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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Democrats Don't Get It; Any Republicans?

Choose Responsibility has a YouTube video link up at their blog, a clip of the Democratic presidential candidate debate at Dartmouth last night, where a mother of two asked if any of them would back removing the federal mandate for a 21 LDA, which she believes to be counter-productive. Joe Biden led the very disappointing responses by bloviating about drunk driving deaths, alcoholism, and fetal alcohol syndrome...all of which really have nothing to do with the 21 LDA. Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson fell over themselves to agree, dismissing the very idea of lowering the LDA, or giving that power back to the states (because that, after all, was what the woman was really asking).

Russert cut to the chase and asked if anyone was in favor of it. Mike Gravel (hell if I knew he was even running) and Dennis Kucinich spoke up, Gravel hitting the popular tagline that's driving the 18 LDA movement -- anyone old enough to fight and die for this country should be able to have a drink -- and Kucinich added that we needed to have confidence in young Americans: drinking age of 18, he said, voting age of 16.

None of them have gotten the depth of Choose Responsibility's position (my position): the 21 LDA does not prevent worse damage from young drinking, it is causing it. Still, it's out there in open national debate, at what is arguably the highest level. I have to see this as an advancement for the cause. And I'll predict that in a wide-open Republican debate, the only candidate who will be in favor of an 18 LDA will be the Texas quasi-libertarian, Ron Paul.


Stonch said...

I'd forgotten about Dennis Kucinich.

I remember in the last Presidential election, there was something online ( perhaps? Can't remember) where you answered a series of questions, and they matched them to actual answers given by Bush and the Democrat nominees. A few of my friends and family did it. It told us all we matched Kucinich more than any other candidate.

So - the little fella should move to Britain! He'd win!

Jeff Alworth said...

Lew, I can't buy for a second the idea that the drinking age is causing youth drinking. Do you have any statistics that show the increase of drinking among minors since the national age went to 21? The argument that CR makes about international comparisons relates to culture, not the effect of a single law. (Canadians have more guns per capita than Americans, but vastly fewer gun deaths. Same kind of thing.)

I don't actually have a dog in this race--of the top thousand issues I could think of, this would be in the 900s. What worries me is that with very serious issues like Iraq, terror, health care, global warming, and so on, anyone would make a decision on the candidate based on their position on this issue.

You want to change the law? Elect the candidate who most represents your views and get politically active and help CHANGE the law. That's the way things get done.

Joel said...

You're doing god's work, Lew, watching these debates so that we don't have to (and that's coming from a dyed-in-the-wool left-wing democrat).

Where does Obama stand on this issue? I'm genuinely curious. The guy campaigns on bringing a "fresh" new non-beltway approach to politics. Hopefully he's brave enough to buck the D.C. "conventional wisdowm."

Anonymous said...

Lew,'re going to be hard-pressed to get any support for lowering the drinking age amongst the "mainsteam" presidential candidates.

The spirit of Libertarianism more or less died within the Republican party, in favor of social conservatism.

Furthermore, for whatever reason, Democrats can't shake their early 20th century "Progressive" nature on this issue.

People like Mike Gravel, Dennis Kucinich, Ron Paul, and Tom Tancredo (whom I absolutely hate...but at least somewhat respect)at least allow certain "unspeakable" issues within politics to brought forward for public discussion.

I for one am a big Kucinich fan, and am brought comfort by knowing that he is so popular in his Cleveland district that he'll be in congress the rest of his life if he'd like to be.

Anonymous said...

I thought that Joe Biden's response was off the topic and limp, as well.

I am too traditionalist to agree with lowering the Limit Drinking Age. The closer someone is to childhood, the less rights that kid gets. Not even the war should have youths fighting. They should strengthen the population so that 30 and 40 year olds should fight in the army. Then again, is that really a traditional cause? Well, young people should have less rights is all I'm saying.

As for Ron Paul ... maybe.Ron Paul is a Republican Conservative as well as a Libertarian Constitutionalist... he could go either way on anyone's question of interest.

Unknown said...

Ron Paul and Dennis Kucinich seem to be the only politicians who makes any damn sense these days. The others are clueless, horribly stubborn and frankly embarrass me. I respect Ron Paul because he's honest and he doesn't give an F about his rating or whatever and that's why people like him. Its about time an elected official had the balls to think for himself and encourage others too.

Rick Sellers said...

So... anyone know what kind of lobbying power MADD has (or other such organizations)? Is it all psychological or do they have deep pockets (as I would assume). Why else would politicians be afraid to say what I think the majority of Americans must think - old enough to die, old enough to drink. I realize I could do the research, but thought you might know... if anyone.

Anonymous said...

I'm writing in Lew on the ballot!

Anonymous said...

I know of a couple of bloggers in Texas who happen to be Republican and support craft beer. They posted on the topic this morning on Professors R-Squared.

Lew Bryson said...

Figured this one would be a lightning rod.

Jeff -- I have gotten involved on this one, I don't just blog about it. I'm getting prepped to appear on TV representing CR, I've talked about it in public forums.

But please: I'm not any kind of single-issue voter. I do think that people dying of bad drinking practices is every bit as serious as people dying in Iraq. Especially since there are a lot more dying from drinking. But it's a drinking blog; discussing issues like Iraq, terror, health care, global warming, and so on would be largely out of place.

The 21 drinking age and how we apply it is a problem. Number of underage drinkers is actually down, but heavy problem drinking is up. Are there statistics to link that to 21 LDA? No, and I partly blame the nature of alcohol research for that: it's hard to get funding for research that may undermine the 21 LDA. Alcohol research in the U.S. is often not good science, in the purest sense: studies are done to prove positions, conclusions are drawn prior to research, which then is hammered into shape to fit those conclusions. That's not my opinion, that's the opinion of independent scientists.

Thing is, it's not so much "the law," it's the whole drinking culture: I recognize that, and so does CR. That's why I think that the debate about the issue is every bit as important as the outcome.

Bill said...

If the issue is the drinking culture more than the law, I'm not sure how changing the law will change the culture. I came of age when the move to 21 happened, and couldn't legally drink at college in NY while I could where I lived in VT. I don't see underage drinking behavior being worse now than when I was underage, and many of my adult jobs have been in college settings.

I have no problem with 21 being the legal drinking age in our car-heavy culture. People with two years driving experience at best shouldn't be getting behind the wheel after drinking even modest amounts -- they're impaired at BAC levels well below the .08 threshhold, in my opinion. The argument for 21 rests primarily on public safety, and the counterargument that says "Well, even fewer people would die if the age was 25 or 36" overlooks how steeply that curve is between 18-21 compared to after that fact.

I won't be upset if the age goes back down, but I don't feel it's a travesty of justice that it's gone to 21. Heck, the liquor companies either are satisfied with the current situation or are apparently more cowardly than the politicians -- they're not calling for a change either!

And for the "old enough to fight, old enought to drink" folks -- I'd support raising the minimum age of folks sent to fight to 21 -- problem solved. And, since that alas won't happen... once upon a time, military was exempt from state limits for drinking -- if you were serving your country, you could drink. Why not bring that back?

Lew Bryson said...


Sorry, but some of that just doesn't wash, even as a debating technique. Although suggesting raising the minimum age to fight to 21 makes a current political statement, it's not just unlikely, it's unrealistic, and even unfair: if you allow that people can vote at 18, that they are liable to be prosecuted as an adult at can you say they are not able to volunteer -- and it is an all-volunteer force -- to defend the country's interests at 18?

The liquor/beer/wine companies are afraid to say anything about an 18 LDA; Pete Coors was the only one, and he did it in the context of his Senate race, not as a beer company executive. They are afraid because they know that whatever their reasons are, they will be represented as purely profit-driven.

As I told Jeff, there are statistics that show drinking behavior has gotten worse since the 21 LDA. I can't say with 100% certainty that they're related, I can only say that I keep reading about ugly situations that surely seem as if they would not have happened if the LDA were 18.

Thing is, as I've said, I don't want to see just a change in the number in the law. I want to see real changes in the way American society looks at drinking. I think there are problems with liquor licensing systems, problems with the way liquor codes are enforced -- too much emphasis on tax collection and punishment, not enough on safety and prevention -- and problems on how alcohol research money is allocated.

It is a complex issue, and it is not going to be solved quickly or easily. But to cede the discussion on how to solve the problem to anti-alcohol groups whose bottom line answer is prohibition, in whatever guise, is not a good idea.

Jeff Alworth said...

Lew, I'm all for political action (in my other blogger life, I am a founder and editor of Oregon's largest political blog), but I don't think this is a presidential-level issue. I suppose it's reasonable to ask if a candidate would support it, but I wouldn't put much stock in the response--it's such a niche issue, none of them will have a serious position on it. (Trust me, there are a million niche issues.)

I think you're doing exactly the right thing--raising awareness of the issue, and making it political. If there is support, it will begin to move through channels.

Bill said...

Lew, you'll notice that I said raising the military age to 21 wouldn't happen, then followed it with something I felt was reasonable.

Neuroscience and policymakers have been approaching the conclusion that perhaps 16 was too young to let folks drive -- teens' decision-making processes from a neurological perspective are nowhere near the level they reach even at 20, and accident reports bear this out. The move to restrict when/where/how 16-18 year olds can drive is already underway, with night-time restrictions, who can-or-can't be in the car rules, and most important, zero tolerance on any alcohol in their system -- a restriction that vanishes once one can legally drink. Purely from a road-safety perspective, to let 18 year old folks drink in this country is a terrible idea.

I'm with you on changing the culture. I'm with you on getting a real dialogue on drinking culture and silly regulations going. But I'm not with you when it comes to advocating something that makes the roads less safe for me. And more young folks drinking even moderate amounts and then driving makes the roads much less safe.

You've decried this before -- most of us are not able to walk to a pub or restaurant, and public transportation only works in some places. Our culture is designed to be navigable primarily by car. And as such, 21 makes more sense. If changing alcohol culture in the States is the goal, lowering the drinking age as a major step to achieve this seems mighty counterproductive.

Lew Bryson said...

Let's drop the 21 military age -- you think I'm not listening to what you say, I think you're moving the guidelines -- and say that I'd be happy to allow active duty military 18-21s drink. Because if you allow that, there is NO reason not to let every 18 year old drink. Joining the military makes no "neurological" differences in an 18-year-old's brain; so why change? A responsible 18 year old shiftworker, an 18 year old private? What's the diff?

My point is that 18-21 year olds will drink, they are drinking, and we apparently cannot stop them from drinking, despite increasingly draconian laws. All those laws do is force them to drink in unsafe places and ways. Lower the age to 18, add education and responsibility to the system, put some new incentives and punishments into the retail chain, make changes in how the whole thing works.

Like I said, it's complex.

Anonymous said...

No, the 21 LDA is not necessarily causing youth drinking, but it's not preventing it either. In fact, it's not really doing anything at all other than preventing a legal adult from engaging in a voluntary activity. What exactly do we expect that the years between 18 and 21 are adding to their character, morals or sense of responsiblity? I can't think of anyone I know who suddenly became a lot more mature when they turned 21.

I am wholly in favor of repealing any law that is arbitrary and serves no real purpose, and the 21 LDA is a prime example.

Think different: vote independent.

And, if we can ever get away from our arcane and wholly inaccurate method of voting, an independent may one day win the Presidency:

Anonymous said...

I was watching that stuff live, getting all excited about what would happen (stupidly, of course), since all responses save Gravel's and Kucinich were either cursory NOs or blathers about the dangers of alcoholism.

It's obviously an issue who's time on the national stage is not now.

On a related note, I was reading yesterday about the new director of the NH alcohol enforcement laws, who has never taken a drink in his life, and talks openly about the evils that occur when a society "tolerates" alcohol. To be fair, the things he cites appear to be bad-neighborhood scenes of poor drunks fighting, etc., which is indeed a problem, but not because society "tolerates" alcohol.

That attitude, to me, is a serious problem, one that doesn't help anyone. Hell, I commit a felony when my kid takes a miniscule sip of Daddy's beer, according to state law ... and stems entirely from a state of fear regarding alcohol, IMO. Those of us who support a lower LDA, or at least a societal change that would allow that to happen, need to work on the very local levels first, and on upwards to make valid, clear points about this issue.

Rich said...

I voted for Kucinich last Democtratic presidential primary. I did the same survey that stonch did and it had the same results so I looked at his platform and made a conscience decision to vote for him. I did not even realize at that time about the 21 LDA being an issue. Looks like I made the right vote and may consider that again. Thanks for the info, Lew.

Carlosd74 said...

One man on the GOP side: Ron Paul (R- TX)