, the  importation thereof into, or the exportation thereof from the United States and all territory subject to the jurisdiction thereof for beverage purposes is hereby prohibited.”  Hard to believe huh?

I believe that the brilliance of HBO’s Boardwalk Empire is the way it portrays how the progressive movement overstepped its boundaries and miscalculated the way that alcohol is ingrained in America’s traditions and its society.  However, it appropriately contrasts that notion against the serious woes and ails that the abuse of alcohol consumption also causes.  Margaret Schroeder was beaten and her unborn baby was killed at the hands of her alcoholic husband even when alcohol was supposedly outlawed.  Yet, the consumption of green beer at a St. Patrick Day’s Dinner of prominent Irish immigrants is not allowed either.  Is their no middle ground on this issue? 

prohibition ends at last 300x212 The Politics of Boardwalk Empire: Progressivism and ProhibitionTrying to solve all of the problems of a very dynamic, complex American society with the broad brush of the federal government is never a good idea.  In the 19th century, drug and alcohol treatment facilities did not exist, nor did Alcoholics Anonymous, nor a lot of science about what we now know today about addiction.  Therefore, the knee-jerk reaction of the 18th amendment could be understandable given the times.  But we should all learn the lesson from this “Noble Experiment” and not repeat the mistakes of the past.  If I want to drink a coke with my big mac I will, and I don’t need a Michael Bloomberg politician to tell me what is good for me.  The very hour that the government intruded into the distribution of alcohol sales there was an immediate dislocation in the market that gave rise to a tidal wave of criminal enterprise.  Not that I’m saying that the Gambino crime syndicate will flood the streets of NYC with Wessen cooking oil, but ultimately the road to hell is always paved with good intentions as they say.

A very interesting dynamic of prohibition was that it was favored by elitist Protestants and even the Ku Klux Klan.  Because drinking alcohol was prominent amongst Irish Catholics and wine amongst Italian catholics, the Klan sought to benefit from the cultural turmoil it caused those groups and did not necessarily oppose the prohibition political movement.  As fictionalized in Boardwalk Empire, I guess we know that the Klan had nothing to do with the bootlegging that went on in Atlantic City after all. (Not that we want to point fingers or anything)

“Everything in moderation” is an axiom I read several times over in my philosophy books. Plus, some things are not for everybody.  That is what is great about the idea of America.  If you want to live a clean wholesome life you are free to do so or, if you want to hang out on Bourbon Street 24/7, knock yourself out.  But what we don’t need in these United States are a bunch of single issue alphabet soup named groups trying to impose their “temperance” on the rest of society.  Freedom and liberty are notions that are starting to become forgotten in this country, and I think we need to be reminded about how precious they are. The show Boardwalk Empire is a reminder that we all could be sitting here today without being able to crack a Chimay Red on Sunday night watching HBO.

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