One of cinema’s greatest moments is the scene in which Captain Renault closes down Rick’s Cafe in the 1942 movie Casablanca, saying, “I’m shocked! Shocked to find that gambling is going on here.” Just then, an employee approaches and hands the Captain his winnings. The fact that it makes us smile does not mean that we also smile when our own politicians fling their hypocrisy in our faces.
Eric Schneiderman, who resigned as New York’s Attorney General after a number of women made allegations of disgusting behavior against him, may or may not be guilty of the charges. That doesn’t change the fact that a long list of pompous and self-righteous hypocrites who allied themselves with the Me Too! movement, make Donald Trump look like a particularly virtuous choir boy.
Piously and publicly proclaiming a cause while privately acting very differently is hardly a new phenomenon. While human failing is at the root of such actions, those shrilly touting their causes may have something to learn as well.
Back in the 1800s though the early 1900s, America had a serious alcohol problem. Women, in particular, suffered as men drank through their salaries and were often violent. The high rate of absenteeism, crime, and family misery led to the passage of the 18th Amendment. Prohibition, enacted in 1920, was an attempt to respond to real suffering. While the policy was a failure and was eventually repealed (though not before creating some serious problems of its own) it was a genuine attempt to “promote the general welfare.”
Congressmen and Senators who voted in favor of Prohibition made emotional appeals on the subject. I’m sure some were sincere, but surely others saw it as a winning political stance. Women were on the verge of getting the vote and for many women this would be the single reason why they would support or oppose a legislator. Even without access to the ballot box, women vocally and physically made their preferences matter.
Not surprisingly, soon after Prohibition was enacted, Congress had its own, personal bootlegger who was even granted a storage area in the government building to house his supply. His name was George Cassiday. He was a veteran attempting to earn a living, and was often busy from morning until night filling orders for Congressman of both parties and all districts. When, after a number of years he was shut down in the House of Representatives, he moved over to the Senate. Eventually, he wrote an expose that appeared in the Washington Post. Although he didn’t name names, Mr. Cassiday, who was referred to as ‘the man in the green hat,’ estimated that 80% of the Congress were drinkers. His writings exposing the legislators’ hypocrisy played a not insignificant role in the repeal of Prohibition. *
Being beaten by a drunken man is not funny. Sending your children to bed hungry because their father spends the evening after payday in a saloon is tragic. But banning the manufacture and transport of liquor allowed legislators to pacify females by pretending that this was going to be a panacea for human frailty. They could speak one way to gullible women while continuing to act as they would.
Being hit upon in a vulgar fashion is not funny. For a woman to lose her job, or not get offered a job, because she won’t sleep with the boss is an egregious wrong. But the Me Too! movement, with its hysteria and emotionalism, encourages ego-driven politicians—of both genders—to tell gullible women exactly what they want to hear without demanding that the politician have even the slightest whit of common decency.
*My thanks to Lillian Cunningham and the Constitutional podcast for making me aware of this episode in history.
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