Monday, June 27, 2022


David Frum sees parallels between Prohibition and the end of Roe v. Wade:
Prohibition and Dobbs were and are projects that seek to impose the values of a cohesive and well-organized cultural minority upon a diverse and less-organized cultural majority. Those projects can work for a time, but only for a time. In a country with a representative voting system—even a system as distorted in favor of the rural and conservative as the American system was in the 1920s and is again today—the cultural majority is bound to prevail sooner or later.
It's an interesting idea, but as Frum describes it in more detail, the analogy breaks down:
The cities lacked the political clout to stop rural America from enacting Prohibition in 1919. But they did have the fiscal clout to refuse the money necessary to enforce it. From the beginning, the federal Prohibition police—domiciled first within the Treasury, later inside the Department of Justice—were hopelessly underfunded and understaffed. Big-city police departments often refused to cooperate with federal authorities, not only because they were bribed, but because they despised the law.
I don't think that's going to happen with abortion bans. The cops don't have a problem with them. And our government is extraordinarily skewed against the interests of the cities -- more so, I think, than it was in the Prohibition era.
In the 1920s, formerly diffuse anti-Prohibition factions coalesced around a single issue: repeal. They gathered into a single umbrella organization funded by big donors like the du Pont family and John J. Raskob, an early investor in General Motors. By the mid-’20s, the group had recruited nearly 1 million dues-paying members and began winning elections with the clear and simple slogan “Vote as you drink.”
Many people like to drink, and Prohibition made life difficult for them on a daily basis. Abortion is different: Nobody wants an abortion every evening, or even every weekend. I can't imagine the wealthy stepping in to fund a campaign to restore abortion rights out of the same kind of self-interest.

And recall that Prohibition ended after Franklin Roosevelt won the 1932 election in a landslide (57% to 40% in the popular vote, 472 to 59 in the Electoral College) after running as a supporter of Repeal. It's hard to imagine a pro-abortion-rights Democrat winning that kind of landslide -- a Democrat hasn't won that big since 1964.

And there were arguments in favor of Repeal that wouldn't apply to abortion:
A major failing of prohibition was to create a black market for liquor, providing lucrative business opportunities for gangsters like Al Capone, as well as thousands of “bootleggers” across the country whose products were no longer monitored for quality. It also sparked a proliferation of “speakeasies” – businesses that offered secret places for people to drink, out of the sight of official law enforcement, and largely unregulated for other illegal activities....

The federal government “collected more than $258 million in alcohol taxes in the first year after repeal. Those millions, which accounted for nearly nine percent of the government’s tax revenue, helped to finance Roosevelt’s New Deal programs in the ensuing years” ...
I've said that I think organized crime will get involved in providing abortions, or at least abortion pills, but I can't imagine that this will lead to the kind of high-profile crime we had during Prohibition. Besides, we've had a war on drugs for decades, and it's only now that we're trying to take the profits from drugs away from criminals -- and only for cannabis. As for tax revenue, there isn't much in abortion.

A fairly large segment of the population will readily admit to liking a drink now and then -- but it's harder to find people who'll boast of an abortion. For that and all the other reasons I've mentioned, I suspect that Frum's analogy doesn't quite hold up.

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