- The Washington Times - Monday, June 11, 2001

America has an alcohol problem. We cant get enough of it. We killed for it during Prohibition. Then we legalized it again and ever since weve argued incessantly about when someone becomes old enough to drink.
At Princeton in the 1950s the young men voted to have booze instead of cars if they couldnt have both. That was before they could have girls in their beds overnight.
Now in all 50 states its against the law to buy booze or beer until youre 21. Every pundit is proud to tell us how he (or she) cant remember how many times he broke the law with or without a fake ID.
I got a kick from champagne, too. At my 17th birthday party my father served us Lancers, a sparkling burgundy which came in a round brown bottle we thought ultra-chic, only later to be regarded as oh-so-tacky. I graduated to Moet Chandon on my 18th birthday.
Daddy figured it was better to pour the bubbly under his roof where he could keep a watchful eye than for me to order it somewhere else where he couldnt. Until 1984, the legal drinking varied; some states mandated 18, others 21. Still others had no restrictions at all.
When Elizabeth Dole became secretary of transportation she fused drinking and driving, telling the states that if they wanted increased federal highway funding they had to raise the drinking age to 21.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration had reported that while teens made up only 8 percent of the driving population, they were responsible for 15 percent of the drunken-driver accidents. More than 25,000 persons died every year from drunken driving and 5,000 of them were teen-agers. It was estimated that 1,250 lives could be saved annually if the drinking age were increased uniformly to 21.
When 19 states failed to raise the drinking age, President Reagan, a staunch states rights man, nevertheless supported federal coercion. The Supreme Court upheld the administrations position. Fast forward to 2001. Jenna and Barbara Bush, age 19, twin daughters of the president of the United States, are arrested for ordering alcohol with a fake ID, inspiring a new public debate.
The Bush family haters, many still smarting from the election results, couldnt wait to recall how the president tried to conceal a decades-old drunken driving arrest from his daughters. Amateur psychologists stroke their chin-whiskers and tell us solemnly that the twins are trying to get Daddys attention. Thirsty Texans, smarting from a law, signed by Gov. George W. Bush, that decrees prison for the third alcohol-related conviction, grumble that the arrest of Jenna serves the old man right.
Or maybe the daughters wanted to help their father by diverting his attention from the pain of the Jeffords defection to think about something really important. My favorite insight was reflected in this headline in the London Daily Telegraph: "Americas alcohol laws would drive anyone to drink." (The English can be smug now since they finally, but only recently, rescinded their ridiculous on-again, off-again pub hours decreed during World War I to keep munitions workers sober and at work.)
Writes columnist Mark Steyn, who lives in New Hampshire, in the Telegraph: "Jenna can drive, vote, marry, own a house, join the army, buy firearms, and hop a flight to Vermont with a lesbian to get one of the states new 'civil union licenses and spend the night having as much sex as she wants. She can do everything an adult can do except go into a Tex-Mex restaurant and wash down her incendiary enchiladas with a margarita."
Strict liquor laws are the expression, if not necessarily the triumph, of hope over experience. College students on their own might learn how to discipline themselves, starting with a respect for the law. If they dont like the law, they can lobby to change it. Theyre not old enough to drink but theyre old enough to vote.
The twins know their father had a drinking problem and has been a teetotaler since he was 40. Maybe they think drinking until theyre 40 is good enough for them, too. Its true that only a presidents daughter with a fake ID would make an editor think such a story is actually news, but the twins are learning the hard way that fair or not (and its not) theyre held to different standards than others. Marie Antoinette might have said of them: "Let em drink Perrier."
E-mail: sfields1000@aol.com

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