My hat is off to that distinguished group of college presidents who wish to start a national debate about possibly lowering the drinking age from 21.
While I am delighted to see a ridiculously counter-productive social policy attacked on grounds of common sense, I think these academics might have more hope of getting concrete blimps off the ground.
Very few countries in the world assume like the United States that their adult children are such babies. But there is strong support for this proposition in various quarters, especially in the lawmaking community, which breaks into a cold sweat at the very mention of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
You got to hand it to MADD, though. They are the spiritual descendants of those lantern-jawed temperance ladies who gave us Prohibition. (Witness their opposition to privatizing state stores in Pennsylvania, when there is no evidence that the existence of state stores makes us any better off in regards to alcohol abuse compared with most other states).
Years after Prohibition crashed and burned, this new generation of alcohol's enemies were able to reinvent themselves and come back with a vengeance with a genuine call on public sympathy and a narrower focus on the young.
To be fair, they have done some good, because drunken driving laws were absurdly lax when they first started out.
That the drinking age is 21 is a perfect example of the folly of legislating on the basis of religious beliefs. Yes, thou shall not kill is a commandment along with thou shalt not steal, but you don't have to be religious to see the wisdom of those edicts. Drinking liquor is different. Not withstanding the turning of water into wine, some denominations think alcohol is the work of the devil. That has hugely influenced attitudes toward young adults drinking.
Nothing is going to change. Many kids will go on drinking to excess while learning the highly subversive lesson that it is fun to disrespect the law - a law that, being so removed from reality, is almost begging to be disobeyed. In our folly, we have made drinking the final proof of real adulthood - so of course kids are going to drink in college and elsewhere.
If I were dictator, I would reduce the drinking age and raise the driving age. I would certainly crack down on drunken driving if the drinking age were lowered.
I have previously written about this in a column.
After writing that column, I got an email from a reader recounting a sad story involving his college-age son who was not yet 21. The kid had gone to a college party and had some beers - which is what kids regularly do - and then decided to walk home rather than drive.
Although I got the impression he was not visibly staggering, cops like to hassle kids because many think it is in their job description and he was stopped and subsequently arrested after admitting to the beers. He would probably have been alright had he driven instead. He was caught out for ultimately making the right choice, for being responsible at the last. That conviction will likely come back to haunt him later in life.
What a fine lesson to teach. What a crazy social policy.