Highlights of P4P Conversation with Lisa McGirr

McGirr Stewart Dyptich

On Sunday, April 3rd, 2016 the Politics for the People Book Club spent an hour in conversation with Lisa McGirr, a Professor of History at Harvard and author of the book club’s selection The War on Alcohol, Prohibition and the Rise of the American State.  I am sharing a few highlights below and you can listen to the entire conversation at the end of this post.

(Note: if the audio links do not appear in the email version of this post, just click on the email to come to the blog.)

Our first audio clip includes my introduction. Lisa shares her journey of writing this book, her research methodology, and what drew her to investigate prohibition. We discuss the strange bedfellows that found themselves supporting and then enforcing prohibition. We also touch on the electoral realignment that that took place after prohibition took effect, and discuss some of the lessons that were missed in prior examinations of the failure of prohibition. Listen to our fascinating start here:



In this next clip Politics for the People, you will hear book club member Michelle McCleary share her emotional reaction to reading Lisa’s book and ask how the revelations Lisa came to in conducting her research impacted on her.


Arizona P4P member Al Bell asks what Lisa hopes people will take from her book and how they might apply it’s lessons to the war on drugs. Lisa explains that supply side eradication strategies have failed in the past and are likely to do so again in the future, and gives us an alternative by focusing on harm reduction strategies. Hear their exchange below.


Steve Richardson then delved further into the idea of law enforcement as social control and asked whether fear based government control was a phenomenon that pre-dated the prohibition movement or was it something entirely new? Lisa thinks it’s a bit of both, as you will hear in this clip:


New Hampshire P4P member Tiani Coleman touched on chapter 8 which focused on the repeal of prohibition. She raised the issue of government regulation, and quoted McGirr when she said that “by lining up in favor of repeal, opponents of reform saw a chance to turn back the clock.” How did they succeed and fail in that regard?  And what happens after the pandoras box that is the ‘newly muscular federal power’ has been opened?


New Yorker Lou Hinman provides some thought provoking modern parallels he sees with governments enforcement of prohibition, and asks Lisa to reflect on the growth of the penal state since the repeal of prohibition. Listen here:


Closing out our Q&A session was New York Attorney and P4P member Harry Kresky.  He talked about the extent to which regulation is used to transform the movements and freedoms of particular segments of the population and makes analogies to modern social regulations such as New York City’s outlawing of over sized sugary drinks. Where does one draw the line between productive and destructive regulation? And who gets to define that?


You can listen to the entirety of our fascinating call with Lisa McGirr below. It was a spirited, thought provoking and enlightening conversation and I hope you will enjoy it as much as we all did. Happy listening.



Stay Tuned

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We will be hosting a lively exchange of our favorite political poems and some original poetry by our members as well.



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By David Daley

We will be kicking off this selection in April.

Our conference call with the author will be on Sunday, June 4th at 7 pm EST.




Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

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