21 Has Lost Its Buzz -- Time to Lower the Drinking Age

Editor's Note: Join Ellis Henican and FOX News Channel interns for a discussion of this topic on Foxnews.com's "Intern Hour" on "The Strategy Room" on Friday, July 31 at 4 p.m. ET.

Somewhere in America, there may be a college student who is dissuaded from drinking by Legal Age 21.

It's a big country, you know.

But exactly 25 years after Washington turned 18-, 19- and 20-year-old drinkers into criminals, the evidence is piling up like a mountain of crushed Budweiser cans: Despite fine intentions by the Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other anti-alcohol groups, the 21-year-old drinking age actually has caused more harm than good.

It's promoted dangerous binge drinking on American campuses.

It's pushed underage drinkers into dorm rooms, frat houses and moving automobiles.

It's led to a wave of alcohol-fueled assaults and other destructive behavior.

With fake IDs, straw purchasers and cooperative convenience-store clerks, enforcement of 21 has proven almost impossible, undermining respect for the law.

And here's the worst part: The higher age has failed miserably on its own terms. It simply doesn't stop those young people who want to drink.

These otherwise-legal adults can vote, marry, sign contracts and die in Iraq, but still can't buy a legal beer? They almost never have trouble finding an illegal one.

No wonder John McCardell heads a group called Choose Responsibility, which is campaigning for a return to 18. As president of Middlebury College in Vermont, McCardell dealt firsthand with rapes, assaults, car wrecks and emergency-room visits fueled by illegal campus drinking.

"We need to consider new, fresh approaches to a serious problem," said the former college

He got an important new ally on Thursday. Dr. Morris Chafetz, who founded the National Institute on Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse and served on the commission that urged former President Ronald Reagan to raise the drinking age, announced a dramatic change of heart. He called his previous support for 21 "the single most regrettable decision" of his career.
"Legal Age 21 has not worked," Chafetz said flatly.

Some things have worked. Designated-driver programs actually have reduced drunken driving deaths since the early 1980s. And honest alcohol-education programs have shown some promise.

But a quarter-century in, some fresh -- sober! -- thinking is clearly called for. "Twenty-five more years of this 'success' is simply unacceptable," McCardell said.

Mr. Henican's column originally appeared in am/New York. 


Ellis Henican joined Fox News Channel (FNC) as a political contributor in July 1999. He also serves as a staff columnist for Newsday and hosts a nationally syndicated weekend show on Talk Radio Network.