GOP strategists have been warning that the sky is falling, that a demographic calamity is coming. Young voters and voters to be, we are told, have no reason to vote Republican.
A fix to attract young voters might be sitting right in front of them, if congressional Republicans have the creativity to pop it open.
One of the sorriest sights I have ever seen in a bar occurred on the eve of the Gulf War in the fall of 1990. Soldiers from the nearby Army base were celebrating their final days in the states before being deployed to Saudi Arabia where they would eventually smash Saddam Hussein’s army in Kuwait.
The young soldiers were lined up at the bar. Instead of beer, they were sipping sodas because they weren’t old enough.
It was a sad, pathetic sight. Soldiers who would soon ship out to war celebrating their final hours in the United States, and they were drinking Sprite.
If the Republicans want to attract young voters, then lead the charge to repeal the National Minimum Age Drinking Age Act that Democrats in Congress passed in 1984.
Loudly repeal the mandate and allow states to lower their drinking age to 18 from 21 without federal penalty.
Appeal to young voters with beer and bourbon.
The National Minimum Drinking Age Act forced states to change their state laws or else forfeit federal highway money. The federal mandate that required states to raise the drinking age to 21 was chiefly sponsored by Senator Frank Lautenberg, a Democrat from New Jersey.
As far as I am concerned, if you are old enough to fight and die for America, you are old enough to drink a beer.
We can debate the pros and cons of the federal mandate as a question of social behavioral engineering. You might say that the federal mandate reduces drunk driving, and I will respond that so could complete prohibition of the sort we had from 1920 to 1933. You might note the opposition of Mothers Against Drunk Driving to my idea, and I would argue that the drinking age of 21 pushes younger adults into irresponsible behavior, including binge drinking.
If a state wants to keep the drinking age at 21 years old, let the citizens of that state – including the 18-year-old voters – decide the question at the ballot box. Just get Washington, D.C., off their backs.
This is a question of both federalism and morality.
Washington, D.C., should not be deciding how old you have to be before you can drink a Miller Lite. As a matter of constitutional division of power, the Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution gives states almost complete power over alcohol. States have the power to legislate themselves dry, or to eliminate the drinking age altogether, notwithstanding the federal mandate.
This is also a question of morality. A nation cannot expect the youngest generation to bear the burden of service, but not extend the full measure of citizenship to them.
If you can be drafted, you should be able to order a draft.
President Ronald Reagan was originally opposed to the federal mandate of a drinking age of 21 but came to sign the bill because he decided reducing teen driving mortality was more important.
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.
In the first few years after the drinking age became effective, teen driving deaths actually increased. It wasn’t until the 1990s that teen driving deaths dropped dramatically, and by then, any number of alternative causes contributed to the improvement. In other countries that did not raising the drinking age, teen driving deaths also nevertheless declined.
Improvements in safety, education, and technology may have played a bigger role in reducing highway deaths than federal mandates did.
But do young people want the federal drinking age mandate to go away?
This is the same age group that never endured the federally mandated 55 miles per hour speed limit. Today’s 19-year-olds never experienced creeping along a wide open interstate highway at 59 miles per hour, scanning for state troopers.
Repealing the 55 mph federal speed limit mandate was one of the first things the new Republican Congress did in 1995. It was also wildly popular and Republicans got the credit.
If Republicans want to appeal to young voters, appeal to their desire for freedom. Go ahead, laugh if you want. I’m aware of what is happening on campus and in the classroom.
But I still can’t shake the image of American warriors sipping sodas before they smashed Saddam. Some things just aren’t right, and Republicans should gamble that young Americans will agree.