Fat, Drunk, and Stupid
It's no way to go through the legislature
Next time you're in a Charleston bar and you see a young man just back from Iraq — a young man of say, 19 or 20 — be sure to mention to him the new, unseen threat he faces now that he's back home. It's not an IED or a roadside bomb. It's a kegger.
The South Carolina legislature has just voted to crack down on that scourge of humanity, the keg. They've sent the governor legislation for an NSA-style tracking system for kegs found at frat houses and college parties. Kegs that might actually be used to serve a 20-year-old ... a BEER!
Oh, the humanity.
In South Carolina, being old enough to get married, get a credit card, and get shot at for your country used to mean you were old enough for a cold one on King Street. Then America went all stupid.
The purpose of raising the drinking age was to reduce drunk driving by teenagers, the theory being that kids would stop drinking beer because it was illegal. There used to be another theory about teenagers not having sex if we told them it was naughty.
Both theories have enjoyed the same level of success.
Yes, the overall crackdown on DUI, and the added social pressure over the past 20 years, has reduced drunk driving rates across the board.
But is there a single 20-year-old in America who isn't drinking exactly as much alcohol as he wants right now? If you find him, please put him on immediate display in the same "Museum of Unseen Marvels" with Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the sorority house virgin.
Michael Haines, director of the National Social Norms Resource Center at Northern Illinois University, tries to tell neo-Prohibitionists that "where there's strict enforcement, those who continue to drink do so in more dangerous ways. It changes the location to a more dangerous location. It changes the consumption to more rapid consumption. Or they change substances. Instead of drinking beer they smuggle in a half pint they can drink in the bathroom."
It is patently stupid to say that a college student is too young to drink a beer. That's why supporters of this draconian dopery avoid saying it. The new Puritans of the Left, like Sen. Joel Lourie and Rep. Ted Pitts instead throw around phrases like "minors" and "teenaged drinkers."
Yes, a 19-year-old is, mathematically speaking, a teenager. But calling a 19-year-old corporal who's spent 12 months in Al Anbar province a "minor" isn't only insulting, it's idiotic. I would love to see a member of the legislature walk up to that young man at a bar, grab the beer out of his hand, and say "Sorry, boy, you're too young to handle this Miller Lite."
Fortunately, a few rational voices are beginning to confront this painfully irrational policy. John M. McCardell Jr. is the former president of Middlebury College in Vermont. He's created a nonprofit called Choose Responsibility to encourage a return to six-pack sanity. One idea would be something akin to a "drinking license" for college students who are at least 18 years old.
Whenever someone passes a law limiting the freedom of adults — and remember, in every legal sense an 18-year-old is an adult — I ask two simple questions: What's the bad thing that's happening that the government wants to stop, and can the government stop it without doing even more damage along the way?
The 21-year-old drinking age fails both tests. There's absolutely nothing bad happening when an 18-year-old has a beer. If he has a beer and drives, that's a different story, but it's no different from the 38-year-old drunk driver.
Cracking down on drunk driving is public safety. Cracking down on drinking itself is a public nuisance.