Who's your Nanny?
That's right -- Nanny, with an N. Not Daddy, with a D. You may never have had heard it phrased quite that way, but it's a question posed almost every day at the state Capitol.
Ever since Republicans seized legislative majorities earlier this millennium, their rhetoric oft has invoked individual liberty -- and conversely, a conventional wisdom that government sticks its nose into everyday lives far too often.
It's a notion popularized in the Reagan era, implying that Democrats -- liberals! -- are all about deploying government to tell folk how to live their lives -- as if they somehow aren't smart enough to know unless the Powers-That-Be educate them.
In fact, Republicans have a popular phrase for it: the Nanny State. It's an epithet, of sorts, conjuring the image of Momma choreographing her tykes.
What we're discovering, of course, is not all Nanny States are created equal. What Republicans regard as government meddling when Democrats do it is nothing of the sort when Republicans conceive of it.
There's a classic example of this pretzel-like logic unfolding currently in the Legislature.
It involves Rep. Glen Mulready's (R-Tulsa) perfectly sensible bill (House Bill 1341) that would allow the state's microbreweries to offer samples at their facilities.
This is nothing new, of course. Across America, brewers, distillers, and vintners long have marketed themselves by providing tours of their operations and capping the visits by offering sips of the various precious nectars produced on site.
Oklahoma's growing wine industry has followed just such a branding script for years. But -- believe it or not -- it's against the law for the state's half-dozen microbreweries to do the same.
How equitable is that?
But this is Oklahoma -- where teetotaling remains a powerfully entrenched religious dogma for many. Fairness isn't even a consideration for some lawmakers who will oppose what they see as any effort to expand the availability of alcohol in Oklahoma.
Leading the charge against -- this year and in sessions past -- is Cordell Republican Todd Russ whose displeasure with Mulready's bill was evident during a recent House session.
"I've asked you a couple of times if you'd not present this bill," Russ said. "Why are you bringing this bill to the floor?"
"I see it both as a tourism issue and as an economic development and business issue," Mulready replied. "We've got an inequity within our business system and we're trying to correct that."
"Would you say we're basically giving away alcoholic drinks here?" Russ asked.
"No," said Mulready -- it's simply giving microbreweries the same opportunities as wineries, with the sampling strictly controlled and monitored by the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission.
Russ, no doubt, speaks for many in Oklahoma in saying his opposition stems from seeing alcoholism wreak too much havoc in his and his friends' families.
I can certainly relate: My father battled alcoholism, managing sobriety the final three decades of his life. I never had a problem with it, but I know others are prone to, so I always warned my sons to be very careful with its use. So far, so good.
There are still a good many Oklahomans opposed to liquor for religious reasons. My hunch is that even more enjoy an occasional glass of wine with dinner or a cold beer at the ballgame without fearing an eternity in hell.
This is where Mulready's proposal becomes quintessentially a Nanny State question.
If the state allows motorcyclists to ride without helmets, gun owners with permits to open-carry, and wineries to provide samples (of beverages with a higher alcohol content), why should it decree that it must protect the citizenry from the evils of microbrew tastings?
It makes no sense. Especially when you consider the restrictions in Mulready's measure: No one under age of 21 may enter the sampling area. No visitor may sample more than 12 fluid ounces of beer per day. Samples may be offered only between 10am and 9pm.
Russ, though, clearly thinks many in Oklahoma -- particularly young folk -- need protection from this potential evil that only the state can provide.
Hello, Nanny State.
"This bill," Russ said, "would allow people to possibly line up at these vacation facilities and your intrigued 12- or 13-year-old will find ways to maybe watch his dad go through line and drink these four or five or six [samples] -- and then he's going to be ... he may not drink that at those facilities, but he's going to be intrigued and he'll want to try to those" adult beverages.
If he does, Russ warned, the results could be catastrophic.
"I think sometimes our members are tricked into carrying legislation they think is well-meaning, but statistics are tell us it's killing our state ... Please don't allow this chemical to be any more accessible than it already is."
Tricked into carrying the legislation? Seriously?
"I was not tricked into running this bill," said Mulready, who demonstrated remarkable patience in a nearly 40-minute discussion of his proposal.
"I'm not a beer drinker. But to me it's about inequities ... We are adults. We're not talking about teenagers. This is not a target market for teenagers.
"The brewing of craft beers has become an art form. Much like wine making."
Thankfully, 62 of Mulready's House colleagues supported his measure -- and only 30 opposed it. Now, the proposal heads to the Senate for review where odds are it will be approved as well.
This is good news for Oklahoma economically and socially. It's a small step, yes, but it suggests we're crawling ever so slowly into the 21st century, toward the day when we'll be widely considered more modern and less middle-aged pious.
Can it be long before we're able to buy a bottle of wine in the grocery?
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