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September 28, 2012

Selective Attention, Generalizing, and the Conventional "Wisdom"

Well, the trouble with our liberal friends is not that they are ignorant, but that they know so much that isn’t so.

- Ronald Reagan, A Time for Choosing, October 27, 1964

A stuffed marmoset by parcel post to the lucky reader who can identify the takeaway from this list. Hint: be bold, peoples.

Califano, Joseph A. Cannon, Jr. , Bishop James Cogswell, Dr. Henry D. Dodge, Earl Hacker, George Hunt, Mary Jacobson, Michael Johnson, William E. Lewis, Diocletian Nation, Carrie Sewall, Dr. Thomas Shuler, Rev. Robert P. Sunday, Billy Volstead, Andrew John Wheeler, Wayne Anderson, William H. Barr, Daisey Douglas Brehm, Marie C. Brown, Martha McClellan Bubar, Ben Cary, Samuel Fenton Cherrington, Ernest Colvin, David Leigh Daniel, William Davis, Edith Smith Delevan, Edward C. Evans, Hiram. Faris, Herman P. Fisher, Rolland Fisk, Clinton B. Hamblen, Carl Stuart Hammond, John Brown Holtwick, Enoch A. Johnson, Hale Levering, Joshua Merrick, Carolyn

Bonus question: what do the folks on this list have in common? Oh, and spd? You're disqualified :p

Answer below the fold.

What do they have in common? They're all major figures (leaders) of the temperance movement that eventually led to Prohibition. The list isn't complete - the full roster goes on for quite some time. Which explains quite a bit about an interesting conversation (to the blog princess, at least) that went on in the comments over at Grim's place yesterday. As a charter member of the Illustrious Oink Cadre, Grim was indulging in the time honored practice of yanking the Princess's chain:

... if you haven't seen the movie, the thing that reminded me of it was the way that the women in the movie would do the most aggressive things; and when called on it would reply in a perfectly civilized tone as if what they were about was obvious and ordinary. For example, they didn't approve of drinking, so they set out to destroy an entire wagon train of whiskey so that the rightful owners couldn't drink it.

That's pretty much the dynamic at work here. 'I do have a right to spraypaint this poster, actually. I'm merely engaged in my right of free expression. Naturally you can't have a problem with that. Now get out of the way before I have to call the police.' She sounds so proper saying it, for a moment you have to doubt whether she isn't in the right after all.

That's how Prohibition happened, mind you. You've got to watch these folks. :)

Now obviously this is a joke, but it also got the Princess thinking because she's heard this particular nugget over and over again. So she thought about it a bit, and did a little Googling. And she learned something she didn't know (or perhaps just hadn't ever bothered to think about):

Grim... allow me to point out the order of operations here:

Prohibition was the 18th Amendment.

Women's suffrage was the 19th (IOW, it came after).

The vast majority of voters were male at the time Prohibition was passed.

If there is one enduring constant in the world, it is the tendency of men to blame women (sometimes humorously, more often not).

As for "women will remake the world", they will do no such thing... unless men roll over and play dead, or give up as so many are doing these days. "Women" are not some monolithic constituency any more than men are. In the story you allude to here, one woman did something wrong.

And another woman stood up for what was right and tried to stop her despite the well known aversion most women have to physical altercations.

Here's another little known fact about Prohibition:

The repeal movement was started by a wealthy Republican, Pauline Sabin, who said that prohibition should be repealed because it made the US a nation of hypocrites and undermined its respect for the rule of law. *Her* fellow Republicans were put in office by the "drys" and, even though they eagerly partook in consumption of alcoholic beverages at her parties, in public they presented themselves as opposing the repeal of prohibition, lest they be thrown out of office by the dry voting blocks. This hypocrisy and the fact that women led the prohibition movement convinced her to start the organization that eventually led to the repeal of prohibition.[12][13]

When her fellow Republicans would not support her efforts, she went to the Democrats, who changed from drys led by conservative Democrats and Catholics to supporting repeal led by liberal politicians such as La Guardia and Franklin Roosevelt. She, and they, emphasized that repeal would generate enormous sums of much needed tax revenue, and weaken the base of organized crime. The Repeal of Prohibition in the United States was accomplished with the passage of the Twenty-first Amendment to the United States Constitution on December 5, 1933. By its terms, states were allowed to set their own laws for the control of alcohol. The organized Prohibition movement was dead nationwide, but survived for a while in a few southern and border states.

Funny how that never seems to get mentioned.

We're willing to bet the vast majority of you have never heard of Pauline Sabin. You can read more about her here:

In May 1929 in Chicago, Pauline Sabin founded the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform with two dozen of her society friends as its nucleus. Its leadership was dominated by wives of American industry leaders. Their high social status attracted press coverage and made the movement fashionable. For housewives throughout middle America, joining the WONPR was an opportunity to mingle with high society. In less than two years, membership grew to almost 1.5 million.

As head of the WONPR, she countered the arguments of the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU). She later recalled that she decided to fight Prohibition while sitting in a congressional office where the president of the WCTU asserted: "I represent the women of America!" Repeal would protect families from the crime, corruption, and furtive drinking that prohibition had created. Repeal would return decisions about alcohol to families. The WONPR stole tactics and members as well as arguments from the WCTU. Its members looked for allies in both major parties and minimized internal dissension. While becoming the largest female repeal organization, [Ed. note: Good God! You mean there were more female repeal organiations? Why were we not informed of this?] the WONPR attracted many former prohibitionists who had become disillusioned with it. It attracted adherents even in prohibition strongholds in the South.

In later statements, she elaborated further on her objections to prohibition. With settlement workers reporting increasing drunkenness, she worried, "The young see the law broken at home and upon the street. Can we expect them to be lawful?" Mrs. Sabin complained to the House Judiciary Committee: "In pre-prohibition days, mothers had little fear in regard to the saloon as far as their children were concerned. A saloon-keeper's license was revoked if he were caught selling liquor to minors. Today in any speakeasy in the United States you can find boys and girls in their teens drinking liquor, and this situation has become so acute that the mothers of the country feel something must be done to protect their children."

She later promoted the anti-New Deal American Liberty League.

There's a lot in here to think about, and quite a bit that challenges our own world view. For one thing, Pauline Sabin, an Evil, Wealthy Rethug, couldn't get the party of small government and individual responsibility to back the repeal movement. She had to work with the party of FDR. History, if we look at it straight on, has an odd way of unsettling our preconceived notions about how the world works.

The next time you hear someone arguing that women shouldn't have been "given" the vote because women are to blame for mistakes like Prohibition, you can point out that a woman was also at the forefront of the repeal movement. Even back then, women weren't a monolithic constituency who think and vote alike. Which has always been the conservative critique of the disturbing fact that over 90% of blacks vote Dem.

Or you could point out that the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was passed by the states before the 19th Amendment, at a time when the vast majority of voters were male.

Or you could point out that the majority of temperance movement leaders were men.

Posted by Cassandra at September 28, 2012 04:27 AM

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Disqualified! That's like leaving Willie Mays on the bench! Hrumph!

Posted by: spd rdr at September 28, 2012 10:54 AM

It may have been a source of contention (women voting) that women, given the vote, would not be as civic minded, i.e. concerned with the overall society, as men, given the long held notion – men/society, women/personal-familial. Women may well have stood that notion on its head for generations but that civic attention seems to have degenerated, since the '60s, into 'women, women, me, women, me, me. The 'war on women' is not a cultural/social fluke nor is it, as a conclusion, based on some fear of implicit or explicit desires for a restoration of a status quo ante; it is entirely some, too many, women's desire for... more.

Given the prolonged adolescence of both 'men' and 'women' I would happily entertain a voting age of... say... thirty... or married.

Posted by: George Pal at September 28, 2012 11:17 AM

I still think you'd like the movie. :)

If you're really interested in deep-diving into the history, one of the main influences on the early American prohibition movement was a work by Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Surgeon General of the Continental Army under George Washington (whom he did not particularly get along with). Dr. Rush is one of my ancestors, on my mother's side.

Posted by: Grim at September 28, 2012 11:46 AM

Women may well have stood that notion on its head for generations but that civic attention seems to have degenerated, since the '60s, into 'women, women, me, women, me, me.

I think there are a few things going on there, George:

1. We (and I include myself in this) are less tolerant of women who act in their own self interest than of men who do. A great many conservatives don't (for instance) have a problem with a young man who defers marriage or relationships and sleeps around until he is financially stable and his education is complete. HE HAS NEEDS, DURNITALL, and self control is just unnatural (kind of like Western civilization, the rule of law, suspension bridges, etc.).

But a young woman who does the same thing is a slut and a whore and damaged goods. Huge double standard there you could drive a truck through :p

2. Human nature (male and female) generally doesn't respond well to identity politics. So we have some females who are all up in your face about their rights, but somehow don't want to talk about or even recognize their responsibilities.

And then we have the pickup artist community, who make social Darwinists look positively altruistic. Identity politics erodes character: both groups demand to be accepted and even admired on their own terms and both groups are essentially petulant, childish pre-adults.

I'm totally with you on the voting age thing :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2012 12:17 PM

I still think you'd like the movie. :)

Oh, I'm sure I would!

If you're really interested in deep-diving into the history, one of the main influences on the early American prohibition movement was a work by Dr. Benjamin Rush, the Surgeon General of the Continental Army under George Washington (whom he did not particularly get along with). Dr. Rush is one of my ancestors, on my mother's side.

I did a lot of reading and learned a lot of things I didn't know, one of which was how early the temperance movement started, and just how widespread it was. Which is another huge flaw in the "it's women's fault" mantra - there was a huge tie-in with organized religion (led by men, and normally something conservatives support and vocally argue there should be more of... except when those pesky consequences they've forgotten about, like the whole moral accountability and shame/opprobrium and standards thingamajobber, rears its ugly head).

Ironically, Prohibition may be one of those rare instances where women got the "credit" for a movement dominated by men, I'm guessing because it is now an unpopular movement (though at the time, there were very good reasons for it that we haven't directly experienced).

The other interesting aspect I read about is that it was essentially WWI, the shortages of grain, and the hatred/suspicion of Germans that gave the Prohibition movement a big boost. These are all non-obvious factors.

Anyway, interesting stuff.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2012 12:30 PM

Disqualified! That's like leaving Willie Mays on the bench!

Yep :)

Posted by: Cassandra at September 28, 2012 12:32 PM

Is it "Just" possible that although women did not have the vote for emancipation passage that there may have been just a wee bit of influencing of their husbands--who did? THAT never happens. Right?

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at September 29, 2012 08:17 PM

Yes, of course it's possible.

Let's walk through the implications of that possibility then.

It assumes that men, who under other circumstances would NEVER vote for anything as dumb as Prohibition (never mind that the vast majority of leaders of the temperance movement were in fact men - what we're positing here is that its some sort of male, sex-linked characteristic not to support Prohibition, AND that large numbers of men nationwide were somehow persuaded to go completely against their beliefs).

Do you think this is a plausible theory? And if so, what does that say about the rationality of male (as opposed to female) voters?

Posted by: Cassandra at September 30, 2012 11:37 AM

My point is that males have always been "irrationally" (though I have always pretty much found that being influenced by my wife was pretty darned rational in the long run) influenced by females (particularly their mates). I offer in evidence Shaharizad, Eve, Cleopatra, Dolly Madison, etc. etc.

Prohibition turned out to be a pretty dumb idea--though the impetus behind it was not. The results were a whole laundry list of liquor laws --which were more or less positive IMO--after prohibition was repealed.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at September 30, 2012 04:43 PM

You may be right, Capt. Mongo.

I'm not a man, and what's more I'm married to a guy who, though he says he loves me (and I believe it) and respects my opinions, tends to resist falling in line with whatever I want him to do almost reflexively. He admits this, by the way :p.

I learned early in our courtship that there's no pushing him - the best thing is to patiently state my case and let him make up his own mind.

It's part of his charm as far as I'm concerned - the last thing I want is a mate who defers to me all the time. So long as I know he will give me a fair hearing on the important things, I'm a happy camper.

Your take on Prohibition sounds pretty close to mine. Prohibition gets cited in ways that don't make much sense in all kinds of arguments but when you read the history of the times, it didn't happen for no reason.

What I don't find plausible is the idea that Prohibition was some kind of spontaneous, woman-led movement. Women played a part, but the movement itself was underway from the beginnings of our history as a country. The vast majority of the temperance movement's leaders were male and the church - which had far more influence on public policy than it does now - was firmly behind it. I'm never going to buy off on the idea that the Catholic church was secretly run by women.

Finally, I don't think you get an entire country composed of almost 50 states (can't recall what the total was back then) to pass an amendment to the Constitution for frivolous reasons - or no reason at all except "women wanted it". I have no problem believing women wielded influence: we have done so throughout history.

I just don't buy Prohibition as a reason not to let women vote.

Posted by: Cassandra at September 30, 2012 05:49 PM

Me either as to prohibition. Now the election and reeelection of Bill Clinton and maybe BHO--both largely because of women---might be a better argument--JOKING!JOKING!!

More seriously, the Salvation Army and other religiouly based movements who were very instrumental in getting prohibition passed were mainly male in those days.

I don't push well either, as you might infer, and my wife--a retired CDR--and I get on much as you describe you and your spouse doing. I have been accused of marrying my own XO--which is not (quite) true ;-).

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at October 1, 2012 09:13 AM