13 April 2011

A Conservative Suggests Lowering the Drinking Age

Well, maybe he doesn't count as a "conservative" unless he thumps a Bible, in the eyes of too many.......

In today's Wall Street Journal, Glenn Renyolds, the man behind the popular "Instapundit" libertarian/conservative blog/link site, gives a well-reasoned argument for politicians, especially Republicans, to abandon their historic "alcohol is evil" passions and restore the rights of states to lower the drinking age to what they see fit:

Democrats traditionally do well with the youth vote, and one reason is that they have been successful in portraying Republicans as fuddy-duddies who want to hold young people down. This may be unfair—college speech codes and the like don't tend to come from Republicans—but the evidence suggests that it works. What's more, the first few elections people vote in tend to set a long-term pattern. A move to repeal the federal drinking-age mandate might help Republicans turn this around.
Republicans are supposed to be against mandates aimed at the states, so this would demonstrate consistency. Second, it's a pro-freedom move that younger voters—not yet confronted with the impact of, say, the capital-gains tax—can appreciate on a personal level. Third, it puts the Democrats in the position of having either to support the end of a federal mandate—something they tend to reflexively oppose—or to look like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies themselves.
   Read the whole thing An interesting response to a nay-sayer in the comments:

How about we turn it around? What about seniors? Should people over 50 be drinking? After all, their faculties are already in decline, they're probably on several medications, and, well, you know, alcohol really isn't that good for the system. So how about we ban drinking for everyone over 50? You know, to protect them. From themselves.
While we're at it, the same reasoning would apply to driving. Should seniors really be driving. With their vision? With their cholesterol? With their risk for heart attack? Rolling time bombs I tell you. And I shouldn't have to worry that you'll come crashing through the front of Starbucks while I'm enjoying a latte, should I? So no car for you! 
An interesting but important side note:  It's become popular legend that states that did not go along with imposing the conditions of the 1984 National Minimum Drinking Age Act would lose all their Federal highway funding--to the point that said canard is apparently believed by even current Senators and Representatives.  However, as you can read for yourself in Section 158 (page 125), the amount in question is actually only ten per cent of three matching-grant programs calculated by a complicated formula (see pages 16-19 and review 104(b)1, 104(b)3, and 104(b)4--and you thought booze laws were complex?).  These are substantial programs, and not an insignificant amount of money in a day when places like central Maryland and Northern Virginia are fighting for a way to add even one lane to a highway.  But to characterize these restrictions as "all our highway funding" as many legislators do in kowtowing to this extortion  blackmail restriction on the rights of its youngest citizens shows either an appalling ignorance on the part of our legislators, an appalling willingness to sacrifice rights in exchange for money, or both.


Sam Sessa said...

I remember asking my dad why they got rid of the low drinking age (he came of age in the 70s). He said instead of 21-year-olds buying booze for 18-year-olds, 18-year-olds were buying booze for 16- and 15-year-olds, and so forth. Americans don't know their limits, which can be a very good or a very bad thing.

JohnM. said...

OK Alex. I read over your post and I read over the article from Glenn Reynolds. Hardly anything novel or earth shattering in the article... this same arguement was being made back when I was about to turn 18 (a long time ago, believe me). I guess I don't need to tell you the outcome.

So a couple of thoughts/questions:

1) What is there about this arguement that you think is particularly salient or moving at this point?

2) Is there some particular reason you thought it was wothwhile to post this on your blog?

Just curious... still not sure "what dog you in this fight" you see in all this.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

"Dog in the fight"? Simply because the issue won't go away on its own; it's worthy of national debate; and current policy--as with an AWFUL lot of current Federal policy--is misguided and based on emotions and falsehoods. I am in favor of responsible drinking and appropriate education to teach and impose that responsibility; the current policy not only abdicates the responsibility of education but abdicates the personal responsibility after what should be said education. The "forbidden fruit" philosophy hasn't worked at any time since Adam and Eve, and it didn't work then, either.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

Oh, and in other news, Alaska is taking on the situation in a different (and laudable) way--and it doesn't have much in Federal Interstate highway funds to jeopardize, either.... http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5igawtBrfGcw_tiLQZZiwD_Z8bsBQ?docId=067fff30f5ef4baca9fa2845694b4a1f

JohnM. said...

Alex, I don't disagree with anything you say, and in fact I agree with you. That wasn't my point. What I was pointing to was Mr. Reynolds suggestion that shaming the right (due to inconsistency or hypocrisy- you choose the better word) is likely to have some traction. The old "he's old enough to fight, but not old enough to drink" arguement made as much sense 30 years ago as it does today... that is, quite a lot in my mind, but what of it? It clearly didn't persuade anyone back then (or at least not enough to make a difference), so why should we expect it to be any more appealing now?

As I'm sure you know, it's much easier to demonize alcohol consumption, and/or make out the young to be inherently irresponsible and foolish, then to try to confront the actual cause of alcohol abuse (or drug abuse if you like) in this country. I'm assuming that's what we're talking about (though it's hard to tell from Mr. Reynold's article).

I've lived in other countries where there was no drinking age, so I know what living in that kind of environment can be like. As you point out, without the allure of "forbidden fruit," it's pretty hard to appear cool and/or rebellious by abusing alcohol, and so that's not where young people try to buck the establishment.

For whatever reason (OK, I can think of several), the idea of reducing the drinking age, or getting rid of it all together, is just not something Americans want to hear. Just as with legalizing drugs, they seem to equate the concept with permissiveness and license. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just don't see how telling people they're being inconsitent or hypocrites is going to change that mindset. They already hear that same message on a nearly daily basis from politicians and pundits.

JohnM. said...

As for what's going on in Alaska, yes I know....


While I'll be curious to see how that plays out, I'm not holding my breath on the outcome.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV said...

For better or worse, we've seen adjustments in overall attitudes and mores. It used to be that only Nevada had gambling, then Nevada and Atlantic City; now the only thing holding up casinos in Baltimore is bureaucracy (welcome to Maryland). We're seeing incremental adjustments in approaches to marijuana. And tobacco went from a common social activity to a heavily taxed "sin" that makes its user an outcast.

I have seen, repeatedly, propositions that current drinking-age restrictions be reconsidered, and the instantaneous reflexive answer from legislators is always "We'd lose all our highway funding if we did that!" And that is balderdash. They are using that canard as an excuse to avoid rational discussion on an issue that they know is overrun with emotions that play badly in the media spotlight. I want the conversation to move forward, not be shut down by false insinuations.

JohnM. said...

Fine Alex, there's nothing wrong with that at all. However.... why not simply propose the discussion topic on your blog instead of pointing to Mr. Reynold, and using his article as an excuse for airing your position. It tends to make you appear just the tiniest bit disengenous, don't you think?

I confess it's that, more than anything else, that I don't really understand. Perhaps you feel differently, but I have to confess I could really care less how Mr. Reynolds feels when it comes to the right's position on this topic.

LegalMatch said...

Arguably, a lower drinking age leads to more mature drinking behavior.