All it takes it one College president making a statement about something people are passionate about and suddenly, there’s a movement. And a counter-movement. In the electronic media, anyway.
The academic leader in question was John McCardell, Jr., president emeritus of Middlebury College in Vermont. He must have shrewdly calculated that while he had little chance of getting attention on his own, he’d get lots of help from his numerous opponents.
Which brings us to today, when I find in my inbox a press release from the Governors Highway Safety Association:
Today in Washington, researchers joined MADD to reiterate their support for the 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law. The Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) strongly supports the law and urges its retention. The Association is active in the “Support 21 Coalition.” According to GHSA Chairman Christopher J. Murphy, “GHSA strongly supports the 21 Minimum Drinking Age Law. Both research and the hands-on experience of state highway safety agencies indicate that this law has saved countless lives. Underage drinking remains a serious problem that needs to be addressed, but lowering the drinking age would be a gigantic step backward for highway safety.”
Hmmm. Who besides a Chico frat chapter would be advocating such a thing?
A bit of searching was required, because McCardell’s crusade hadn’t gotten much ink — until now.
The biggest item I found was in the Chicago Sun-Times, and op-ed that starts with this brilliant line:
If you allow your 15-year-old to drink the occasional glass of wine at the dinner table, does that make you a criminally bad parent — or a European?
Maybe, just maybe, it’s actually a good idea to let your teen have one or two beers while you’re watching the Bears game at home.
Of course, McCardell doesn’t just want to protect European-minded parents. His thing is teaching young adults — 18 and up — to drink responsibly rather than go off to college, to war and to the voting booth being told that they can’t drink. That prohibition, he argues, encourages the 18-to-20 crowd who have been told to “just say no” to say “yes, yes, yes!” once they’ve broken the bonds of parental supervision.
Thus you have binge drinking in colleges and the odd alcohol poisoning death. When I was just a student journalist at the University of Maryland, at a time when the age had recently gone up for beer and wine, I wrote about a senior who burst his esophagus during an elite fraternity coalition’s chugging ceremony. He survived, but was in a coma for two weeks and his mom sued the university.
But the obvious question is, “what about drunken driving?” Haven’t those numbers gone down since Congress threatened to withhold highway funding (what little remains) if all states didn’t peg thier drinking age at 21.
McCardell, who, since the governors group and Mothers Against Drunk Driving got on his case, has gotten much more press, has an answer for that:
McCardell argues Support 21 is too focused on traffic fatalities and ignores the need for alcohol education.
“They’re dead wrong,” McCardell told ABC News, pointing to other studies that suggest more lives have been lost by 18-to-24-year-olds in alcohol-related incidents off the road.
“To them it’s only about traffic fatalities,” he said.
More to the point, he believes that increased awareness of drunken driving deaths and law enforcement efforts against the actul perps has done much more to lower the DUI numbers than the lower age.
I’m guessing his effort will amount to nothing, but he raises some interesting points, especially for the father of an 18-year-old who’s starting college and getting his driver’s license at the same time.
Photo from Sam Bier’s site on www.flickr.com.