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Confessions of an Underage Drinker
By Kirsten Andersen
Last week, some of you may have seen my appearance on ABC's "Politically Incorrect." I had a wonderful time and I thank everyone who watched. If you missed it, the topics of discussion were sex, drugs, and alcohol... or bestiality, marijuana and Jenna Bush.
It seems that the President's daughter's name has become synonymous with alcohol--or more specifically, underage drinking. Jenna is 19 years old--old enough to drive a car, smoke a cigar, choose a President (I wonder if she voted for her dad?), go to war, abort an innocent infant, buy a house, get married, sign a legal and binding contract, or do pretty much anything else her little party-girl heart desires. In fact, there are only four things that Jenna can't legally do based solely on her age: run for Congress, run for Senate, run against her dad for President, and drink a cool, refreshing beer from an ice-cold, frosty mug--a near-necessity in Austin, Texas, where Jenna lives and where the average summer conditions are typically 106 degrees with 100% humidity.
I feel a special empathy for Jenna. You see, I am also subject to the ridiculous liquor laws of this nation, which are blatantly unconstitutional and create an entire second-class citizenship of American adults. I am eight months shy of my twenty-first birthday. Any frequent reader of this column should know that age is not a factor in intelligence or maturity--just take a look at the behavior of the entire Clinton Administration, all of whom, I can assure you, were old enough to drink.
Like Jenna, I enjoy drinking. Luckily, I am not the president’s daughter and I don’t live in a ‘college town.’ If I want to have a glass of wine with dinner, I simply order it and the waiter brings it to me without asking questions. I believe this happens everywhere, for the most part (unless your father happens to be President and the waiter doesn’t like his politics).
My biggest problem with the drinking age is, of course, its unconstitutionality. Until 1984, it was up to the states to decide what their drinking laws would be. The tenth amendment states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people [emphasis added]."
If the federal government took even a cursory glance at the tenth amendment, they would know that the National Minimum Drinking Age law flies in the face of that amendment. When the law was passed in 1984 (a very appropriate year to pass such an act), many states had minimum drinking ages of 18. A drinking age of 18 makes sense, but it is frankly no concern of the federal government’s if a state has a minimum drinking age of six and a half--it is the state’s right to decide such things, according to the U.S. Constitution on which our nation was founded.
In 1984, thirty states had legal drinking ages of 18. The National Minimum Drinking Age Act declared that each and every state had to raise their individual minimum drinking age to 21 or lose ten percent of their federal highway funding. That’s right, the law is enforced by blackmail.
The other problem with this law is that it creates an environment of age discrimination. For the two years I have lived in Washington, I have been missing out on a key part of D.C. culture--Georgetown.
The area around Georgetown University is peppered with great shopping and expensive eateries. After 9pm, these eateries become hot spots for the young professional crowd, with dancing and DJs and tons of attractive people spilling in and out of one restaurant after another.
Now, imagine if these establishments had signs saying, "No Blacks Admitted after 9pm," or, "No Women Admitted after 9pm." There would be an uprising! Jesse Jackson would show up and bellow about the injustice! Patricia Ireland would rail about the ‘violent oppression.’ But in effect, that is exactly what these places are doing. Because of the close proximity to the University (where half the population is between 18 and 20), signs hang outside the doors of Georgetown restaurants that say "No One Under 21 Admitted After 9pm." Huge bouncers stand at the entrances, enforcing this discrimination. If you ‘look’ a certain way (in this case, young), you are forced to produce identification. (Show me your papers, please.)
There is no rational excuse for this kind of discrimination. When the law was passed, it was passed because of the hysteria of women like Candy Lightner, founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Because her precious little one had been killed by a drunk driver, she started a nationwide crusade against drinking. I have no end of sympathy for this woman’s loss, but to toss out the Constitution and restrict the rights of an entire class of American adults in the name of revenge is simply reprehensible.
Lightner and other defenders of the age 21 minimum say these laws are necessary because 18-20 year olds cause more alcohol-related fatal traffic accidents than any other group. In truth, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 41.9% of all fatal traffic accidents in the 18-20 age group involved alcohol. The same statistic for the entire population? 41.3%.
The fact is, the National Minimum Drinking Age is an affront to the Constitution and a monument to age discrimination. It was passed because it was politically popular at the time--the 21-drinking age cause was to soccer moms in 1984 what the Million-Mom March is to the same group in 2001. This law is mass hysteria run amok, and it must be stopped, for the sake of our freedom.
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