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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Drinking Age debate on Rethinking Drinking

There's a YouTube link up on Rethinking Drinking, the blog for Choose, the new research group that is encouraging public debate on lowering the legal drinking age to 18. Group founder John McCardell and a MADD representative appeared on FoxNews on Feb. 18 to "debate" McCardell's proposal to lower the LDA to 18, in conjunction with a safe drinking education program. Here's the link:

Rethinking Drinking: Drinking Age debate

The video's not exactly electrifying, but it does get the basic stand of both parties out there. McCardell believes -- as do I -- that the 21 LDA drives drinking underground into unsafe, unsupervised territory, and abridges the rights of adults. MADD believes that the 21 LDA has saved over 20,000 lives in 22 years, and quotes "hundereds" of studies to back that up. They also characterize McCardell's proposal as a dangerous gamble with the lives of America's youth.

The debate was too short for any give and take at all; just state initial positions, then a closing statement. McCardell out-pointed the MADD rep -- he'd better have, as a former college president against a 19-year-old -- but didn't get the chance to rip open the soft underbelly of those hundreds of studies, which suffer from a severe lack of cause and effect. I had to giggle when the MADD boy urged us to use science to settle the debate: these folks have their tame research groups -- PIRE, CSPI, CAMY, and a handful of heavily-infiltrated governmental agencies -- but the tide is starting to turn, and McCardell's group is just the latest example. Most anti-alcohol science is crap science; not all, by any means, but most, in the opinion of the few scientists I've shown it to.

The thing is...I do agree with the MADD boy to a degree. This is a gamble with the lives of America's youth. We don't know what will happen if we lower the LDA to 18, not really. My gut feeling is that alcohol-related deaths in the 18-21 cohort will go up, although my gut also says that they'll go down in the 12-17 and 22-30 cohorts. That's the gamble: will we lose more or less?

Face the fact: alcohol is dangerous. You can easily drink too much, which will temporarily impair and change you in ways that can lead to bad decisions, sometimes tragically bad. There is a learning curve associated with the stuff, and we've all stumbled over it.

Which is why McCardell's proposal is something more than just moving the age around. If there's a learning curve, let's flatten it somewhat. That's what McCardell's "drinking license" idea is about. It's a funny sounding idea -- and his group acknowledges that right up-front, by linking to another YouTube video in the same blog post, a pair of stereotyped Southerners yukking it up over the very idea. But at least it's funny and smart, not callous and horrifyingly stupid, like telling kids nothing about alcohol and then pushing them out of the nest at 21 to fall or fly all on their own.

What McCardell and Choose Responsibility is really calling for is open debate. Honest debate. Factual debate. Is that so scary? Bring on the debate, and if one side resorts to emotion and hysteria, call them on it.


Stonch said...

The 21 year old drinking age in the US has long perplexed me. I don't see why young voters are willing to tolerate it.

Steven said...

Stonch - no one knows any different, for the most part. Alcohol in our cuture has always been toward the rebel side - for one. And our population is so widespread (urban sprawl) these days, there isn't a pub around the corner anymore - thus escalating the drinking and driving danger everyone over here lets gude their perspective. Just one opinion, though. I'm always on guard when I have even one beer at a tavern.

Stonch said...

But aren't there pubs in suburban areas? I doubt there's a suburb or village in the UK without some kind of pub, except for tiny hamlets. Do zoning issues prevent these from opening?

Lew Bryson said...

This covers it pretty well, Stonch, if I do say so myself:

Steven said...

Lew's essay is spot on Stonch.

There aren't pubs at every corner in suburban areas - by any means. In good weather I can probably walk the distance to the closest pub to my home, but it's probably a good 2 miles. And no, I'm not in any hamlet, there just aren't public houses in the U.S. as you know in England -- unfortunately.

Stonch said...

Great article. I hope you don't mind me saying this, but it paints a very depressing picture of a community - or rather, the lack of a community. Eek.

Steven said...

It's not all that depressing, it's all in what you knew growing up. Mostly, driving everywhere -- except school, always had to walk that!