The Arizona Desert Lamp

Amethyst, revisted

Posted in Campus, Politics by Evan Lisull on 24 January 2009

Drunk Kid 2The Wall Street Journal recently collected short policy prescriptions from a wide swathe of thinkers on the right. Most of them are sharp, but the piece pertinent to our site is the recommendation by Glenn Reynolds, of Instapundit fame:

I will make one policy proposal. Some of my fellow libertarians hope that the Obama administration will put an end to the drug war. I hope so too, but I’m not too optimistic. Instead, I propose a smaller step toward freedom — eliminating the federally mandated drinking age of 21. This mandate was a creature of Elizabeth Dole (who is no longer in the Senate to complain at its abolition), and it has unnecessarily limited the freedom of legal adults, old enough to fight for their country, to drink adult beverages.

What’s more, as the 130 college presidents of the Amethyst Initiative have noted, rather than promoting safety, it has largely created furtive and less-safe drinking on campus. As a former professor of constitutional law, President Obama knows that the Constitution gives the federal government no legitimate role in setting drinking ages. Returning this decision to the states would be a step for freedom, a step toward honoring the Constitution, and a step away from nannyism. It would also be a particularly fitting act for this administration. Barack Obama received enormous support from voters aged 18-21. Who better to treat people that age as full adults again?

Peter Suderman, Megan McArdle, and the good folks at Reason agree. Speaking of Reason, Radley Balko has an interview with John McCardell (how many ways can you spell that name?), the former Middlebury College president behind the Amethyst Initiative:

Q: How has Mothers Against Drunk Driving responded to the Amethyst Initiative?

A: MADD’s response has been disappointing and is unbecoming for an organization as revered as they are. They spammed the email boxes of college presidents, called them “shirkers,” and encouraged parents not to send their kids to those colleges. All this for nothing more than a call for discussion. If this question is as settled as they say it is, why such an exaggerated response?

I think their tactics backfired. MADD tried to bully these presidents into removing their names. We lost three presidents as a result, but we gained 20 more. And I think it actually strengthened the resolve of the presidents who stayed on.

Q: MADD and other opponents of your objectives say the college presidents are just trying to pass on their own responsibility to enforce the minimum drinking age. But is it really a college president’s responsibility to enforce criminal law?

A: That’s a great point. It’s about as logical as asking a couple of state troopers to come onto campus to teach calculus.

Perhaps MADD spamming was behind Shelton’s weak response, which you can read here. The key line, in my eyes, is, “Underage drinking in general and binge drinking specifically are serious concerns for our society and certainly at universities where so many young people in the 18-20 age group are present.” This, of course, assumes that a public school should be making moral judgments about their student body — a very dubious prospect in my book. If you are going to go Carrie Hatchet, though, at least be consistent — premarital sex should be decried, Campus Health sale of condoms should be banned, as should the Union’s fast-food joints, smoking on campus, cursing (at least South Carolina is trying), and anything whatsoever that involves carbon emissions.

As we talk about budget cuts and tax revenue shortfalls, it’d be really nice to see a study estimating how much business and tax revenue would be generated from changing the age; talk about a recession-proof consumer demand. As the state threatens to go bankrupt, this a stimulus plan that everyone outside of the MADD-types can get behind.

Meanwhile, a SWAT team has raided a fraternity in Washington State. Abuse of police power, constitutional violations, wasted federal and state funds, and erosion of respect for authorities of the law? No worries. But stupid Facebook pictures? Now that’s the end of Western civilization.

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4 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 24 January 2009 at 3:57 pm

    MADD had every right to act out. It’s irresponsible of college presidents to welcome college/youth alcoholism simply because there are spoiled children who feel a false sense of entitlement to alcohol. “They’re going to drink, anyway” is a poor argument that conforms to dangerous behavior.

    • Evan Lisull said, on 25 January 2009 at 1:39 pm

      The Amethyst Initiative’s statement of purpose reads as follows:

      “We call upon our elected officials:
      -To support an informed and dispassionate public debate over the effects of the 21 year-old drinking age.
      -To consider whether the 10% highway fund “incentive” encourages or inhibits that debate.
      -To invite new ideas about the best ways to prepare young adults to make responsible decisions about alcohol.
      -We pledge ourselves and our institutions to playing a vigorous, constructive role as these critical discussions unfold.”

      It’s one thing to argue against lowering the drinking age; it’s quite another to respond to a call for conversation with threatening emails.

  2. Laura Donovan said, on 25 January 2009 at 5:15 pm

    Threatening emails are inappropriate, but you have to see where these women are coming from. They’ve lost children to drunk drivers and they don’t want the drunk driving death toll to rise. These women have suffered the greatest loss imaginable and they’re heartbroken, and the college presidents just don’t get it.

    Besides MADD’S emotional response, it’s not a college president’s job to focus on this issue, especially when many national universities are losing money to budget cuts. The presidents shouldn’t be so concerned with underage drinking at a time like this.

  3. thecivicspirit said, on 25 January 2009 at 8:10 pm

    Predictably, I completely concur with Evan on this one. Since “it discourages young people from drinking” seems to be the only reason anyone ever cites for a federally-enforced drinking age, pointing out that it doesn’t discourage anyone under 21 from drinking is entirely appropriate. Seriously, how many people under 21 do you know who refuse to drink *and* cite the drinking age as their main reason? Any 20-year-old who refrains from drinking does it because he or she chooses to, not because they lack access to alcohol.

    Even if you don’t buy this argument, the federalism argument — which is simply that states should never surrender to the federal government anything they can easily do for themselves, just as individuals should never give up to any government anything they can easily do for themselves — is certainly a persuasive one, at least to me.


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