Op-Ed

Fear tactics, bullying no way to win argument for morality

The arguments in this Prohibition-era poster are still being used in recent votes on alcohol sales in several South-Central Kentucky counties.
The arguments in this Prohibition-era poster are still being used in recent votes on alcohol sales in several South-Central Kentucky counties. Library of Congress

As a wise friend recently said, “The greatest thing about social media is that now everyone has a pulpit, and the worst thing about social media is that now everyone has a pulpit.” Rarely have truer words been spoken, even if it’s a bit ironic that I read them on social media.

Of late, I’ve seen this paradox on display in the many wet/dry votes that have swept the south-central portion of the commonwealth. In 2016 alone, the mini-region of Adair and its six surrounding counties has seen four such votes (Russell, Adair, Cumberland and Metcalfe), all of them going wet by varying margins, with other dominos almost sure to fall late this year and next.

According to the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control Commission, recent “yes” votes in Metcalfe and Cumberland mean 43 of the 120 counties are now fully wet, with another 50 being on some scale of moist — from a single precinct allowing sales at a winery, golf course or historic site to full sales within certain city limits. That leaves only 27 completely, Saharan-dry counties.

The recent elections drew clear battle lines, with both sides offering positions that over-promise and under-deliver.

I don’t drink at all, and was fine living in a dry county. But I also don’t have a problem eating in a restaurant that serves alcohol; as a college student, I worked in one where I was required to serve it. So, while I voted “no,” I could see the pluses and minuses to both arguments. I could also see the hypocrisy coming from every direction.

On the “yes” side, we heard the familiar refrains of “change” and “progress,” along with the promise of new businesses flooding in to save failing or stagnant economies. Apparently, there are manufacturers and restaurants looking to open or relocate, if only alcohol could be sold to seal the deal. Of course, there are likely no such white knights.

The pro-legal sales side, (because alcohol is being sold in dry counties, just by bootleggers and not by businesses that are licensed, regulated and taxed), also used the incentive of new taxation revenues to lure voters. They often pointed to the enlarged coffers of wet cities, overlooking the fact that those cities had built-in advantages of larger populations or infrastructure benefits like a major interstate.

However, I always saw this as the best argument for this side. Still, though more revenue only helps when there are sound fiscal policies in place, even then it usually finds a way to evaporate into small-town politics and bureaucracies before it manifests into anything useful.

In the “no” side, to which I was most sympathetic, I was most disappointed. Anti-alcohol groups, most of them touting family values, were at least partially funded by liquor stores operating out of nearby wet counties. Those stores just didn’t want another store in a newly wet county to cut into their profits.

To top it off, this group bemoaned the sure destruction that would come to every corner of the county if one drop of alcohol were to be sold legally. Are there dangers to alcohol consumption? Absolutely. As the son of a former alcoholic, I understand the dangers better than most. But using fear tactics and bullying are no way to win an argument for morality.

I have plenty of questions to my fellow churchgoers who form these family-values groups:

Where are you in fighting the scourge of heroin in our communities? Where’s the outrage over methamphetamines or prescription drug abuse? Where’s the money to run ads against homelessness, poverty and starvation among our youngest and most vulnerable citizens?

It seems to me our values are one-sided. I’m not opposed to anyone taking a stand against alcohol sales, but let’s be consistent in our outrage and mobilization.

To be fair, there were sober-minded folks (pun always intended), on both sides of the issue. But it was the loudest hyperbolic voices, especially on social-media feeds, that have made the last few months cringe-worthy.

What makes small towns and counties so great is not whether they are wet or dry, rich or poor. What makes South-Central Kentucky the best part of the best state is the people. If we alienate our neighbor over whether they were for or against the sale of a beverage, who will come to our aid when we’re in need? What good is living in a small town where everyone knows everyone, if no one is on speaking terms any longer?

Elections come and go, but friends should remain steadfast, even when they agree to disagree. Otherwise, even if your side wins, everyone loses.

J. Brandon Thompson of Columbia is former chair of the Adair County Republican Party and past president of the Columbia-Adair County Chamber of Commerce. He can be reached at jbrandonthompson@hotmail.com.

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