Still, squabbles over restrictions on retailing and wholesaling focus on who gets how much of the revenue, rather than on the values that originally shaped the constraints. It's a vicious, and lethal, cycle: As long as we remain addicted to demonization, we avoid serious discussion about those values. The longer we avoid that conversation, the longer we pass on the booze-is-bad message to our kids, who grow up to pass the message on to their kids. And as long as we teach children to fear rather than respect alcohol, we'll interrupt the silence with periodic spasms of hand-wringing and finger-pointing about campus drinking, binge drinking, underage drinking, and the like. But here's the truth: The "alcohol problem" is of our own creation. We've got the drinking culture we deserve.
But this 75th anniversary of repeal coincides with a moment of national soul-searching. Economic chaos is forcing us to ponder our relation to debt. The environmental crisis has prompted a debate about our reliance on internal combustion engines and foreign oil. The "media" are reinventing themselves to accommodate the realities of a digital world. Barack Obama won the election in large part because he and outgoing Democratic Party chair Howard Dean tossed aside 30 years' worth of political assumptions (Hispanics and suburbanites are Republican; young people don't vote) and constructed a visionary campaign strategy predicated on wholly new ideas.
Evidence, all of it, of our willingness to challenge old ways of thinking and embrace the future with imagination and courage. So let's ponder the burden of repeal and question the assumptions that shape our alcohol culture. Our kids' lives may depend on it.
Maureen Ogle is the author of Ambitious Brew: The Story of American Beer (Harcourt Books).