Cold Fury

Harshing your mellow since 9/01

Prohibition challenged

David Harsanyi was good enough to e-mail me his latest, and once again, I gotta say I’m with him:

What happens when presidents from more than 100 of the nation’s best-known colleges call on lawmakers to consider lowering the drinking age from 21 to 18? Well, a brigade of hyperbolic mommies start screaming at them, that’s what.

In the Amethyst Initiative, college presidents have offered a rational, if counterintuitive, plan. Let’s stop treating young adults like wards of the state. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (naturally) replied: No debate allowed.

There is plenty of empirical evidence suggesting that the drinking age of 21 is counterproductive. To begin with, it bars parents from educating their own children about alcohol and, like all prohibitions, it fosters criminality.

“Kids are going to drink whether it’s legal or illegal,” explains Johns Hopkins President William R. Brody. “We’d at least be able to have a more open dialogue with students about drinking as opposed to this sham, where people don’t want to talk about it because it’s a violation of the law.”

Sham, indeed. It begins with the demonization of alcohol. (Mothers Against Drunk Driving once compared alcohol to heroin.) Imbibing is a satisfying and highly pleasurable way to spend a couple of hours. It is completely harmless for the majority of adults. Let’s not pretend otherwise.

And by outlawing even the moderate use of alcohol among young adults, society creates a forbidden fruit. It drives students off campus and underground. It creates an incentive to drink as much as possible in the shortest amount of time possible.

Some people, in their eagerness to lecture, moralize, and control, share a certain unworthy trait with liberals: they refuse to learn from the failure of Prohibition and instead insist on more of the same “solution” to what really ought not be a problem in the first place.

And here’s a funny related story: years ago, several of us drove down to Atlanta to see Iggy Pop at the old 688 Club, I think it was. NC had already upped its drinking age to 21 under threat of federal blackmail, which is another thing conservatives are supposed to be against. Anyway, we arrived, and made our way through the line to the entrance, where IDs were being checked pre-admittance. Last we’d heard, the drinking age in Georgia was still 18, as it had been when we’d driven down to see the Ramones at the Agora not long before.

My cousin Mark had just turned 18, and was looking forward to seeing a show legally for the first time since NC raised the drinking age. So you can imagine his dire chagrin when he presented his driver’s license to the door ward, all smiles, and had the guy hand it back to him with a snippy, “Sorry, you can’t get in.” Mark was stupefied by the injustice of it all, and stood there slack-jawed and goggle-eyed for a moment before attempting to hand the card back to him for another look, as if the guy had somehow misread it or was incapable of doing the necessary math. It was only then that we learned of Georgia’s sad capitulation to the iron hand of the Federal G.

Poor old Mark ended up going back to the hotel and watching Johnny Carson while the rest of us enjoyed a damned amazing show. Harsanyi makes what for me, and anyone else opposed to the encroachment of the Nanny State on American liberty, will always be the crucial point:

to There is no politician who has the audacity to take on MADD, anyway. No one wants to be accused of willfully hurting children.

Yet, even if MADD were right, the safety of the “children” should never be the sole basis for public policy. Call them naïve or idealistic, but there are still people in this country who believe the word “freedom” matters as well.

Indeed it does. Or should, anyway.

Update! Good stuff from Goldstein:

There is much to dislike about European culture — resentment of the US and ungodly techno music figuring prominently in that litany of evils — but for all its soft socialist ways, in certain spheres of personal freedom European social planners, along with their policy-making handmaidens, remain maddeningly more concerned with individual autonomy and the role of the family in the lives of children than our own do-gooder nannystatists, who routinely invent “crises” in order to justify encroaching on what should be private concerns.

After the Orioles won the World Series in 1983, Storm Davis, a then-20-year-old starting pitcher for the Birds, who played an integral role in Baltimore’s success, could not partake in the post series champagne and beer celebration.

Mother Against Drunk Driving would likely counter such a seemingly arbitrary and incongruous segregation among teammates by noting that the ritual of celebrating with alcohol “glorifies” drinking, and so should itself be eliminated.

– And at that point, it should become clear that MADD is no longer worried about drunk driving per se, but is rather become a neoprohibitionist organization trafficking in emotional arguments to convince cowardly politicians to force change upon the culture — “change” that has the effect of taking away individual freedom and responsibility, along with the role of parents in teaching young adults how to handle certain freedoms, in exchange for a government run mandate, complete with police powers of the state or municipality, that presumes to usurp those responsibilities by a kind of 3/5 rule on adulthood.

Oh, that’s long been clear, Jeff. Clear enough that even one of MADD’s founders, Candy Lightner (who, by the way, still thinks of 18 year olds as “children” and appears to be pretty anti-military to boot) cited that very mission-creep a while back as a reason for leaving the group:

She left MADD in 1985. She has since stated that MADD “has become far more neo-prohibitionist than I had ever wanted or envisioned…I didn’t start MADD to deal with alcohol. I started MADD to deal with the issue of drunk driving”.

Ahh, but ironically enough, that’s the way it works with the freedom-robbers: they never know when to say when.

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9 thoughts on “Prohibition challenged

  1. Oh I so agree. There’s a huge difference between being against drunk driving and being a Prohibitionist.

    Within the last year I’ve seen the end of some big car race (end of the Indy 500 maybe). The winner used to get a bottle of champagne… now it’s milk. MILK!!!! How ridiculous. It’s not like they’re gonna get in a car and drive it home.

    I am not a person who drinks much – I had an unusual 3 glasses of wine last night (at home I might hasten to add for those who think I’m drinking and driving). I dislike the taste of alcohol for the most part. But it has always seemed to me to be the height of stupidity to have a “drinking age”. Any drinking age. It brings on stupid behavior by those who feel they’re being excluded. It does nothing to stop drinking by those who want to do it – even very young kids. And it makes unnecessary criminals of normal young people.

    The people who are deranged have got a name and their very own support organization to help them in their outrageousness… the name MADD certainly suits them because yes, they are.

  2. Umm, Teresa: it’s a long standing tradition for the Indy 500 winner to drink milk. According to Wikipedia, it goes back to 1936. I agree with everything else you’re saying, though.

  3. And here I was all set to wax indignant over the milk thing. Ah well, at least I know NASCAR would never go in for such, not that I care anything at all about them. If the IHRA ever tries it, though..

  4. I’m not sure I agree that MADD has changed any. I’ve always seen them as a bunch of Helen Lovejoys, shrieking “Won’t somebody please think of the CHILDREN?” whenever anybody challenges their arguments with facts or logic.

    Stationed in Germany from 87 to 89, as near as I could tell the rule there was: If you’re old enough to put money on the bar, you’re old enough to drink.

    Having said that, though, a custom that exists in a country where public transportation is the norm and where ownership of automobiles was something that typically didn’t happen until later adulthood (if ever) doesn’t neccessarily apply in a country where every 16 year old regards a drivers license as his birthright and his first car nearly the same.

  5. Which goes to show how much I know about the race. LOL. Oh well – consider that part of my comment stricken. *grin*

  6. I’m not sure I agree that MADD has changed any. I’ve always
    seen them as a bunch of Helen Lovejoys, shrieking “Won’t
    somebody please think of the CHILDREN?” whenever anybody
    challenges their arguments with facts or logic.

    Stationed in Germany from 87 to 89, as near as I could tell the
    rule there was: If you’re old enough to put money on the bar,
    you’re old enough to drink.

    Having said that, though, a custom that exists in a country
    where public transportation is the norm and where ownership of
    automobiles was something that typically didn’t happen until
    later adulthood (if ever) doesn’t neccessarily apply in a country where every 16 year old regards a drivers license as his birthright and his first car nearly the same.

  7. My dad was a high school teacher when the drinking age was lowered to eighteen. There were plenty of students who came to class bombed after lunch. Then there were the 15, 16, and 17 year old students who were coming to class bombed because the eighteen year old students were buying for them.

    Despite what the college deans or presidents are saying, raising the age to 21 had little to do with their students and their concerns; and that was done before MADD even existed.

  8. I remember when I lived in NC and the “liquor by the drink” thing came up. Back then you could take your bottle to wherever and buy mixers and drink what you wanted. There were literally no legal bars where you could buy a mixed drink.

    Those against changing the law argued that it would increase drinking and other horrible consequences. It did not. My whole point is that I’ve seen the hysteria about changing alcohol laws before. The opponents have been proven wrong over and over, yet still use the same arguments.

  9. I’ve been looking for an opportunity to use this. I started reading a book of “metropolitan anthropology” published in 1933 called “The Night Club Era” It was written by a newspaperman called Stanley Walker. I was hoping for a Damon Runyon or Herbert Asbury kind of collection of barroom anecdotes. So far, it’s a disapointment on that front.

    However, there are high points. Walker reports that a William H. Anderson, president oif NY’s State Anti-Saloon League told a drinker after the passing of Prohibition: “Be a good sport about it. No more falling off the wagon. Uncle Sam will help you keep your pledge.”

    Even if you hadn’t made one nor ever intended to make one. As my old buddy Pete Sparks once said of Blue Laws,” If you can’t put Satan behind you, the state will make it happen.”

    Here was the nanny state being born in 1919.

    And Hell followed with it. Well, if not hell, at least trouble. Walker wrote, “Then skirts got shorter, petting in automobiles was reported from some of the outlying precincts, some youngsters were reported to be drinking bootleg booze. The police and surety companies were woried about the increase in payroll robberies. These were the promonitory rumblings of the great crusade to make people good. … For the most part, the politicians, fearful of the forces which had made prohibition the law, preferred to forget the issue and look for other game.”

    Does it sound familiar, at all?

    Nonetheless, I hope Walker shifts gears and gets into the blow-by-blow antics of particular flappers and grandiose deeds of saloon and speakeasy heroes. There’s a chapter on Owney Madden that holds some promise.

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