Last week's hearing
on a bill to raise the beer excise tax here in Wisconsin had generated a lot of discussion. The bill came into being in no small part because of attention generated by studies showing that we have more than our fair share of drunk drivers. Newspapers around the state ran multi-part stories about Wisconsin's "culture of alcohol"
. Here in Madison, the University of Wisconsin works to try and counter over-consumption and underage drinking by students.
Everyone agrees that drinking too much is bad, that driving while drunk is dangerous and potentially fatal, and that alcohol is a large part of socializing in Wisconsin. However, there is a lot of ambivalence about ol' John Barleycorn.
A couple weeks ago, there was what I think was a pre-Homecoming bash down on Library Mall. Walking towards State Street, I saw a van whose paint job was one big ad for Bacardi Limón. Was it pure happenstance that this boozemobile was there at the same time a campus shindig was ongoing? I sincerely doubt it. Go to the much heralded Union Terrace in the summer. There are multiple beer stands and posters proclaiming sponsorship of shows by beer companies.
Today the Chicago Sun-Times is running an AP story about how the Wisconsin Department of Tourism is promoting
the state's microbreweries.
And so we have a situation where Dr. Bob Golden, the Dean of the Medical School, testifies in favor of the beer tax, while just down the street the Union serves beer, has events sponsored by breweries, and, in general, promotes a "culture of beer" of some ilk. Up at the Capitol Rep. Berceau and Senator Risser try to raise the tax to combat Wisconsin's "culture of alcohol" yet the folks at the Department of Tourism try to get people to plan their vacations around beer by providing itineraries
for tours of the state's microbreweries.
Can we have it both ways? Can one hand work against a "culture of alcohol" while the other promotes what we might call a different "culture of alcohol"? How does all of this look to an outsider? Imagine you've just emerged from a Rawlsian veil of ignorance and consider Wisconsin. Would it make sense to you when you see all the efforts to combat drinking and then to look in the other direction and see that our baseball team is called the Brewers and that they play in a stadium named after one of the largest breweries in the world? Would it make sense to you when you see some members of state government attempting to combat consumption while others promoting it?