By John F. Di Leo –
There’s a fascinating debate going on in Wisconsin.
Current state law requires that in order to have a liquor license, bars must be closed between 2:30am and 6:00am on Saturday nights, and between 2:00am and 6:00am the rest of the week.
But the Democratic National Committee chose Milwaukee to host their 2020 convention, and there are apparently many in the state who just don’t believe that twenty hours per day provide enough drinking time to manage the Democratic party’s national convention. They might need more.
There is therefore an effort afoot, allegedly spearheaded by the Wisconsin Restaurant Association – which would require a change in state law – to extend the bar closing time in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Washington counties until 4:00am during the convention.
It’s tempting to laugh this off from any number of angles.
The 2020 DNC convention promises to be such a clowncar event – with over 21 “major” presidential candidates so far, and likely more to come – that we can easily imagine rank-and-file party members wanting to spend the time permanently intoxicated. Four hours leaves you time to sober up and realize what’s going on; a two-hour nap might not interrupt the state of inebriation necessary to get through it.
By contrast, of course, the rest of the country really needs to stay sober to cover the event. Judging from their past couple of conventions, in which they have celebrated such peculiar causes as cop-killing, felon voting, statehood for terrorist organizations, and even a general condemnation of Judaeo-Christianity, there will be speeches made and honors awarded that we should all be watching with diligent attention to detail. The convention is where they are likely to be most themselves, and therefore most likely to reveal important truths that are hidden by TV/radio commercials and their typical fawning media coverage.
Yes, while their membership is welcome to get blotto and remain that way, those of us potentially affected by their party platform and their nomination slates had better remain in full command of our faculties.
But this debate should also give us an opportunity to think a moment about the big picture.
What are they doing, by proposing an exception to the bar-licensing standard for this one convention? Well, frankly, they are saying that one convention deserves different legal treatment from other conventions. And that should really be the discussion that America needs to have.
Our country was founded on an effort – not perfectly managed, but carefully presented with the best of intentions – to ensure that all are treated equally under the law. Big companies and small companies, individuals and groups, merchants and farmers, seamen and tavernkeepers, big states and small states – as true as it is that all entities may have their own unequal abilities and resources, the government, at least, ought to treat them all the same under the law.
The Founding Fathers recognized the obvious inherent challenges to such an effort. Big states and small states have different populations; how can you treat them the same? They handled that by designing the Senate to view big and small states equally, and designing the House to address the different population sizes. States with popular seaports have naturally easier access to foreign markets than states that lack such seaports; they handled that by standardizing import duties and banning export taxation. Like virtually all countries at the time, we started out with the legal concept of the ownership of black slaves; we addressed that by resisting efforts to tie slavery to people’s race, so that once slaves were freed, they properly gained the rights of freemen. Perfection is unattainable, but our Founders certainly did their best.
And yet, rather than remaining focused on “equality under the law,” the modern regulatory state has made carve-outs – governance by exception, if you will – an acceptable standard for legislation and public discussion.
Our taxes are too high, so let’s provide tax incentives to Boeing, Amazon or Foxconn to get them to move here.
Our regulations are too crippling, so let’s give a regulatory break to existing plants like ADM or Caterpillar to stop them from leaving.
Our schools are so dangerous they’re driving families out of our cities, so let’s create a limited voucher system to enable at least a few families to attend private schools so they don’t have to flee.
Our “gun free zone” signs and revolving prison doors are enabling mass shooters and other criminals to have easy access to innocent targets, so let’s design special programs to encourage teachers and principals to arm themselves and defend our kids.
All of these solutions make sense, as a way to salvage some sense of sanity from the insane conditions they’re addressing, as long as the conditions themselves are beyond repair.
But instead of just accepting that the conditions themselves cannot be changed, why not address the big picture itself?
Single carve-outs, however well-intentioned, can only address the specific parties that are named. When we lower taxes or reduce red tape just for the big corporations, we fail to address the hundreds of thousands of smaller businesses that employ the majority of Americans and are most responsible for America’s chance at prosperity. When we help some kids escape the government-funded gang recruiting centers known as inner city public schools, we aren’t helping to save the poor kids who don’t qualify for vouchers and remain stuck in those danger zones.
And when we set a special 4:00am closing time for the bars and nightclubs surrounding a Democratic National Convention, we’re elevating that party over every private industry event that uses the same space and brings the same number of people, or even more, year in and year out.
Big cities like Milwaukee, Chicago, Indianapolis, and Minneapolis are convention hubs; they host everything from trade shows to association training events at hotel complexes and convention centers all the time. These events aren’t once-in-a-century bonuses for these cities; they often make themselves dependable elements of each city’s economy and popular calendar.
Millions of Americans grow up looking forward to attending the Auto Show, the Housewares Show, the County Fair, or the State Fair every year. These events have an enormous draw, and an enormous economic and cultural impact on the area where they are held, not just in terms of hotel space and bar tabs, but in the other travel-related attractions of the area, from restaurants to transportation providers, from theaters to museums.
Nothing against the two major parties’ floating quadrennial conventions… but what is it about them that should make them merit a carveout that all these other attractions don’t deserve? Why should the political class – in a republic founded on equality – deserve any special treatment compared to anything else?
Milwaukee’s Henry Maier Festival Park hosts a weeklong annual Summerfest and a series of annual ethnic festivals that draw millions to the neighborhood. West Allis hosts the ten day Wisconsin state fair. The city’s downtown convention centers host association events and trade shows big and small.
If a DNC event needs a 4:00am bar closing, why don’t these other events merit it? Why should the attendees of a music festival, auto show or state fair, who may have travelled just as far, and who have most likely worked far harder in their lives than your average pol, be treated as second class citizens?
I wouldn’t want to be the state legislator who votes to say “My class – the political class – is more important than car buyers, cattle farmers, musicians, engineers or salesmen, so I’m going to vote to give out a special break that only applies when the political class is meeting in town… a break that’s closed to everyone else.” Doesn’t sound like a way to win the support of the public, if you ask me.
If they want to offer a 4:00am liquor license opportunity, fine. Leave it up to each city. Why should the state government have any say in how late the people of Milwaukee or Waukesha or West Bend wants to allow their bars to serve?
But don’t tie it to a convention. Either leave it as is, or make the change permanent, whether the town is full of crooked statists or not.
And then let’s turn our attention to every other arena in which carveouts are customary. Instead of cutting taxes by 10% for one guy, cut them across the board for everyone. Instead of freeing one kid from an inner-city school, privatize the whole school so you can free all the kids from these destructive gangs. Instead of devising complex special programs to protect the innocent from terrorists, close the borders and stop allowing the terrorists into the country in the first place.
The Wisconsin debate over the bar closings is a fascinating one, isn’t it?
I’d be glad to keep going and write some more about the issue, but I’ve got to rush to meet a deadline… The bar’s about to close.
Copyright 2019 John F. Di Leo
John F. Di Leo is a Chicagoland-based trade compliance trainer, writer and actor. His columns are regularly found in Illinois Review.
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