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I was a scofflaw. In my state it is against the law to provide alcohol to any person who is under age 21. When my sons were underage, I broke this law on a few occasions. Neither of them ever embraced the binge-drinking culture when they went to college. Teach your kids how to drink.
I saw a story featured in the Google News “spotlight.” It was an article from CNN, a few months ago, titled “Is Drinking with your Kids at Home a Good Idea?” I say, yes it is a very good idea. Your kids need good role models. They need to see that adults can enjoy one drink or two drinks and then stop. They need to learn how to enjoy one drink and then stop.
Modern American youth culture wants to teach them that, when you drink, you are drinking to get drunk. It is all over social media, TV, movies, pop songs, etc. Drunkenness is a laughing matter. Often it is an excuse for bad behavior, such as casual sex, which is frequently blamed on alcohol.
It is a bad idea to let your kids learn about adult beverages from their friends. If that is how they learn to drink, then what they will learn is binge-drinking.
Political Legacy of Teetotalism
I live in the Bible Belt, which may be described as “Baptist World.” Where I live, well over 70 percent of households show up for a worship service at least once per month, so that is much higher than national averages. The largest denomination is Southern Baptist, with other Baptists, and also a number of “Non-denominational” churches that are best described as “Baptist lite.”
Our politics is thoroughly Baptist. One thing we discarded relatively recently is our “blue laws,” which were originally developed back when my state was even more Christian and was evenly more strongly influenced by conservative Baptists. Methodists also used to be strong around here, and they were teetotalers. Tennessee went for Prohibition, and most counties were “dry” up until the 1970s and 1980s. (We still retain some vestigial blue laws, but they are a very pale shadow of what was in force when Prohibition ended.)
But Tennessee also always had a strong strain of drinkers who were inclined to moonshine and a scofflaw attitude. It was an unfortunate culture in which drinking was a taboo and, when indulged, it led to ruin. I find our college binge-drinking culture related to the illicit roadhouses of my youth.
I was always perplexed by that, because my family was strongly influenced by my father’s German Lutheran heritage. We would go to church functions and there would be beer. When we were kids we could have a taste or a small cup. Nobody got drunk unless after most of the guests left, a couple of families stayed behind to help hosts clean up, and then lingered for a few more drinks. I saw a lot of drinking compared to my school friends, but I only witnessed drunkenness on two or three occasions. I did not associate drinking with drunkenness.
There is a very old joke that still gets told.
You can take a Baptist fishing with you, but you don’t want to take two Baptists.
(That is because one Baptist by himself will drink beer with you, but if two Baptists are along, they won’t drink alcohol in front of each other. The joke was so common that the punchline was seldom uttered out loud.)
The same thing was told of Methodists. (In contrast, the Episcopalians were called “Whisky-palians.” They were typically few in number, comparatively more well-to-do, and, though they were more influential, they generally did not rock the dry boat.)
When I got to college I saw lots of Baptist and Methodist kids go wild with weekend binge drinking. They had no acquaintance with alcoholic beverages until they gained access to them and were away from home and in a student culture that encouraged drunkenness. This seemed to be less of a problem for Lutheran and Catholic kids, but many of them tried hard to catch up to their friends’ drinking.
Things seem to be worse on campus now than they were 40 years ago.
Drinking Age and Federal Coercion
This whole thing was brought to mind by a column that appeared recently at National Review. It was by Jake Curtis, and it was about federal government coercion of the states. The focus of the article was about the case that upheld the drinking age. In the 1980s, a version of the Surface Transportation Act was passed that included a provision that said that five percent of a state’s federal transportation funds would be withheld from states that kept their drinking age below age 21. It was upheld by the Supreme Court.
It came about because of a campaign by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, who had mobilized an incredible amount of political capital over the issue of alcohol-related fatalities in automobile crashes. They were right, but the remedy they chose has consequences.
Consider that the “federal funds” in question are gas tax funds that were paid in the state; the federal government collects it all, skims some off the top, and then returns the rest with strings attached. The threat of holding out transportation funds was a big enough stick to get half the states to raise their drinking age (the other states had already raised their drinking age).
I am concerned enough about the number of people who get killed in traffic crashes to favor the DUI/ DWI laws. That is one of the issues where us Social Conservatives oppose the Libertarians.
But the way the feds coerced the states over the drinking age is still reverberating through such unrelated matters as Medicare.
The conservatives who opposed Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway Act were right. It should have been done through a constitutional amendment. If we had a Transportation Amendment it probably would not have supported the coercion that the Court upheld over the drinking age. Likewise we should have an Education Amendment, a Labor Amendment, and a half-dozen other amendments, if our founding document were to actually keep up with our current national practices. Those debates would be constructive; I wish we would have them.
I would like to lobby my state to make a change to our drinking law. I want parents to have the right to serve alcoholic beverages to their own children in the privacy of their own homes. But my state legislators would be foolish to listen to me. Big Government won’t allow any dissent.Published in