Drinking Lessons

 

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.

Drinking Heritage

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.

Drinking Lessons

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.

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  1. profdlp Inactive
    profdlp
    @profdlp

    I was in the Navy in the late 70s/early80s.  The drinking age was 18 in Illinois where I did A School  (Great Lakes NTC).  I had a friend who was 16 (great guy, but his parents were awful and were happy to sign off and not have to support him any more).  He was allowed to drink on the base with his military ID.  I never saw him drunk, which was a rarity in the EM club in those days.  We went off the base a few times and since he looked like me (same general face and hair/eye color) he could get into places using my drivers license.  With our very short post-boot camp haircuts it was hard to compare anyone to a pre-military long-haired DL photo.  This worked well until we got careless one night and went through the line too close together.  The identical birthdates on my military ID and my DL which he was using raised a flag with the bouncer.

    “Hey – you guys got the same birthday!”.

    I very glibly told him we were twins.  Ha paused and thought about that for a while, then said:

    “With same exact same friggin’ first name?”

    I tried to convince him that “our” parents were not the creative type, but it didn’t work.  We went next door, entered about ten minutes apart, and both got in just fine.  The funny thing was, the one time we got tossed out, my friend – the sixteen year old – got in fine.  It was me, the legal one, who got tossed.

    As for the Baptist fishermen, I heard it just the opposite:  If you’re going fishing with a Baptist, ALWAYS take two of them.  ONE Baptist will drink most of your beer, leaving you with not enough.  TWO Baptists will sit and glower at each other, each wishing the other one weren’t there to squeal on them.  That way you get to drink all the beer yourself.

     

     

    • #61
  2. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Lois Lane (View Comment):
    I think it’s a change in culture that’s changed the statistics. Not a change in the law.

    Law and culture intertwine, though, and it’s often hard to tease out cause and effect.  Cultural changes lead to legal changes, which amplify and reinforce changes in the culture.  Relaxed attitudes about divorce led to no-fault divorce laws, which in turn made divorce much more common and socially acceptable.  The civil rights movement led to the Civil Rights Act and other laws in the 60’s, which also changed the culture to make overt racism taboo.  Roe v. Wade changed attitudes about abortion.  The drive to legalize same-sex marriage changed attitudes about both homsexuality and marriage.  The wave of states legalizing marijuana has changed attitudes about pot.

    So I think it’s likely that changes in the DUI laws were one of the factors that changed the culture to make drunk driving taboo.  This is a reality the left understands that tends to make libertarians very uncomfortable: often the most effective way to change the culture is by changing the law.

    • #62
  3. Randal H Member
    Randal H
    @RandalH

    The drinking age was 18 when I was in high school and college. The commercial strip just off college campus was lined with drinking establishments. I went back a few years ago and the establishments had become fast food joints. Since college students are no longer able to drink for most of their college years, there’s little reason to cater to them with environments that include alcohol.

    My wife is from Germany, and prior to the EU, I believe there was no drinking age there at all. My understanding is that EU rules changed that to 16 for drinking in establishments, but there still is no minimum age for drinking at home. My wife grew up drinking hard cider that her father fermented from local apples each fall. To this day, she is a very light drinker, consuming considerably less alcohol than I do, and my parents were teetotalers. I’m convinced that growing up with alcohol reduces the likelihood of alcohol abuse later in life, and I seem to recall studies have shown that to be true. It’s also interesting that alcohol is sold there in all manner of stores, grocery stores, gift shops, convenience stores, etc. Much of it is distilled by local farmers, who can legally distill and sell the brandies made from cherries and other fruits grown on their farms by purchasing a tax stamp. My wife’s uncle, for example, has a still in the corner of his barn.

    Concerning drinking and driving, the minimum driving age is 18 in Germany, and that plus the high population density means that most people can walk or at most use public transportation to get to and from a drinking establishment. We keep the driving age low here because parents tire of serving as chauffeurs for their teenage kids (I know I did).

    Edit to add:

    The above makes it sound like my wife was knocking back hard cider at a young age, but mostly what I noticed is that kids there are given cider or wine mixed with mineral water (dilution likely varies with age), so that the effective alcohol rate is pretty low. And at any rate, they view it as healthier than giving them soft drinks, and I tend to agree.

    • #63
  4. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    Law and culture intertwine, though, and it’s often hard to tease out cause and effect.

    This part is very true.  I’m not sure if the change in the drinking age was as impactful, however, as the change in the penalties for drunk driving.  After all, there is still plenty of underage drinking.

    The fact that I wasn’t supposed to drink until I was 21 never factored into any of my decisions in college, but I would never, ever, ever have driven under the influence.

    The dangers of drunk driving were well hammered into my head, which was enough for me, but it was also clear a DUI could also destroy your future…

    So which laws impacted which behaviors?

    I’d say the DUI penalties had a bigger impact.

    • #64
  5. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Lois Lane (View Comment):
    This part is very true. I’m not sure if the change in the drinking age was as impactful, however, as the change in the penalties for drunk driving. After all, there is still plenty of underage drinking.

    True.  I think the drinking age laws have had a bigger impact on suppliers than consumers.  After all if you are caught drinking under 21 there are seldom any legal consequences (as long as you aren’t also driving), so teens mostly ignore the law.

    OTOH if you are a business caught selling alcohol to minors there can be serious legal or liability consequences, hence the ridiculously strict TSA-style enforcement of ID check policies (to the extent that I frequently see signs saying things like “we card anyone who looks under 40”).

    • #65
  6. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Speaking of excessive ID laws, a few years back the wise solons up in Sacramento decreed that henceforth there would be no alcohol sales permitted at self-checkout.  Prior to this silly law, my local Safeway had a perfectly serviceable system in place where as soon as you scanned an alcoholic beverage a red light went on and a store employee walked over, checked your ID, keyed in an override code, and that was that.  But no, now if I want to pick up a bottle of wine or a six-pack I have to wait in the slow line while they keep reminding me “there’s no waiting on the self-check aisle.”

    • #66
  7. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    Lois Lane (View Comment):
    This part is very true. I’m not sure if the change in the drinking age was as impactful, however, as the change in the penalties for drunk driving. After all, there is still plenty of underage drinking.

    True. I think the drinking age laws have had a bigger impact on suppliers than consumers. After all if you are caught drinking under 21 there are seldom any legal consequences (as long as you aren’t also driving), so teens mostly ignore the law.

    OTOH if you are a business caught selling alcohol to minors there can be serious legal or liability consequences, hence the ridiculously strict TSA-style enforcement of ID check policies (to the extent that I frequently see signs saying things like “we card anyone who looks under 40”).

    I never had a single problem getting alcohol when I was under age.  If the teens are still drinking the alcohol, the provision that stores will pat you down before you can buy wine doesn’t speak to why drunk driving accidents have gone down since the 1980s.

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    Prior to this silly law, my local Safeway had a perfectly serviceable system in place where as soon as you scanned an alcoholic beverage a red light went on and a store employee walked over, checked your ID, keyed in an override code, and that was that.

    That is still how it is where I live.  However, maybe this was just an organized revolt against technology?

    Imagine in your mind a labor union boss thinking about how to keep robots from taking over his store: Make the politicians pass that law that requires more cashiers on hand to check the IDs of middle aged PTA moms buying wine coolers!!!

    I know that’s a ridiculous thesis, but prove me wrong, Mr. Stanko.  Prove me wrong.  :)

    • #67
  8. Gary McVey Contributor
    Gary McVey
    @GaryMcVey

    I gotta go along with brother Stanko on this one. In general, since I was in the culture biz, I enthusiastically endorse the idea that a change in culture is more lasting than a change in law. But unlike my more libertarian friends, not to mention my more Galt’s Gulch pals, I’d never deny that a change in law can change people’s behavior, and the culture. It does go both ways.

    Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” was ridiculed in its time, on the grounds that “teenagers lighting up aren’t going to give a damn what the First Lady says”. That sounds tough and realistic, but it missed the point: the kids weren’t affected by the First Lady’s disapproval, but by parents’ newly empowered pushback that hadn’t seemed possible a few years earlier. I’m not taking a position on “Just Say No”, just using it as an example of a symbolic social movement that changed laws and fairly quickly did change the culture, like it or not. Hollywood’s (public) attitude towards drugs tightened up considerably, and would stay tight for most of the next twenty years. It’s only lately that writers have dared to turn back the clock to the Seventies.

     

    • #68
  9. Joseph Stanko Coolidge
    Joseph Stanko
    @JosephStanko

    Lois Lane (View Comment):
    Make the politicians pass that law that requires more cashiers on hand to check the IDs of middle aged PTA moms buying wine coolers!!!

    I know that’s a ridiculous thesis, but prove me wrong, Mr. Stanko.

    Not at all, wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

    It hasn’t worked, though.  The store doesn’t seem to have hired any more clerks, they normally have 2 of 12 lanes staffed and open.  For my part, I’ve stopped buying alcohol at the supermarket so I can keep using self-checkout; instead, I make a separate trip to the further-away BevMo (using more gas, take that, meddling Sacramento environmentalists!) just to buy my liquor.

     

    • #69
  10. Manny Coolidge
    Manny
    @Manny

    Good post.  My father always had wine on the table at dinner – I’m of Italian ethnicity.  I could have had wine at dinner at any time after the age (I’m guessing here) of eight.  It was never a big desire back then or for most of my youth and young manhood.  As I grew up, I did acquire the taste for red wines, and now too have wine at the table on most days.  I’m not quite my father, who would never have dinner without wine.

    • #70
  11. Lois Lane Coolidge
    Lois Lane
    @LoisLane

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    I gotta go along with brother Stanko on this one. In general, since I was in the culture biz, I enthusiastically endorse the idea that a change in culture is more lasting than a change in law. But unlike my more libertarian friends, not to mention my more Galt’s Gulch pals, I’d never deny that a change in law can change people’s behavior, and the culture. It does go both ways.

    Nancy Reagan’s “Just Say No” was ridiculed in its time, on the grounds that “teenagers lighting up aren’t going to give a damn what the First Lady says”. That sounds tough and realistic, but it missed the point: the kids weren’t affected by the First Lady’s disapproval, but by parents’ newly empowered pushback that hadn’t seemed possible a few years earlier. I’m not taking a position on “Just Say No”, just using it as an example of a symbolic social movement that changed laws and fairly quickly did change the culture, like it or not. Hollywood’s (public) attitude towards drugs tightened up considerably, and would stay tight for most of the next twenty years. It’s only lately that writers have dared to turn back the clock to the Seventies.

    I suspect from what I’ve read that it would be easy to go with brother Stanko on a lot of points.  :)  But I’m confused about where we disagree?

    I do think the law can change culture.  Sure.  I just think the culture changed drunk driving statistics more than the law.  That’s my position.  In the case of the 21 legal age, I think the law is so flouted, it’s meaningless.

    So you seem to support me on this with Nancy?  “Just Say No” impacted me.  I mean.  Those egg commercials really did get in my head.

    There you seem to be saying the campaign itself was most important?

    I think the MADD campaigns to make teens absolutely scared s**tless about drinking and driving were more impactful than the change in drinking age.  Some of those movies they showed back then?  Way scarier than the frying eggs… or the possibility that a policeman was going to catch you drinking in your boyfriend’s basement.

    That’s all.

    • #71
  12. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor
    Tom Meyer, Common Citizen
    @tommeyer

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):

    So I think it’s likely that changes in the DUI laws were one of the factors that changed the culture to make drunk driving taboo. This is a reality the left understands that tends to make libertarians very uncomfortable: often the most effective way to change the culture is by changing the law.

    Gary McVey (View Comment):
    But unlike my more libertarian friends, not to mention my more Galt’s Gulch pals, I’d never deny that a change in law can change people’s behavior, and the culture. It does go both ways.

    I’m going to push back on these.

    There’s definitely a common libertarian argument that prohibitions have little affect on their behavior. This seems wrong at least as often as it’s right: alcohol consumption stayed below pre-Prohibition levels for decades after its repeal. Put differently, there’s a lot of middle ground between Ron Paul’s claim that drug/alcohol laws have no effect, and the arguments you get from some drug warriors that the laws are the only thing stopping half the country from being permanently strung-out.

    That said, I can think of situations where libertarians are among the first to make law-affects-behavior arguments. Libertarians constantly argue that people respond rationally to incentives, even — indeed, especially — to bad ones. When we subsidize single motherhood, to take the obvious example, we’re more likely to get more of it. (To be clear, this sort of argument is hardly limited to libertarians, though I would say it’s pretty typical of them.)

    • #72
  13. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Miffed White Male (View Comment):
    Voting: If you’re paying net taxes (more cash sent to the government than cash received from the government in any particular calendar year), you get to vote, regardless of age. This knocks out most Social Security recipients, most students, all government employees…

    Alternative, given the paperwork burden to enforce the above: Once vote per $1000 taxes paid to the jurisdiction in question. Bring your tax forms to the polling place.

    Interesting ideas – allocating votes by taxes paid will never fly, too much like a poll tax and probably unconstitutional.

    But how would the other work – would turbine lease payments received by a farmer from a wind energy development company be counted as cash received from the government because the projects are made possible by tax credits?  Does the value of lifestyle tax deductions (such as home mortgage interest) count?

    • #73
  14. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Lois Lane (View Comment):

    Doug Watt (View Comment):
    From a former police officer’s point of view I don’t see a problem with parent’s allowing their children to have a drink in their own home, with parental supervision. I would not allow them to invite their friend’s over for a drink, too much liability.

    Absolutely.

    Absolutely agree.  Not unless their friend’s parents come too (I have something to say about that) and they sign off on their child having a drink.  And probably not even then.  That is feeling too much like a party and losing control of the message I was looking to send.

    • #74
  15. Isaac Smith Member
    Isaac Smith
    @

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    OTOH if you are a business caught selling alcohol to minors there can be serious legal or liability consequences, hence the ridiculously strict TSA-style enforcement of ID check policies (to the extent that I frequently see signs saying things like “we card anyone who looks under 40”).

    There are some benefits.  Many, many years ago my younger brother and I went to a Vikings game.  We went up to grab a couple beers from the concession stand.  I let him go first.  He ordered his beer, paid for it – no issue.  Then I asked for a beer and the same server asked for my ID.  I laughed and said she had just made my day. (My brother (younger) looked like he had just bit into a lemon.)  She said “don’t get excited, we card everyone who looks like they could be under 30.”  As I was almost 40 I laughed again and said now she had really made my day.  My brother, just over 30, walked away swearing under his breath.

    Clean living.

    • #75
  16. Miffed White Male Member
    Miffed White Male
    @MiffedWhiteMale

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):

    Joseph Stanko (View Comment):
    OTOH if you are a business caught selling alcohol to minors there can be serious legal or liability consequences, hence the ridiculously strict TSA-style enforcement of ID check policies (to the extent that I frequently see signs saying things like “we card anyone who looks under 40”).

    There are some benefits. Many, many years ago my younger brother and I went to a Vikings game. We went up to grab a couple beers from the concession stand. I let him go first. He ordered his beer, paid for it – no issue. Then I asked for a beer and the same server asked for my ID. I laughed and said she had just made my day. (My brother (younger) looked like he had just bit into a lemon.) She said “don’t get excited, we card everyone who looks like they could be under 30.” As I was almost 40 I laughed again and said now she had really made my day. My brother, just over 30, walked away swearing under his breath.

    Clean living.

    When I was just over-age, getting carded was annoying.

    When I got to be in my late twenties/early thirties, it was flattering.

    Now I’m in my 50s, and it’s downright irritating because of the stupidity of it.  (we have grocery stores that have a policy of carding everybody, regardless of age.)

     

    • #76
  17. profdlp Inactive
    profdlp
    @profdlp

    Isaac Smith (View Comment):
    …would turbine lease payments received by a farmer from a wind energy development company be counted as cash received from the government because the projects are made possible by tax credits?…

    If the point is to separate the makers from the takers, I would argue that they should.  If the farmer still pays more in taxes than he gets in total benefits, then he votes anyway.  If he doesn’t pay more, then one could argue that his vote was bought and paid for.

    • #77
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