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Why are Republicans so uptight about drinking?


Yesterday I blogged about Sarah Palin’s silly quote that “alcohol isn’t necessary to have a good time” when she spoke last April about Alcohol Awareness Month. (This, despite her Playboy-style thigh tease with a glass of red wine; with those stiletto heels and cleavage-bearing decolletage, she sure seems ready to party hard.)

Actually, Alcohol Awareness Month is a production of the U.S Department of Health and Human Services (your tax dollars at work), and specifically of a division within it called SAMHSA, the Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services Administration. Now, I know I’m going to get into trouble with this post, but I have to say that something about this whole approach to “combating” alcohol rubs me the wrong way. On SAMHSA’s website they lump alcohol in with cocaine, methamphetamine and suicide, and that’s just on the home page. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find comparisons with LSD, ecstasy and marijuana, among other Devil’s delights. It’s as if a nice glass of Cabernet (which, judging by the dark color, Sarah might be enjoying) and a crackhead’s needle were morally equivalent. Go to HHS’s Alcohol Awareness Month homepage and you’ll find it stated that “People who abuse alcohol can be…Professionals who drink after a long day of work” and “Senior citizens who drink out of loneliness.” Now, can we get real here? Professionals who drink after a long day of work can be alcohol abusers? For crying out loud, I’ll bet you that plenty of senior management at Health & Human Services head over after work to the Fairfax Lounge in the Westin Hotel on Embassy Row for a well-deserved Gimlet. (And by the way, does “professionals” mean that blue collar workers can’t abuse alcohol, or does the Republican administration simply not want to piss red-staters off?) Of course, this is the kind of nonsense we might expect from the employees of a President who is an out of the closet “recovering” alcoholic. As for all those lonely old geezers, hey, if a couple glasses of wine-in-a-box or schnapps help pass the hours until snooze time, so what? The website also has one of those “Are you an alcoholic” pseudo-scientific quizzes, which contain such questions as “Do you drink alone when you feel angry or sad?” (Answer: I sometimes do, and I bet you do too. See Proverbs 31:6-7: Give strong drink unto him that is ready to perish, and wine unto those that be of heavy hearts. Let him drink, and forget his poverty, and remember his misery no more.) and “Does your drinking worry your family?” (It doesn’t bother mine, but what if my family believed drinking alcohol was a sin, even though it’s mentioned, what? thousands of times in the Bible, and mostly favorably.) This approach by the Federal government is so opposite to our own here in California, where Gov. Schwarzenegger, a Republican but not a bizarre one, just proudly declared September “California Wine Month.”

We still have vestiges of neoprohibitionism in this country, which itself is an echo of the old Puritan ethic that, if it feels good, it’s a sin. Don’t get me wrong: Obviously some people have issues with alcohol abuse (just as some religious fanatics have issues with intolerance), and there are some people who should never drink at all. What bothers me is this suggestion that we should all conform to some white-bread government nanny’s ideas of right and wrong. And while I’m on the subject, now I see the Republicans are planning on promoting Todd Palin (who was busted for DUI in 1986) as “First Dude,” thereby winning the hearts and votes of the rural, beer-drinking, liquor-swilling, country & western crowd. Am I suffering from cognitive dissonance, or just too many glasses of Cabernet?

  1. Common, Steve, don’t sugar coat it… Tell us how you really feel. (Too funny!)

  2. Cognitive dissonance is the least of it. They are liars, frauds & hypocrites. And by the way, if the self-styled Born Again crowd had any brains or the use of their critical/cognitive faculties, they’d cast these swine out of the temple.

    That’s me self-censoring all over the place, by the way. You should catch my comments on wonkette.

  3. Steve,

    Two things: 1. The picture is photoshopped.
    2. Ethanol is toxic: it can kill by itself. It is the only substance from which withdrawal can be and often is lethal.

    If an ER doc has a cokehead withdrawing in one bay, a heroin addict withdrawing in another and an alcoholic withdrawing in a third, he (or she) will leave the other two to play cards and will tend to the third because that one is most likely to die of the three. THAT is why alcohol is lumped in with other “harder” (bah!) drugs.

    While overdoses of all 3 substances can be lethal, there are many more incidences of people OD’ing on ethanol than on any other drug.

  4. Those “pseudoscientific” questions are clinical screening questions. They are used routinely in health care. They serve to help detect problem patterns, not diagnose.

    Careful. It may seem stupid to you, but you would be surprised how honest and forthcoming people are with their doctors.

    Now, before you go and say that most doctors are republicans (not by a long shot, except maybe on April 15th) and are indoctrinated with prohibitionist values and attitudes, I remind you of the old adage that “you are only an alcoholic if you drink more than your doctor”.

  5. Arthur, I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t be honest with their doctors! I’m reacting against the climate of fear and paranoia that always hovers over the moderate use of alcohol for the sole purpose of relaxing and having fun. I mean, when HHS is suggesting there’s something wrong with people enjoying a few drinks after a long day at work, they’ve gone too far. See 1 Tim. 5:23 “Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach’s sake and thine often infirmities.”

  6. Nothing to add to the ethanol discussion other than my father is a recovering alcoholic, so I know first hand the dangers.

    But, here’s a link discussing the fake pics of Palin making the rounds.

    The USA bikini one even had me fooled!

  7. Steve.

    The website in question deals with substance abuse and not moderate, responsible consumption. A health agency has a responsibility and a mandate to address issues of abuse and disease stemming from abuse.

    You called the questions “pseudo-scientific” when they have been developed to be clinically useful and effective in broaching a difficult subject in the clinical setting.

    Additionally, you don’t have to be the unshaven wino under the bridge to be an alcoholic. Alcoholism and alcohol abuse has many faces, colors and patterns. THAT is what the example you latched onto is saying.

    It is precisely the “people enjoying a few drinks after a long day at work” that are serendipitously found to have elevated liver enzymes indicative or organ damage on hospital admissions for unrelated cause. It is precisely THOSE people that end up going into DTs. Alcohol dependence and the health effects of alcohol we associate with the guy wearing a “wife beater” are insidious and creep up even on those who think they are elegant people, drinking socially.

    Finally, how many times have we wine writers swayed and wavered going from table to table at a wine festival? How many events like that (or maybe smaller) do we go to a year? A month? A week?

    It’s wine, so we think it’s sophisticated and immune from crass abuse, causing stupid behavior, dependence and health complications (ya, right).

    We’re wine writers, so we think that we spit all our wine and really take tiny mousy sips (a wine writer can out drink a professional party boy – nothing gets your liver revving like daily consumption).
    And of course, since we sip and spit and so don’t REALLY consume alcohol. We only taste and not ingest. We abhor the notion of having too much. The rest of the world, of course, is like minded and practices restraint and moderation and can’t bear the fact that wine has a big intoxicant effect.

  8. Morton Leslie says:

    I wouldn’t stereotype Republicans necessarily as anti-alcohol. It seems to be more of a local issue. Let’s say your from West Virginia, you have a lot of mining, blue collar jobs, subsidized tobacco, macho men socializing together, especially when unemployed. Alcohol is a big local problem and a big issue, especially with a fundamentalist church on every corner. You end up with anti-alcohol candidates in both parties…like Democrat and former K.K.K. Grand Dragon Robert Byrd. Or you are in a prosperous state like NY or CA and you produce pro-wine tolerant Republicans like Rudy or Arnie. It does look sometimes like anti-alcohol is a Republican platform issue, but that is because of a combination of factors behind the Red States and Republican coalitions.

    I don’t think anyone Republican or Democrat could get elected in Alaska if they advocated tolerance toward alcohol. Drinking continues to devastate rural communities and there are no easy answers. They have tried everything and still their state leads every category of alcohol problem from suicide to liver failure by at least double the rates of the closest other state. Rural Alaska alcohol-related deaths are 7 times the national average. Alcohol dependence and alcohol abuse is found in 14% of the population.

    What concerns me far more about any candidate is their intellectual curiosity, their street smarts, their self awareness, their tolerance of others, and their ability to see the big picture. I’m not sure you get any of these things in a gal who studied communications at UofIdaho, got her first passport last year, believes that the Bible is literally the word of God, doesn’t believe in evolution, believes the earth is less than 7,000 years old, and is small town in every viewpoint except her talents on a teleprompter learned as a sports reporter. I could give a rat’s ass what she thinks about alcohol. We’re talking about someone a heart beat or another melanoma away from being Commander and Chief who occasionally might speak in tongues.

    But photoshopped? Say it isn’t true.

  9. Sorry Steve, did you say something?

  10. Please return us to our regularly-scheduled programming. This and the previous post tore all the firebrands away from Fox News.

  11. JC in Mass says:

    Why are you so obsessed with Republicans and attractive VP candidates? Man are you angry!!! Personally, I’m obsessed with wine. I want to read about wine. Put the politics back in the bottle and cork it! Or I’ll find other blogs to frequent.

    Speaking of neo-prohibitionists, I’ll bet you want to ban trans fats in restaurants, cigarette smoking in public places, conservative speakers at universities, and books by anyone who disagrees with you. Lighten up.

  12. JC, when I started this blog I said it wasn’t going to be just about wine. In my opinion, the future of my country is more important than wine. If I lose some readers because of my political views, so be it. By the way, I have no beliefs whatsoever about trans fats, conservative speakers at universities or rightwing books, so please don’t pigeon hole me, although I do feel strongly about cigarette smokers who stink up my lungs in public places. That’s rude, selfish behavior, and if smokers won’t discipline themselves, I think municipalities should do it for them.

  13. I wish people would get so bitchy with me on my blog!

    It’s a fun read. And good for site traffic.

  14. Steve,
    Stop trying to influence people with your political leanings and refrain from trashing Sarah Palin—you, like the Obama/Oprah et all, have lost credibility….incidentally Republicans love GOOD wine, we just don’t care for your trash talk….

    Stick to what you know about wine, maybe that will redeem you….

  15. “We still have vestiges of neoprohibitionism in this country”.

    Prohibition is alive and well once you take a good look at the “War on Drugs”. To see alcohol use/abuse as something different than pot, coke, etc. is to lose track of the forest for all the trees. You may be right that some conservatives would choose to prohibit more and more out of some sense of moral necessity, with a healthy dose of paternalism. To think that folks that consume their alcohol in the form of wine, or that they consume a legal drug like alcohol rather than illegal drugs, have some kind of special status seems a bit stiff and elitist to me.

  16. As a gun toting, proud conservative wine maker I would like to say each party has its issues. Conservative s have neo pohibitionists, the left has its “global warming worshipers”. Neither is totally correct but that is why there are elections and dialogue. That’s why blogs are so much fun to read. Without this nonsense what would people write about?

  17. I sure love people who take a position!

    Try this perspective: if we didn’t ALL have neo-prohibitionistic (?) tendencies, we wouldn’t be afraid of –dare I say it–regulating (ok, yes, I’ll say it, legalizing and regulating, just like alcohol and prescription drugs) other intoxicating drugs.

    Seriously, is it not hilarious that we buy and drink alcohol in so many forms, and the similarly-agricultural (sorry, but it is) product called Marijuana is actually illegal to produce, distribute, possess, sell or consume? And people actually see a difference? The only difference I see is marijuana lovers are rarely in the news for destructive behavior in public.

    When I file dozens of reports to state and federal authorities paying excise taxes to help balance the deficit–and support DHHS services for those who are unable to, as Steve says, “discipline” themselves–why is there no tax collected on sales of marijuana–nor regulation provided for the production, storage, distribution, sale and consumption on and off premise. Seriously, ask yourself why you draw the line and give up all that tax revenue…

    I don’t smoke the stuff, but I sure face economic uncertainty from huge deficits. And I just think we’re all ridiculous. Steve’s comment on fear of wine drinking highlights a strain of that very same fear.

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