"As in the Republican convention the question of beer and booze outranked everything else."


That's fighting liberal Oswald Garrison Villard in a wonderfully cranky dispatch from the 1932 Democratic Convention in Chicago, which he covered for the Nation (and which they have kindly republished online). Villard is a fascinating, though sadly forgotten figure from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Like the great Moorfield Storey, Villard was among the disgruntled Democrats who fled the Party of Jefferson rather than support "Free Silver" populist William Jennings Bryan for president in 1896, helping to form the third party Gold Democrats instead. Villard also played his part in the founding of the Anti-Imperialist League and the NAACP. By the early 1930s, he had mostly forsaken classical liberalism for the big government variety we know today. So what had him so riled up back in '32?

One would think that in this setting a sane and intelligent convention, imbued with even average common sense, would have cut out the brass bands, the parading, and the senseless speeches, and would really have got down to business and seriously worked out an economic program, or at least discussed some far-reaching policies to lead the country out of its economic distress.

But no—the convention was interested only in the wet plank. As in the Republican convention the question of beer and booze outranked everything else. That was what the delegates wanted settled. They did not give a tinker's damn about anything else. So far as they were concerned, they, like their leaders, were perfectly willing to ignore the economic chaos. The delegates would not have cared if the platform had made no reference whatever to the impoverishment of millions of our people.

Entertaining stuff, especially that first paragraph, which the Nation could have almost recycled for use in this post bemoaning DNC corporate sponsorship and how "a lucky few can sip microbrews and nibble sushi at exclusive hospitality suites." But think about what Villard meant by "the wet plank." Those were the folks battling for the repeal of the Eighteenth Amendment. Their victory ended the era of lawlessness and widespread government corruption we call Prohibition. That's hardly the small fry Villard made it out to be. Besides, FDR's eventual economic prescriptions left a lot to be desired.

Obviously this isn't hope we can actually believe in, but wouldn't it be something if today's Democrats (or Republicans) "gave a tinker's dam" about ending drug prohibition? I'm guessing drug warrior Joe Biden won't bring that up tonight.