Reese Witherspoon, Al Michaels and the return of Prohibition

These booking photos provided by the Georgia Department of Corrections shows actress Reese Witherspon and her husband, Jim Toth.
(Georgia Department of Corrections / AFP/Getty Images)

I know that Prohibition didn’t work. But sometimes I get nostalgic for it anyway.

And I’m thinking that, today, Reese Witherspoon and Al Michaels might agree.

By now you’ve seen the headlines about their misadventures with demon rum. If you’re a news junkie, you might even have read the stories. If you’re under 30, you’ve checked out the tweets -- which, I’m told, is just as good if not better than reading whole stories, like us old fogies do.


(An aside here: Did you catch the wonderful documentary about “All the President’s Men” and Watergate on Sunday? I did, and I felt like the actor in Keep America Beautiful’s famous “Crying Indian” TV ad, which ends with a tear crawling down the Indian’s cheek.)

Anyway, Witherspoon blew her top, and perhaps her carefully constructed image, after her talent agent husband was pulled over and arrested for driving under the influence in Atlanta on Friday:

“Do you know my name?” the Atlanta Journal Constitution said Witherspoon told a police officer. When he responded that he did not, she reportedly replied, “You’re about to find out who I am.”

The “Legally Blonde” star added this threat: “You are going to be on national news.”

Holy Lindsay Lohan! Doesn’t anyone in Hollywood remember Mel Gibson?

To her credit, Witherspoon, who was charged with disorderly conduct, apologized Sunday for her misadventure with John Barleycorn:

“I clearly had one drink too many and I am deeply embarrassed about the things I said. It was definitely a scary situation and I was frightened for my husband, but that was no excuse. I was disrespectful to the officer who was just doing his job. The words I used that night definitely do not reflect who I am.”

As for sportscaster Michaels, it was also not a happy TGIF, as he was pulled over in Santa Monica and arrested on suspicion of drunk driving. Michaels reportedly made an illegal U-turn that officers saw; just his bad luck, a DUI checkpoint had been set up nearby. The officers who stopped him reportedly smelled alcohol and heard “slurred speech.”

No word on whether Michaels’ alibi was “Do you believe in miracles?”

But here’s the thing. As my colleague John Horn noted, “In the U.S. in 2010 (the last year for which data is available), more than 10,000 people died in alcohol-impaired driving crashes -- one every 51 minutes.”

And just because you’re a celebrity doesn’t mean it can’t happen to you. Recall that the driver of the car in which Princess Diana was killed reportedly had been drinking that fateful night. Famous or not, none of us is immune to the laws, or the laws of physics.

Now, fun fact here: According to Wikipedia, that repository of all human knowledge (to most of us anyway), “The earliest records of prohibition of alcohol date back to the Xia Dynasty (ca. 2070 BC–ca. 1600 BC) in China. Yu the Great, the first ruler of the Xia Dynasty, prohibited alcohol throughout the kingdom. It was legalized again after his death, during the reign of his son Qi.”

And no, there is no proof that Qi was once pulled over by officers and shouted, slurring every word, “Do you know who I am?”

Obviously, this problem -- and this particular solution -- has been around for a long time. It’s been 80 years since America’s grand but failed experiment with Prohibition. I doubt we’re going to bring it back.

But if years and years of public service announcements, and tougher and tougher penalties, aren’t keeping drunk drivers -- including big-name celebrities -- off our roads, what will it take?

Here’s what I propose: Anyone, and I mean anyone, who gets caught driving under the influence gets a mandatory one-year prison sentence. No time off for good behavior. No house arrest. No exceptions for first-time offenders -- or, especially, the rich and famous.

Don’t like it? Too tough? Simple: Then don’t drink and drive.

It’s not Prohibition, but it would get everyone’s attention.

And it might save some of those 10,000 lives.


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