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The New Prohibition | The Nation

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The New Prohibition

Reason magazine offers a stinging critique of a new crop of increasingly draconian DUI laws titled, "Prohibition Returns!" One example: In Washington DC, cops can arrest you for any blood alcohol reading above 0.01, even if you are not legally drunk.

David Harsanyi writes, "Neoprohibitionists aim to muddle the distinction between drunk diving and driving after drinking any amount of alcohol. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) endorsed the idea at a Senate Environment and Public Committee hearing way back in 1997, contending that we 'may wind up in this country going to zero tolerance, period.' Former MADD President Katherine Prescott concurred, in a letter to the Chicago Tribune, where she stated 'there is no safe blood alcohol, and for that reason responsible drinking means no drinking and driving.'"

Now, that's crazy talk, and much like the recent push to ban people from smoking in the privacy of their own apartments, it's a classic case of our puritanical instincts run amok. We seem unable to maintain the distinction between between a personal vice and a legal crime. People do and should have the freedom to do things that are not necessarily good -- even outright bad -- for them. They don't however have the right to be a hazard to others. So it makes sense to ban smoking in public spaces due to the dangers of second-hand smoke, but not to designate cigarettes a controlled subtance so you can get the FDA to essentially ban it.

Similarly, it makes sense to crack down on drunk driving, but not to restrict people's right to drink alcohol, period. "Drinking is under attack these days in ways we haven't seen since the failed experiment with national alcohol prohibition in the 1920s. Indeed, for many neoprohibitionists, that experiment wasn't a failure at all, since it did cut alcohol consumption, which is all that matters. We can see that mentality today in policies that go beyond preventing drunk driving or punishing drunk drivers and aim to discourage drinking per se," Harsanyi writes.

I'm not a hard-wired libertarian like Harsanyi -- who objects to even road blocks during holiday season -- but I do think it's time to say no to this push to control private behavior and space. It's outright un-American.

Postscript: I noticed that the article is adapted from Harsanyi's book, titled "Nanny State: How Food Fascists, Teetotaling Do-Gooders, Priggish Moralists, and Other Boneheaded Bureaucrats Are Turning America Into a Nation of Children." I've never much cared for the term "nanny state," if only because it's one of those catchy rightwing phrases that plays on liberal stereotypes to dismiss perfectly sensible policies. It also misleadingly suggests a liberal/lefty consensus on the extent to which the state should regulate private behavior, be it eating, drinking, smoking, taking drugs, or sex. Besides, groups like MADD -- and their ideological position on regulating personal behavior -- get plenty of support on either side of the traditional left/right divide.

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