The 21 law: An excercise in American hypocrisy

For 20 years, the National Uniform Minimum Drinking Age Act has served as a condescending slap in the face to legal adults- a deterrent to our assumption of mature behaviors and no doubt another cause for the disaffection of America’s youth. Allow me to put it into perspective.

As legal adults being at least 18 years of age (though we may be criminally tried as adults well before reaching this age), we are afforded the following rights, privileges, and responsibilities: We work, pay taxes, and enter into legally binding contracts. We can make babies, and with the right training (and faith) raise them to be productive and contributing members of society. We may purchase porn, cigarettes and firearms. And then, as many of our peers have already done, we may voluntarily enlist in the armed forces, thereby making the conscious and potentially life- altering decision to assume exceedingly mature qualities like self-discipline, obedience, self-sacrifice, and the capacity to kill.

All of this and we cannot make a toast to the man we just put into office.

Assuredly, my goals are not to discount the intentions of the “21 law” that was adopted to reduce the occurrence of alcohol-related automotive fatalities. I simply wish to contrast its ambiguity with alternatives that may better achieve the objectives of this law while resulting in greater legal parity. The most obvious and sensible solutions are to raise the driving age and to enforce a zero tolerance policy for DUIs. Regarding the former, one could easily argue the danger that automobiles possess even without the involvement of alcohol. Not to mention that deferring the driving age would strengthen the family unit by extending the role of the parent in the lives of impressionable teenagers. As for the latter, if you drink and drive, you drive no more – an equitable policy for all drivers regardless of speculated levels of maturity. Surely all parties would benefit from such policies.

On the contrary, enforcing one of the highest drinking ages in the world merely incriminates hoards of young people while purveying inconsistent messages of varied expectations. I think it is about time that the lid is taken off of this box. This is not a moot issue. The pervasiveness of underage drinking and the extent of the subversion that goes on is no secret. So long as the National Uniform Minimum Drinking Age Act is in place, it will continue to be counterproductive, disrespectful, and starkly representative of the incongruities that can arise in American social policy.

Courtney Patton can be contacted at