Monday, December 21, 2009

Wisconsin's Drinking Culture Needs Profound Attention

OK: the state legislature passed modest OWI statutory changes, so now will the state address the bigger picture - - Wisconsin's overt and ingrained tolerance, even encouragement, of drinking early and often?

Probably not - - because easy access to booze is a Wisconsin tradition even though there is often a mess in its wake.

We have more taverns per capita than most states, and more drunken driving arrests, too.

Data show that there is a good chance that alcohol is involved when a snowmobile goes through the ice or dies hitting a tree, or when a power-boater flips over and drowns.

College administrators know there is commonplace binge drinking on campuses; campus officials and students also know the connection between drinking and sexual assault.

Does the UW marching band still play the Budweiser song as students pour out of Camp Randall to the campus-area bars?

We even have a baseball franchise named the Brewers where the ritual tailgating starts as soon as the parking lot gates are opened.

Dane County Executive Kathleen Falk has more than once raised the cultural issue, but I do not recall other elected or appointed officials rushing to her side.

After all, how would they square it with their boozy fundraisers and acceptance of special interest contributions?

We have a political process completely captured by liquor lobbies, and populated by elected officials afraid of anything that could be twisted by the drinking industry as being somehow anti-Wisconsin, or anti-fun.

I am sure that if the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, or a legislative study committee ever tried to write a program, bill or model curriculum to educate young people about alcohol use and abuse, the lobbyists would get in there and write it so that beer consumption was defined as a Wisconsin citizen's personal obligation to beer company economic development.

Wine consumption would be touted as a source of healthy anti-oxidants.

And brandy? Surefire way to stay warm in Wisconsin winters.

State leaders will pose for holy pictures when the OWI 'reform' bill is signed.

It is a weak first step towards legal system changes that were long overdue and remain incomplete.

And one that will not have a great impact on the state's drinking practice until more comprehensive changes in attitude and approach are made in the schools and by parents.

1 comment:

enoughalready said...

You are quite right, Mr. Rowen. (Do you prefer Jim or James?) Do you happen to know if this bill (or current law) takes away (at least until he or she reaches legal drinking age) the license of an underaged drinker who is convicted of a DUI?

Also, I am all for temporarily separating a convicted DUI driver from his or her vehicle. Impoundment is too extreme and impractical, but I believe simple justice requires that the DUI driver feel at least some small measure of inconvenience.

I am sure there are other measures we could take to demonstrate that drinking-and-driving will not be tolerated in this state -- drinking culture or not.