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Election 2008

Sober Up and Fly Right

John Moe

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Gene Amondson
(Courtesy Gene Amondson)

We all know Prohibition had its downside. Al Capone for instance. He was a gangster, a bootlegger; the whole murdering people thing. Still, Gene Amondson prefers the days of Capone to the status quo. "Oh, he was wonderful. I'd rather have a hundred Al Capones in every big city selling illegal whiskey than have it in every 7-11, every Safeway and Kroger store across America."

Gene's a woodcarver on Vashon Island near Seattle, and he's the Prohibition Party candidate for president. To Gene, Capone's crimes pale in comparison to the crimes of today's alcoholic beverage industry, which he thinks has made us into a nation of drunks. Only when Prohibition was in effect, could we sober up and fly right. "Prisons emptied, our mental institutions emptied, cirrhosis of the liver was cut in half. And it will come for the third, fourth time, because we can't build enough prisons to house whatever is filling our places up now. It won't be long, it will come back," he says.

The Prohibition Party was founded in 1869 and never went out of business even after the 21st amendment was passed in 1933 repealing Prohibition. You'd think they'd be deterred by something like that. Yet the party's platform is largely unchanged.

"Well, it's pretty much single plank in that for 137 years we've fought alcohol," says Gene. "We want to have protected borders and keep our gun rights and a lot of conservative things, but the main thing is help America realize that 95 percent of violent crime is connected with alcohol. That's our main platform."

But why not step up preventive care? Educate instead of legislate? Gene laughs. "Oh, that's wonderful, let me stop you right there. When you don't want to do anything, just educate. We've got the best educated drunks in the world. No, you have to have laws. Education is just for those that need to make money and don't have a life."

Gene and his party aren't the only ones concerned about alcohol in America, of course. There are other groups with large memberships. Alcoholics Anonymous, the advocacy group Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which points to 17,602 alcohol-related traffic deaths in 2006. The Center for Disease Control says there were almost 13,000 liver disease deaths related to alcohol in 2005.

But the prohibitionists' solution remains unpopular. When Gene ran for president in 2004, he got 1,944 votes. And Gene, who is hoping to get on seven state ballots, won't win this year either. Nor will the Socialists, the Transcendental Meditationists, or the one guy running as a fascist. So why run? Ron Rapaport is a professor of government and public policy at William & Mary and author of a book on third parties.

"I think in the running, there is a sort of catharsis, sort of saying this is so important we are going to do this even though we know we're not going to win," he says. "In a sense, knowing you're not going to win makes it an even more noble effort. In fighting the lost battle, I think there is this feeling of virtue that's very empowering."

So in a way the prohibitionists' lack of success or prospects keeps them together. Granted, it's a small club. In the entire country there is precisely one Prohibitionist Party member holding elected office. James Hedges of Thompson Township, Pa. If you think that's impressive, Hedges will disagree with you. "Well, this is isn't really as impressive as it sounds. I'm the township assessor in this rural township. And there was no competition. "

He doesn't mean that he easily defeated his opponents. He means he had no opponents. Hedges says the Prohibition Party is not thriving these days. There was a split several years back resulting in two factions, each nominating a presidential candidate. Lots of charges, counter-charges and bad blood. Then there's the age factor. It's a party of old men. Gene Amondson's vice-presidential candidate is presently incapacitated after a recent stroke. Still, they were able to gather 10 to 15 members for a convention in Indianapolis. But what do you do at a convention when you can't drink?

"Practical jokes. Teasing. For fun," says Hedges. "We went down the street and picketed a bar for an hour or so. It was located along one of the main roads, and the traffic was going by pretty fast. A couple of pedestrians maybe. It was not a good place to draw a crowd because of the traffic."

Gene Amondson's campaign strategy isn't much more complex than that. He doesn't tour the country or run TV ads. Pretty much just waits for guys like me to call up and interview him so he can roll out whimsical descriptors like: "Having a neat wine rack in your kitchen is about as smart as having a cigarette burning on your couch. And the arguments against Prohibition are as weak as a soup made from the shadow of a starving chicken."

Evocative, sure, but enough to bring back a new wave of government mandated prohibition? What does Gene think his chances are? "Of getting killed?" he asks with a chuckle. "If we could get one person that listens to our interview today to realize that alcohol has no taste; that this whole wine industry is the emperor with no clothes on. I mean, why in the world you'd put alcohol in your grape juice or over on your oatmeal doesn't really make sense. I say if Jesus turned the water to alcoholic wine he wasn't real bright."

More stories from our Election 2008 series


  • Comment | Refresh

  • By Carrie Mansfield

    From Los Angeles, CA, 08/02/2008

    I hope that Gene realizes that wine, by its very nature, is alcoholic.

    I think he also misses the point that people drank wine in the old days because the water wasn't safe to drink.

    If he wants to be a prohibitionist, fine, but having such questionable logic won't win people to his side.

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