Last Sunday morning I was standing in the checkout line at Kroger, just behind a guy buying Cheez-Its, Special K cereal, a carton of orange juice, and a 12-pack of Bud Light. The checker rang up the first three items, then said, "I can't sell you the beer. It's not noon yet."
The customer, who obviously was not from around here, did a double-take and said, "Why not?"
"It's the law," the checker said. "We can't sell beer until noon on Sunday." The guy shook his head in disbelief and said, "Okay. I guess I'll come back in 20 minutes."
I suppose this law is based on the idea that people should go to church on Sunday morning and that preventing them from buying beer will get them to go sit in a pew somewhere. It's probably not constitutional to base a law on the practices of one religion, but barring a class-action lawsuit from beer-drinking Buddhists, Jews, and atheists, it will probably remain in place. Tennesseans who want to drink on Sunday will continue to buy their liquor in advance. The only reason this silly law hasn't been overturned is that it's easy to get around it.
I've been watching Ken Burns' excellent documentary, Prohibition, on WKNO this week. It's fascinating and more than a little scary to see how a few dedicated "drys" managed to guilt state legislative bodies around the country into voting for the 18th Amendment. Politicians were afraid to be seen as "pro-booze."
When Prohibition became national law, it was followed by years of corruption, bribery, bootlegging, mob violence, and rampant hypocrisy. Burns documents the open deliveries of booze to Congress and the White House, the thousands of bars and restaurants that became speakeasies, and the millions of Americans who became "criminals" by the mere act of buying a drink. Prohibition was overturned when the majority of Americans finally rose up and said "no more."
There are a lot of angry people in America today, at both ends of the political spectrum. We know that a passionate, noisy minority — like prohibitionists — can bring enormous change. For example, the Tea Party is a minority group that has gained influence out of proportion to its size because GOP politicians want their votes. But that pendulum, like all pendulums, swings both ways. The pushback from the left seems to be growing. If so, hang on tight. We may all need a drink in the next few months.