Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Miracle Worker?

President Obama’s appointment of Utah Governor John Huntsman, Jr. as ambassador to China seemed a good idea when it was announced. Huntsman speaks Mandarin Chinese, a skill acquired and used during a two-year stay among the inscrutable ones as a Mormon missionary.

After recently learning some details about Huntsman’s negotiating skills, I think the appointment rating should be ratcheted up several notches from “good” to at least “excellent.”

Huntsman actually convinced the Mormon Church to let the legislature change several of the stranger provisions of the State’s liquor laws. On May 12, the “Zion Curtain” was lifted in restaurants. This quirky regulation required bartenders to prepare drinks behind a partition so patrons could not see them concocting the sinful mixtures. On July 1, looser regulations will permit establishment of the State’s first distillery since the 1920s. It will operate in Southern Utah. Also in July, the private club system will end. For decades, imbibers had to buy a membership to drink in a bar, or enter as a guest of a member.

These changes are revolutionary in the Beehive State, and the word is that Huntsman was the driving force behind them. Perhaps we moved from Utah too soon. However, abolishing the private club requirement has a negative side for snobbish drinkers. In the good old days, one could buy an annual club membership for $10 or $12, and the club repaid the fee with a free birthday dinner or some such ploy. So membership really was a freebie, and there was a certain aura of intrigue about presenting a card at the door of a local hot spot—something like entering a speakeasy during prohibition, I suppose.

The other nifty thing about the club system was that people on the lower end of the economic scale could pretend they were among the wealthy. At one time, we belonged to three or four clubs in Ogden. It was fun to say things like, “I’ll meet you in the lobby of the Ben Lomond Hotel, and we can go up to my club.” Or, “We could hold the party at one of my clubs. Just pick the place.” To similarly impress people in Michigan, I would have to pay real dollars, and quite a few of them, for club memberships. Oh well, it is said that freedom has its price.

It is amazing that Huntsman was able to twist enough Mormon arms to remove some of Utah’s restrictive liquor laws. He may be just the man to talk the Chinese into allowing a little personal freedom in their repressive society.

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