Potomac Confidential
Washington's Hour of Talk Power

Marc Fisher
Post Metro Columnist
Thursday, August 21, 2008 12:00 PM

Potomac Confidential fills the midday lull with discussion by Metro columnist Marc Fisher who looks at the latest news with a rigorous slicing and dicing of the issues that define who we are and where we live.

Today's Column: On Campus, Legal Drinking Age Is Flunking the Reality Test

Fisher was online Thursday, Aug. 21, at Noon ET to look at the emerging debate over lowering the drinking age, the vice-presidential choice and the battle for Virginia and the showdown in the District over teacher pay.

Check out Marc's blog, Raw Fisher.

Archives: Discussion Transcripts


Marc Fisher: Welcome aboard, folks. It's good to be back from vacation as the news shifts into high gear on so many fronts--the political conventions, the start of school, the Olympics, the various local campaigns.

Today's column looks at the emerging movement among college presidents to lower the nation's drinking age--are the presidents acting purely out of frustrated self-interest or is there a higher mission here, a possibility of delinking the drinking question from the drunk driving issue that always trumps any talk of aligning the drinking age with the other privileges and responsibilities we grant to 18-year-olds? There's a ton of interest on this topic already, so here's the plan: We'll lead off with this, spend a good chunk of the hour on it, then range around to some other issues, and probably come back to the drinking age toward the end of the show.

Lots of reaction this week to my blog item on the move in the D.C. public schools toward merit pay for teachers--an always controversial issue, heightened by the battles over Michelle Rhee's aggressive reform campaign. And just how badly will the opening of school go in the District next week?

What's your last-minute thinking on the Obama vice presidential choice, Gov. Tim Kaine's chances, and whether Virginia is really ready to vote all-Democratic? The Post's Tim Craig has a thoughtful column today about the tendency of Virginians to be ticket-splitters, an ominous sign for Barack Obama given Senate candidate Mark Warner's overwhelming popularity.

And of course come ahead with whatever's on your mind....But first, let's call today's Yay and Nay of the Day:

Yay to Ben and Virginia Ali and their sons, the proprietors of that great Washington landmark Ben's Chili Bowl, the U Street half-smoke joint that tonight celebrates its 50th anniversary serving all of the District with great dogs and an unmatched scene. I first started going to the Bowl during the dark years of the Metro Green Line construction, when U Street was completely torn up and the Bowl was virtually unreachable by customers. The Alis survived that time and, thanks to gentrification, are now thriving and expanding as never before.

Nay to Maryland's builders of the Intercounty Connector, who have bizarrely decided that while a massive highway is no threat to the environment, a little separate bike path alongside the new highway would be, and therefore the bike path--long promised as a sop to those who were appalled by the prospect of the new highway--must die. Talk about bad faith.

Your turn starts right now....


Hyattsville, Md.: Your column today set new records for ignoring reality.

The idea that binge drinking among youth is new -- when in reality it has fallen since 1988 (when the law changed) -- is simply false. In addition to your unjustified dismissal of the highway death stats, there is also the "Monitoring the Future" data that show this.

It is clear what this college president proposal is -- a cynical attempt to get the problem off their plates. With the age at 21 now, more youth try alcohol first while in college, rather than in high school (as much as before). So it becomes more a problem for colleges. If the age were lowered to 18 again, this kind of binge drinking would begin as a problem at high schools more often instead, and so the college presidents would not need to worry as much about it.

Meanwhile, most European countries have drinking ages of 18... and many have enormous binge drinking problems (U.K., Belgium, Russia.) Yes, a few countries (e.g., Italy) teach drinking in moderation culturally, but they are the exception, not the rule.

And non-college youth in this country do not binge drink as much as college students.

In sum, this college campus binge-drinking problem is (1) smaller than it was before 1988,(2) a problem of colleges, not 18-21 year olds, and (3) contrary to myth, NOT solved in other countries by having a lower drinking age.

Marc Fisher: You're certainly right that the college presidents are looking, almost pleading, for help from outside. They are pretty frank about the fact that they have tried everything they can think of--in enforcement, prevention, education, counseling, transportation, peer pressure--and nothing has worked.

I'm not impressed by the research claiming that the problem is restricted to college campuses--there's plenty of evidence of hard drinking by non-college late teens too. And yes, there is heavy drinking even in European countries with lower drinking ages. But the main difference is that those countries have successfully delinked the drinking age issue from the drunk driving issue by having and zealously enforcing zero tolerance laws on driving while impaired. People in many of those countries just don't drive impaired, and if you largely eliminate that problem, the whole discussion of drinking age changes character.


Washington, D.C.: Marc -- Thanks for highlighting an issue that does need some serious consideration. Perhaps MADD is right and 21 is better than the alternatives. But it seems like stifling debate and discussion is a strategy most often used by those whose position is hard to defend on the merits.

Why are European countries so much more successful in combating drunk driving and teen drinking? Perhaps we should look there. Perhaps alcohol can be available to kids at a younger age if accompanied by parents (responsible supervision). Or in conjunction with a meal (food means less alcohol and less effect). Or just wine and beer (how drunk can you get on beer?). Or only in bars, but not available for purchase at liquor stores (ensures at least some level of monitoring).

There seem to me to be plenty of ways to introduce alcohol at a younger age without running the risk of greatly increased drunk driving and while reducing the likelihood of binge drinking.

Marc Fisher: I see two big benefits to lowering the drinking age: You push much of the drinking out into public view, into bars, campus pubs, and private parties where there's more likely to be adult supervision, and you diminish the mystique created by the taboo: You create more ways for young people to learn moderation and participate with adults in drinking reasonably.


washingtonpost.com: There's Nothing So Simple About a Straight Party Vote ( Post, Aug. 21)


washingtonpost.com: On Campus, Legal Drinking Age Is Flunking the Reality Test ( Post, Aug. 21)


Falls Church, Va.: On the drinking-age question, all I ever seem to hear are anecdotes, judgment calls, appeals to emotion, and assertions of common sense.

What are the numbers? What happened to teen drinking and teen DUI after the drinking age was raised? I'm asking both as to under-18 and 18-21. Did these figures drop, or stay the same? Without this sort of information, aren't we all just arguing in the dark?

Marc Fisher: The numbers I've seen show a definite drop in deaths from drunken driving in the aftermath of the 21 law. The numbers for teen drinking, however, show an increase. So the real question for me is how to de-link the drinking age issue from the drunk driving problem.


New York, N.Y.: Thank you for proving that baby boomer liberals, as well as conservatives, are trapped in some nostalgic groupthink in which 50 years ago everyone was your neighbor, there was no crime or even impoliteness, and a meal cost a penny.

So there was no binge drinking 50 years ago because kids learned moderation mixing in soirees with professors! Well, thank you for clearing that up! Here I was thinking that it was because the social penalties for wayward behavior were so severe that people behaved to avoid becoming social outcasts. Here I was thinking that alcohol-fueled sexual assaults happened at this time but they were covered up or never reported due to the crippling stigma attached. I'm glad you set me right. No sexual assaults, no binge drinking -- all because of professors. Also it's good to know how professors are such a good influence on student behavior. It's not like when I entered college in 2003 most of my supervisors and 'professors' were recent grad students in their late 20s early 30s who got drunk and routinely hooked up with students. Most of the older prestigious profs saw the student's best behavior because they saw them very rarely. The only time they were more involved was when they creepily attached themselves to vulnerable young (usually female) students, which happened A LOT. But I'm sure you know better.

(rolls eyes)

Of course there is an issue with binge drinking but to exclude societal constraints when comparing its rise over time is either stupid or intellectually dishonest. Society has changed and SCHOOLS ARE PART OF SOCIETY. The sexual assault issue, for example, is so complicated. Being British, I really think a 21 drinking age is high, I mean we are 18 and we are the highest in Europe BUT creating a policy and changing a policy a few generations in are very different things. They have different effects and there are some very real questions to be asked about how this could be phased in/implemented without creating a massive rise in binge drinking. I'm sure that the college presidents, smart as they are, are aware of this and have much more complex arguments than the tosh you were spouting Marc. Please don't insult your readership with such poor analysis again.

Marc Fisher: Nice rant, but actually we agree on some key points: Yes, indeed, it was a stronger sense of social regulation, a more widespread belief that wayward behavior would produce shame, that kept people more in line. Of course there has always been extreme behavior, but not as brazenly, not with the same sense of entitlement and the same expectation that there will be no consequences.

I wonder where you went to school--sounds like a real den of iniquity.


Woodbridge, Va.: I am a total non-drinker -- never have, probably never will. But that's a choice I made, and when I went to college and drinking was then legal, I loved the fact that -- unlike in high school -- that choice was respected.

That said, and as a parent of a child who will soon be one of those college students, I think something should be done. My personal suggestion is lowering the drinking age to 18, and lowering the legal driving limit to 0.00 for 18-21 year-olds.

Marc Fisher: Sounds right to me, though I'd go further and raise the driving age.


Bethesda, Md.: Marc --

I read your article in this morning's paper and completely agree with you. Higher drinking ages are counter productive. All it does is add to the mystique of drinking. MADD statistics never take into account improved safety of cars and roads over the years. In Europe, where drinking ages are lower, or in some cases, non-existent, the underage drinking and driving problem is far less than here in the U.S.

Parents are told by psychologists that positive reinforcement is much more effective than negative punishment in raising kids. Why do people think this doesn't translate to teaching young adults to use alcohol responsibly?

Your comments?

Marc Fisher: When I lived in Germany, I routinely saw kids as young as 13 and 14 having wine with their parents at restaurants. The German parents we knew felt it was important both to teach their kids to understand how to drink responsibly and how to enjoy alcohol without hurting themselves. I think the brain research makes a strong case that kids that young ought not be drinking, but certainly by late teens, it makes sense that kids should learn limits and self-restraint, rather than have their introduction to alcohol be the slinking about and scheming and excessive drinking created by the higher drinking age.


Lawton, Okla.: I'm a career Army officer, originally from Alexandria, who has served 2 tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan; and I'm really torn by the 18-year-old drinking age question. The men, and they are men (and women), in my command are not some teenagers off joy riding to let off steam. They are fighting and dying for their country under some of the worst conditions you can possibly imagine. If they want to drink beer or something stronger to help relax or otherwise deal with this, I say let them do it. Of course you have to be on the watch for chronic alcoholism, but a hard-drinking military is part of our tradition, and I, for one, have no problem with it.

Marc Fisher: Yikes--I'm not sure how you jump from the equity problem with telling teenaged soldiers that they may die for their country but may not have a beer, to the idea that a hard-drinking military is a good thing.

We're a terribly confused society when it comes to defining when and how adulthood begins, that's for sure. Lowering the drinking age would help create some balance, but that ought not be an excuse for hard drinking.


East Lansing, Mich.: Raising the driving age would be WAAAAY more controversial than lowering the drinking age. We are slaves to our cars.

Marc Fisher: Agreed--but it's the right thing to do.


Why are European countries so much more successful in combating drunk driving and teen drinking?: Because kids can walk, bus, sub home from the pub. Here is suburban sprawl that thinks public transit is socialist, driving is their only option and people die.

Marc Fisher: That is a big part of the political support for the low driving age limits we have--but another piece of it is the sense that far too many parents have that their job is done by sometime in high school, and that they therefore shouldn't have to be carting their kids around anymore.


Drinking age: I'm 24 and started drinking when I was 14 in high school. All the 21 drinking age did was force me and my friends to drink vodka and Jack Daniels mixed with soda rather than drink beer. Since I've turned 21 I've actually switched almost completely to beer and I'm far more moderate, drinking only 3 beers every other weekend or so. From my experience kids binge because they have to hide it. Make the age 18 and kids won't be sneaking bottles of vodka into football games, they will have a few drinks out in public openly with adult supervision.

Marc Fisher: Hold on--how does the higher drinking age influence your choice of alcoholic beverage? Why is sneaking the Jack an imperative rather than sneaking a beer?


Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.: The recent news about the Amethyst Initiative flabbergasted me. Holy crap, people in America addressing a problem with reason and logic rather than knee-jerk emotional reaction!? Saying that maybe education is more effective than simple restriction!? How can I go about supporting this astonishing turn of events before everyone buries their head in the sand after the eventual total backlash by the over-emotional knee-jerkers?

Marc Fisher: You'd better act fast, because even some of the college presidents are already backing off as they get big time pressure from legislators, MADD activists and insurance companies--the biggest advocates for the higher drinking age and yet another piece of evidence that the 21 law is driven almost entirely by the highway death statistics rather than any thoughtful analysis of how and when to teach young people to drink responsibly.


U St.: What about the brain development concerns? I've heard a lot of evidence that the brain isn't fully developed until you 20s so that should be taken into account.

Also if you take away the mystique of drinking from 18-21- year-olds, aren't we just enhancing the mystique for younger kids? Also how do you deal with 18-year-olds still in high school. I was 18 during my senior year because of where my birthday fell.

Marc Fisher: Excellent questions--

The brain development issue is a serious one, and any parent who condones or ignores drinking by their kids is doing their children a real disservice.

And as high school seniors get older (the result of parents holding back their little ones in kindergarten on the theory that being older in their grade will boost achievement), the phenomenon of the 18- and even 19-year-old high school student becomes ever more of an issue when considering any change in the drinking age. In a perfect world, I'd push back the age of entry into school to eliminate that problem, but in the real world, high schools would indeed be in a major pickle.

It might make sense to roll the drinking age back to 19 for that reason.


Friendship Heights: When I was a teenager, my parents let me have a drink on occasion when I was around adults. It completely took the mystique out of drinking for me. My friends, on the other hand, whose parents didn't let them drink, were binge drinkers whenever adults weren't around and they could get their hands on alcohol. Their behavior when they were drinking was terrible. I couldn't stand to be around them. Sometimes I'd hang around just to be the designated driver, but most of the time, I'd stay away or leave when the drinking started. I have always felt the European model was a better way to handle alcohol consumption. Plus, don't most European countries have very, very serious drunk driving laws anyway?

Marc Fisher: Yes, I was always quite taken when I lived in Europe by the absolute seriousness with which people at every party I went to broke themselves down into those who were driving and those who weren't, and those who were driving abstained totally. It is a totally normal, completely unstigmatized part of the culture.


Tidewater, Va.: I am 4 triper captain and command a SEAL Team. Yeah I know the rules and regs and have risked court martial to make sure my men can have beer or alcohol. Big difference between finishing classes on Thurs and getting plastered and having a few beers or drinks after a tough day in field training or getting ready to deploy. And there is no comparison after we come back from some god forsaken country with very restrictive alcohol laws, my men get a beer or drink no matter what their age. And it's my butt that will face the music; I have a paper trail to protect my subordinates.

And I have two kids in college, one at UVA and one at Cornell so I know what happens on a college campus. And yeah dad has supplied his kids with alcohol at college. Charge me ladies!

Marc Fisher: I'm not sure what it is you're so proud of--I think you're doing your men a real service in allowing them to drink moderately in a supervised setting as they're getting ready to deploy. I'm sure you're right that that is a great bonding experience, though I wonder how it undermines their sense of your authority and credibility since you are flaunting the law.

But I don't at all get why you think it's ok to supply your college kids with alcohol--they are in a completely different setting from your men in the military service. The college kids are not being asked to risk their lives; they are not in an adult setting with adult responsibilities. Rather, they are in a setting where, for better or worse, even in a post-in loco parentis era, they are just one step up from high school. Yes, they have much more independence, but they are still under the supervision of deans and campus police and fairly strict rules. Why is it good for you to undermine those efforts to create a peaceful community?


New York, N.Y.:"Where did you go to school?"

Oxford, then Harvard


Marc Fisher: Ok. Well, there's a novel in there somewhere.


New Orleans, La.: The reason drunk driving is less of an issue in Europe:

A: Cheap, functional public transportation B: Dense communities where many times you can walk from home C: In several countries, if you get caught driving while impaired, you lose your license. Period. Forever.

Marc Fisher: Right--and that's reproducible here in much of this country.


Re: the Amethyst Initiative : Sorry but "The Amethyst Initiative" sounds like an evil organization in a Bond movie intent on taking over the world.

Marc Fisher: It is a bad name. Or maybe I'm just colored by having shown "The Andromeda Strain" to my son the other day.


Brandeis University via Alexandria, Va.: It's exciting for me to see that some people are recognizing how our drinking age hurts young people way more than it helps them. I'll be starting my sophomore year in a week, and I just wanted to give the other chatters a real view of just how much college kids are drinking because our country won't allow them to buy their own drinks.

I've personally put away as many as five or six shots of hard liquor in under an hour, sometimes closer to half an hour. Stupid, I know. But I've seen much worse. I witnessed a beer 'power hour,' in which a floor of guys that I liked and sometimes even respected drank a shot of beer every minute for an hour, coming out to five beers. One of my friends threw up in a trash can during that event, and kept drinking. I've seen people carrying their own personal bottle of rum to parties and drinking half of it in a night. I've seen more people get picked up by EMTs for alcohol poisoning then I would have ever thought. I've seen friends throwing up in toilets, passing out, blacking out, all of it.

I spent a week in London during spring break with a friend from college, where we were of age to drink. Over the course of the week, the only time I had more than one drink was at a dinner with a family friend, when three of us split a bottle of wine. Allowing us to buy our own alcohol meant that we could drink with food, rather than just at parties where this is nothing to eat. It meant we had to consider the cost of alcohol more carefully, because we couldn't afford it. It meant that we weren't in this culture of binge drinking that evolved because my peers and I are expected to hide our drinking, even though everyone knows we drink. So why not put it in the open, where bartenders can cut us off, where we can't actually afford to drink to excess, where we don't have to get wasted before an event but can drink responsibly at the event like adults?

Marc Fisher: Pretty compelling testimonial.


Fairfax, Va.: I just graduated high school in Fairfax -- drinking permeated the social scene. Some members of my graduating class started drinking when they were as young as 12 or 13, and continued right up through, and some even during, graduation. We discuss the drinking age regularly; how it's ridiculous that while we can choose a president, we can't have a beer on July 4. We can fight in a war but can't relax with a drink.

The law creates a taboo that makes it not only more appealing to drink but also creates an underground scene, where those who drink drink to get drunk, because who knows when or where we'll get to drink again. We regularly vomit, pass out, black-out, make dumb choices and learn our limits (and then defy those limits). Then, we not only lie to our parents but since the drinking is usually done in places where we can't stay overnight (and since we usually drink to get wasted, we would like to crash), we also drive drunk, needing to get out of the party-house before the parents get home. We all have stories of the night we downed half a bottle of tequila in a half hour and ended up throwing up in the parking lot at the mall, or the Saturday we spent puking for 10 hours (likely because of alcohol poisoning) at our friend's house, because her parents weren't home and ours were.

Fake IDs also run rampant through the area; we get them and use them in 7-Elevens and convenience stores throughout the country. Or we "shoulder-tap," stand outside a grocery store or liquor store and ask the somewhat shady-looking guy if he'd be willing to be the four cute 18-year-old girls a handle or two, opening the door to potential danger.

A lower drinking age would not push alcohol abuse back to the high schools -- alcohol abuse is already evident in the high schools. If at 18 we were allowed to drink, we would be less tempted to do so at 16 or 17, and we would be more responsible. No one wants their parents to see them "shwasted" as we call it, and if we are taught to drink around our parents, taught how to appreciate fine alcohol instead of learning how to "shotgun a Natty light," we would perhaps reach that stage on much fewer occasions.

Marc Fisher: There are a lot more like this in the queue, but I wanted to post a representative sample--they're all pretty much the same, and collectively, they make a pretty strong argument for a different approach.

I'll come back to the drinking age issue in a few minutes, but first, a quick range around some other issues....


Fairfax County, Va.: Posting early, but lacking Howard Kurtz, you are my standard for journalistic professionalism. OMG, does the media no longer make sure a major public figure is dead before reporting it? The bizarre spectacle of Congresswoman Tubbs Jones being reported dead by multiple major news sources today, then reported NOT dead (but clearly gravely ill) was astonishing to me.

One theory: Would this have ever happened in a month other than August? Perhaps senior reporters are on vacation (or hunting for prospective vice presidents) and only the junior staffers are handling the news?

Marc Fisher: Thanks--Sadly, the premium in far too much of commercial journalism at this juncture is on speed almost above all else. We've been pretty firm at the Post about maintaining our standards, but it would be dishonest to say that we too don't feel the pressure to be first. Every reporter takes pride in getting a story first, but the far greater pride comes from being right. The many outlets that reported the congresswoman's death before it actually happened yesterday ought to be ashamed of themselves. Readers often complain when they see breaking news a few minutes or even an hour earlier on other sites than on the Post site; sometimes that's because we've legitimately been beaten on a story, but quite a bit of the time, it's because we are hanging back and making absolutely certain that we have the story. I think most of us here are quite happy to be second or even last in that kind of situation.


Downtown D.C.: Hi Marc: What bets are you going to place on whether Rhee gets her new labor contract through with the WTU? Most teachers I've talked to are among the younger set that supports it but I realize that's just who I know and NOT representative of the general union membership. Is it 50-50 at this point?

Marc Fisher: Hard to say. Rhee seemed fairly optimistic at a news conference I attended this morning, but she has a good poker face and it's hard to know how it's really going. The union is about as charged up against merit pay as I've ever seen them on anything, but of course, this is not a very popular or effective union. My gut is that Rhee's pay proposal would lose a vote right now....


Washington, D.C.: Hi Marc,

I know you were not a fan of the D.C. taxi meters, but I have been noticing an unintended benefit of the meters...cabbies now slow down and STOP at yellow/red lights instead of racing through intersections. Something the MPD could never have accomplished with enforcement!

Marc Fisher: Interesting--I haven't noticed that, but I do sense a more slothful driving style generally now that the drivers get paid for their time as well as distance. Once again, the passenger loses.


PG Police: Why is there not more reaction to the abominable conduct of the PG Police? The raid on the mayor of Berwyn Heights should have been condemned by every politician in PG County and the AG and Governor of Maryland. And this is by far the first time stuff like this has happened. I swear, if you live in PG County the police force there is a terrorist organization. You have more to fear from the PG police than al-Qaeda. Hyperbole? Which has done more damage to the county?

Marc Fisher: Well, if you view terrorism as a police issue, which I think is the most effective way to think about it, then you're certainly right that more people in Prince George's are affected by police wrongdoing than by terrorism, but the analogy isn't a very strong one. Whether or not it's worse than terrorism, the raid on the mayor's house was appalling.


Washington, D.C.: D.C. Republican here. The Republican Party has known of my existence for the better part of a decade, and I rarely get any mail from them related to fundraising/being active in the party or even from the few GOP candidates who run for office. Until this year.

In the last few weeks I've been getting multiple pieces of glossy mail, mainly from Carol Schwartz. Other mail is coming that speaks out against her, including one the other day from a PAC (I have received some pro-Patrick Mara stuff, but even his mailings are pretty evenly split between playing up his positives and playing up her negatives). Her stuff is a lot heavier on words, but what fascinates me is how her material includes (this is paraphrased) "if I lose in the primary, you won't see a Republican on the D.C. Council" because there will be Democrats who switch to run as independents. Which makes me wonder: If Mara ends up defeating her, would she become an Independent or a write-in candidate (or has the deadline passed)? There's a part of me that thinks she would do that. It's weird to be a D.C. Republican and actually have the opportunity to vote in an election in which my vote means something!

Marc Fisher: A real Republican primary, in the District of Columbia! Will wonders never cease? If Schwartz were to lose the primary, I expect she could and would mount an independent candidacy, just as Tony Williams did when he lost his place on the ballot in the 2002 Democratic primary because of fraudulent signatures on his petitions.


Bag Check: What's with checking bags at the museums on the mall? Why do they waste the time and money when they hardly even looked in my bag? The Air and Space Museum has an airport-like setup with e-ray machine and metal detector, but is that really necessary? Are museums really the target of terrorism?

Marc Fisher: Security hysteria. But it's not as silly as the practice of asking visitors for their ID as they enter office buildings, as if there were some ID cards that had TERRORIST stamped on them.


Washington, D.C.: Every morning I check the sources I know of for local news (extremely few), and I've noticed that The Post seems to have just two new local stories per day on its Web page, which I access by going to the local tab and then selecting D.C. Does that seem acceptable to you? I know The Post likes to say it is a local paper, but it's really not.

Marc Fisher: Many of us share your frustration about the lack of local content on the Washington home page of our web site. There are a few places you should check: There is a Metro home page on washingtonpost.com and you'll find a handful of additional local stories there. But to get the full local report that the Post produces every day, you should click on "Today's Paper" just to the right of the "washingtonpost.com" banner at the top of the home page--that will take you to lists of every single story in the paper, including the Page One and Metro section stories on local issues and events.


McLean, Va.: So the ICC corridor has no room for a bicycle-pedestrian path because of "environmental concerns"? I'd like to see a county spokesperson try to say that in public and maintain a straight face. What's the environmental concern? Will a path wipe out the Easter Bunny's burrow? Or Santa Claus' pied de terre?

Marc Fisher: Yes, a 10-foot wide bike path is a menace to the critters, but a six-lane superhighway is man's latest gift to nature.


John Kelly: Marc, please tell me that your fellow Metro columnist John Kelly is coming back to The Post soon! I know he left about a year ago for a fellowship at Oxford, is he coming back? You two are my favorite Post columnists. Thanks!

Marc Fisher: Yes, very, very soon--watch for his gala return, and a blog to boot!


Fairfax County, Va.: I completely agree with your article today in support of lowering the drinking age to 18. You are spot on in your description of normal, moderate social drinking in the old days versus massive, hidden binging today.

The highway death statistics can be argued, since such accidents were going down before the age changed. But even if we accept that there are fewer deaths on the highway, we are paying too high a price to save those lives at the expense of damaging a whole generation by encouraging secret drinking and routine law-breaking. I'm sure this encourages drug use as well, since that is now no more illegal than the drinking. Thanks a lot, MADD.

Drinking is part of our culture. It needs to be brought back into the sunlight. Prohibition didn't work the first time and it is not working now.

washingtonpost.com: On Campus, Legal Drinking Age Is Flunking the Reality Test ( Post, Aug. 21)

Marc Fisher: That seems to be the majority view here on the chat, and yes, we're back to the drinking age topic, by popular demand. But here's an opposing view....


Richmond, Va.: It seems to be a bit of throwing the baby out with the bath water. Oh, we have binge drinking, so let's LOWER the age. Doesn't that lower the age one starts considering drinking, lower one's resistance, thus increase binge drinking just at a lower age. It's like the speed limit, people will always go 10 miles over the limit whatever it is. People will always drink 3 years before the age limit, so if the lower the age limit, we're just making it look closer for 15-year-olds.

Marc Fisher: The slippery slide argument has some merit, of course. And high school administrators are likely to be apoplectic about what their college president colleagues are proposing. But if you buy the notion that the earlier you teach moderation, the better the life-long habits young people will pick up, then there ought not be so many worries about what happens to 16 and 17 year olds.


Anonymous: Are you dressed like Captain Morgan for this chat?

Marc Fisher: Good God--you can see through this here tube?


Arlington, Va.: People who are over 21 continue to get drunk and drink dangerously, despite that they're paying for their alcohol. Legalization will not fix every single problem with alcohol. In fact, the easier access to alcohol may create even more problems, whether or not people need to drive home.

Stories of casually sharing a bottle of wine with friends in a London flat are meaningless. I've been to London, too, and I've seen my fair share of drunks -- quite a few of them teenagers.

Marc Fisher: Absolutely right--no change of the age limit and no change of a law is going to eliminate or even come close to eliminating excessive drinking and other abusive behavior. We are talking about how to use the law to help shape--and to reflect--the culture. And if parents need a tool to help them teach moderation, then maybe a lower drinking age is that tool. And as President Mote of U of Maryland argues in my column today, the fact that the current law is so pervasively disobeyed cannot be good for the credibility of any of our institutions, so perhaps it makes sense to come up with a different, more honest approach.


Washington, D.C.: I'm a graduate of Middlebury College, where John McCardell, who is leading this discussion on considering a new drinking age was president. So I'm very familiar with his points, many of which I think are valid.

I believe we need a wholesale change in our approach to alcohol and alcohol use. Teens are not taught to drink responsibly in the U.S., alcohol is either treated as a sin or as an opportunity for total abdication of responsibility. Colleges can only provide so much education on this, it does rest with parents -- especially since a huge number of kids arrive at college already having begun drinking in high school. Anyone who argues otherwise has never been to a high school party, high school football game, or high school prom.

But more so, organizations like MADD need to separate alcohol use from alcohol abuse. Not everyone who drinks does so recklessly. So let's make reckless behavior much more of a serious action, with severe consequences. Drinking is not inherently bad, but drinking and driving is. So why are our DWI laws so lax? I'll never forget hearing a sophomore in college explain to his friends how easy it was to enter a diversion program, do a little community service, and be done with the DWI punishment.

It's time to build trust around this issue, and punish those who break the law -- just like we do with other criminal behavior. But let's be smarter about what we consider criminal.

Marc Fisher: Great post. Thanks.


Fake IDs also run rampant through the area; we get them and use them in 7-Elevens and convenience stores throughout the country. Or we "shoulder-tap," stand outside a grocery store or liquor store and ask the somewhat shady-looking guy if he'd be willing to be the four cute 18-year-old girls a handle: Like most kids, you think you invented that. Let me assure you WE did that too when WE were in high school when the drinking age was 18.

Marc Fisher: Unquestionably, wherever you set the drinking age, some folks younger than that will resort to whatever means they can to get and use alcohol. But is there a larger good to be had in creating a healthier environment for the 18-21-year-olds who we as a society have already accepted will indeed break the law in massive numbers?


D.C.: I grew up in Canada, and the province I lived in has a drinking age of 18 (there are a few with 19 as the age). I can say that there was a lot of drinking in high school, and the ability of people to drink at 18 did not mean they were well-behaved until the day they turned 18. There are a lot of parties with underage drinking and parents either looking the other way or not knowing, and fake IDs are desired up there too. So saying that simply lowering the age will solve the underage drinking problem or take away the temptation is not true, unfortunately.

Of course, I came down here at age 22 and found it strange to be watching people getting wasted legally for the first time at 21 (and getting sick afterwards). One of my housemates (19) asked to use my drivers' license to get into a bar. I told her no, because I didn't want to help her break the law and my driver's license was from another country (that made me popular!).

Long story short: 18, 19, 20, 21, or 80, it's the culture. You have to teach people how to handle alcohol properly.

Marc Fisher: Very good point. The law is almost always a lagging indicator. And there has been a shift in parental attitudes and expectations over the past few decades. I wrote a piece for the Post Magazine a couple of summers ago on toxic parents--those parents who aid and abet their kids in drinking because they want to be the cool moms and dads or because they believe that kids should learn how to party while they're still in high school. No law can overcome that kind of subversive and destructive parenting. (Though some states are trying by slamming those parents with very heavy fines for sponsoring parties with alcohol being served.)


Washington, D.C.: I've heard the argument that moving the drinking age to 18 will increase drinking by teens in high school. Two thoughts: (1) they are drinking anyway, and (2) at least they are still living with their parents (which allows monitoring, supervision, education, etc.) Moving the drinking age to 18 moves the drinking out in the open, where adults can monitor behavior and help demonstrate moderation.

And you might drink hard alcohol when you are underage because it is a lot easier to sneak a bottle of Jack than a case of beer, and to mask the alcohol by mixing it with soda or juice.

Marc Fisher: Both camps are right on this point: Yes, the lower drinking age will make life harder for high schools and yes, some even younger kids would drink earlier. But many, perhaps most, kids would get to start their drinking lives under adult supervision. It all comes down to the mix of parents and the wider social expectations, and that will vary according to each home and community.


Long Beach, Calif.: Re: Military tradition of alcohol abuse. A friend of mine told me this: his father fought in Korea. Their unit had just received cases of beer, got their notice to move out the same day, so the CO told them to drink all they could, cause it was gone tomorrow. That night they were attacked, all drunk, and my friend's dad, as a "runner" was ordered to get reinforcements, and upon return, he saw a full company of dead soldiers, men who died in the lowest of "military traditions". TRUE STORY... not good

Marc Fisher: Pretty horrific if true.


10th and Penn, NW: During debate over what eventually became (in 1971) the 26th Amendment to the Constitution, it was repeatedly stressed by supporters that, if one were old enough to be drafted and go fight for the USA, one should possess all the legal attributes of "adulthood." I, personally, would prefer to raise the voting age beck to 21. But that won't happen. One is either an adult or not. And if you are you shouldn't be barred from exercising the rights of adulthood.

Marc Fisher: We're really all over the board on what constitutes an adult--18 year olds can vote, serve on juries, die for their country, drive a car. But they can't drink. Doesn't really compute.


Chevy Chase, Md.: Binge drinking is just one of many symptoms of our over the top culture. Mega mansions, $250,000 weddings, $100,000 cars, high school proms that rival inaugural balls, Spring Break in foreign countries, granite countertops in crackerbox houses in Wheaton, etc. I trace all this to the kindergarten graduation -- an unnecessary, ridiculous manufactured rite of passage that kicked off our American obsession with making a BFD out of EVERYTHING. So why are we surprised that hs and college kids over do it when they drink? It's a logical progression.

Marc Fisher: Kindergarten graduation???? Wow, haven't run into that one yet. That's pretty grim. I though the notion of elementary school graduation was a pathetically entitled and grandiose spectacle.


washingtonpost.com: Are You a Toxic Parent? ( Post, July 30, 2006)


Silver Spring, Md.: The drinking age is 16 plus/minus. Most teenagers in the world start drinking at that age, sanctioned by parents, governments, etc. except the U.S. European countries do not experience a high incident of underage drinkers causing traffic fatalities as we do here. -old who was under the influence because of binge drinking. And that is just this area (VA, MD, DC.) The issue is to let them learn to drink responsibly and not prosecute parents who do that once a child reaches the age of sixteen by allowing them to have one - or two - glass(es) of wine with dinner. All the so-called education re drinking and driving is moot because with the current laws re drinking age, teens need to drive to get to the booze where and when it is available. Let them start drinking alcohol at 16, and they will learn how to drink responsibly.

Marc Fisher: Sixteen seems a bit on the young side, if only for adolescent health and brain development reasons, but you're right that drinking at that age is quite routine in much of the world.


Crystal City, Va.: Is getting to start your life drinking under adult supervision necessarily the solution? From absentee parents to nitwits that buy their kids booze for parties, it seems that relying on mom and dad to keep junior safe isn't necessarily the best idea.

Marc Fisher: Good point--it all depends on the parents, of course, and that's not a very reliably foundation given the people I met and learned about while reporting that toxic parents story (I think Rocci has posted a link to it...)


Richmond, Va.: That whole "old enough to fight for our country" argument loses it's punch since we no long have a draft.

Marc Fisher: Why should that make a difference? Those who enlist are risking their lives every bit as much as those who would be drafted. Just because they choose to serve doesn't change the fact that they have taken on adult responsibilities.


L' Enfant Plaza, D.C.: I say that 20 would be a good age. It would take a bit of the mystique out of "Hey, I can get drunk since no one's watching!" idea that a lot of kids have going into college.

Of course, at lot of those kids fail pretty miserably in college. I do think 18 is a little too young at least for purchases in a store. Maybe some kind of hybrid law where by you can't buy alcohol on your own until 20 but you can legally drink it at 18 when it's bought by someone else?

Marc Fisher: Interesting idea. I don't know that that would substantially change the availability of alcohol or the way in which kids decide how much to drink. If the theory behind a lower drinking age is right, then shouldn't the whole process then be as open as possible, to encourage as much adult presence as possible when young people are drinking?


Ivory Tower, Academia: Do you think these college presidents signing onto this plan to lower the drinking age will affect their ability to raise money for their academic institutions? In other words, will a president not get the same contribution from someone/organization who supports keeping the drinking age at 21?

It seems to me I could see a donor to one of these colleges who lost someone to a drunk driver be bitter about the college president wanting to lower the drinking age and thereby donate their money elsewhere instead of to a University that presses the easy button instead of trying to uphold one of the most studied and peer reviewed supported public health laws.

Marc Fisher: Good question--certainly President Mote seemed a bit nervous about the whole drinking age question when I spoke to him yesterday. He is adamant about the need to find some other approach to drinking questions, but he's feeling the political pressure to get back into line on the 21 limit. I wouldn't be surprised to see some backsliding on the part of some of those presidents who have signed the initiative.


Adamstown, Md.: As an alumnus of UMCP, I'm interested in how Dr. Mote got to the position he is taking. I currently have no specific opinion, but I am leaning toward lowering it to age 18. My reason being is that most everyone recognizes 18 as a legal adult. Thus we should leave the decision to them. My parents raised the three of us to be responsible. They had alcohol available at home in an unlocked cabinet, but neither I, nor to my knowledge, my siblings, ever took advantage. Other than two very minor underage circumstances...once a sip of beer and one whole wine cooler on high school graduation day, I did not touch alcohol again until months after I turned 21. Maybe I'm not the norm, but we need to leave it up to "adults", otherwise, recognize that they are not adults until 21.

Conversely, I understand MADD and other opposing positions. How can making it legal be the best thing? I don't know if it's the right answer, but I can say that I'm not sure 21 is either.

washingtonpost.com: On Campus, Legal Drinking Age Is Flunking the Reality Test ( Post, Aug. 21)

Marc Fisher: Mote got there by running a college that, like many others, has ginned up a breathtaking menu of anti-alcohol abuse campaigns and education efforts and treatment programs, all to very little effect. Both because heavy drinking diminishes students' ability to take part in the intellectual and extracurricular lives of the university, and because colleges face a huge potential liability from the violence and accidents caused by heavy drinking, Mote and his colleagues feel intense pressure to do something. And since everything they've tried hasn't worked, now they're looking, correctly I think, toward solutions in the broader society.


Anonymous: Is MADD for raising the driving age, voting age, gun ownership age to 21 because 18-year-olds are not mature enough?

Marc Fisher: Asked and answered.


Those who enlist are risking their lives every bit as much as those who would be drafted: But they weren't forced to. It isn't a case of being forced into a stressful life without being able to drink to relieve the stress. That was the argument, "you shipped me over here and won't even let me drink to dissipate the stress."

Marc Fisher: Sorry, I just don't see why it matters whether they were forced to go or not. When someone stands up and volunteers to risk his life for you, I don't think you then have the right to say, Oh, but you're just a child and you may not have a beer. If they are not mature enough to understand the risk they are taking with their lives, then they ought not be allowed to enlist in the military. But if they are permitted to enlist, then they should enjoy some of the privileges of adulthood as well.


Are the colleges really trying?: How many football players have been permanently expelled after doing something wrong under the influence? How many politically powerful fraternities have been permanently banned? It would be easy to affect drinking in college, but it would take ticking off powerful people who give lots of money to the schools.

Marc Fisher: It varies from school to school. Some are much tougher than others. Most really don't exert much pressure on how students conduct themselves; the days of colleges acting in the role of parents are long gone, and that sense of parental responsibility has been replaced, sadly, by a different and far less sophisticated or humane guiding force--the heavy hand of lawyers measuring liability.


Former Resident Hall Advisor: Please, let's bring the drinking down to 18. Not just because 21 is unenforceable, but because we already infantilize our kids too much and this is just another example. You will always have problem drinkers in all age ranges, but let's treat our kids like adults (fledging adults who need guidance, but adults) and give them the legal right to act that way. I came of age right when the age change happened and went from drinking beer with my fellow students openly in the student union to sneaking bottles of grain alcohol into the dorm.

Marc Fisher: And a couple more college voices...


Arlington, Va.: Marc,

As a former resident advisor in the dorms of a large public university, I can tell you that the legal drinking age does nothing but force 18-20 year olds to drink in private settings (dorm rooms, apartments, and houses) without any monitoring by bartenders or waitstaff. In addition, underage students are afraid of seeking help when things go wrong for fear of prosecution or expulsion. One night I found one of my residents passed out in the bathroom -- I later learned her friends didn't know what to do and were afraid of asking for help since they were drinking underage, so they placed her in the bathroom hoping someone would find her. Students are going to drink, so we should allow them to do so in public settings to encourage responsibility and enable them seek help when required without fear of prosecution or expulsion.

Marc Fisher: And a faculty member....


Akron, Ohio: As a social scientist, I am keenly aware that underage drinking is a response to the restrictions placed upon the civil rights of young adults in the United States. By attempting to enforce temperance and highway safety measures through age discrimination the Congress, under the influence of MADD (a morality-based special interest group), has attempted to treat the symptoms of alcoholism in the USA and not the underlying problem. Alcoholism is a medical disease that with parenting, nationwide education programs, counseling and medical treatment for those in need, can be managed and can reduce highway deaths and additional rates of addiction.

Marc Fisher: Interesting way of framing the debate...That gets back to my point at the start of the hour about de-linking the drinking age debate from the drunk driving problem. I think that's where we would find the seed of a solution, but only if this became a less politically taboo topic. The folks from MADD and the insurance companies are intent on stopping this debate cold--and I won't be surprised if they succeed. Do you see any sign of elected officials stepping out on this issue? I haven't heard word one from any of them on the need to lower the drinking age.


Prohibition worked?: Thing about prohibition is that it did accomplish the goal of reducing drinking. Yes, a lot of people still drank and the societal problems were legion. But I remember reading a study that found liver disease fell dramatically during the 20s and rose just as dramatically during the 30s. Lowering the drinking age would probably increase overall consumption. I have no idea about the level of binge drinking however.

Marc Fisher: Historians love to shove the pendulum back and forth in their reexamination of the past, and that's a good thing. We are now going into a period in which the long-accepted failure of Prohibition is being questioned and that's a great topic to pursue, but I think the evidence is still pretty compelling that Prohibition was a social and political failure because it sought to use the law as a bludgeon against the practices and private beliefs of the people, rather than as it should be used, as a mirror that is sometimes tweaked to edge people toward a better path.


Old City #1, D.C.:"When I was in college three decades ago, 18-year-olds could drink openly and legally and generally did so in public settings, including at cocktail parties with faculty members and at a college-run pub where professors and staffers mixed with students. The result -- of course, with plenty of extreme exceptions -- was that kids learned moderation. Nobody had to hide, and adults were around considerably more often when students were drinking."

Thank you, Marc, for summing this up in a rational, intelligent, succinct way. Now prepare yourself for the hordes of clueless "common sensical" types who will accuse you of wanting to kill teenagers...

Marc Fisher: Not too many of those today, really--but of course, they might be over at some MADD chat instead. My sense is that public opinion is very much split on this issue.


Laurel, Md.: I'm glad someone brought up speed limits.

Since the majority of people think "if they post 55, there's no problem if I go 65 as long as I drive as safely as someone else going 55;" then isn't it a pretty direct line to "21 doesn't have to mean 21, as long as I act like an adult about it."

Neither 55 or 21 is a magic number; so what's the non-arbitrary argument about shading it?

Marc Fisher: We accept a lot of shading in our legal system, and that's a good thing. But whereas most cops will tell you straight out that you're allowed a certain leeway over the speed limit, there is conversely a substantial body of policy that enforces the drinking laws to the letter, and that criminalizing of a behavior that we know is extremely widespread only serves to create deep cynicism.


Boston, Mass.: I think the biggest problem with the initiative is the fact that the presidents are ignoring the blatant negative ramifications of allowing 18-year-olds to legally drink. Some might say that if 18- year-olds are allowed to drink than the novelty of drinking will diminish and less private underage parties will occur. That may be the case eventually, but the initial reaction of teenagers will be to embrace their new freedom and most likely abuse it.

Drinking takes a lot of responsibility and smart decision making. I don't think that 18-year-olds are responsible enough to make the right decisions to protect their lives and the lives of others. I am very close to the age group in question and remember the types of conversations and irresponsible actions of my peers at 18. Legally drinking should not be an option. High school teachers and administrators already deal with underage drinking as well as many other issues facing teenagers.

Coming up with ideas on how to separate drunk driving from the legal drinking is key, but should not affect the legal drinking age. Thousands of lives have been saved already. Do we really want to jeopardize this by lowering the drinking age?

Marc Fisher: Good point about the transition--changing a law such as the drinking age could very well create a period of surging drinking and bingeing. But just because a change would be difficult doesn't mean it's not the right thing to do. I agree that drinking requires good judgment and responsibility, but that's not something that lands in your lap automatically at any particular birthday. So whatever arbitrary number we choose, the key is to encourage the drinking to take place in public settings with adult supervision.


Washington, D.C.: I'm not surprised that MADD is touting a survey that indicates that the majority of Americans are opposed to lowering the drinking age. What I'm surprised at is that this survey passed the laugh test, considering that it was done by Nationwide Insurance. That's akin to having Anheuser-Busch survey people about lowering the drinking age. On top of that, Nationwide and MADD are co-sponsoring a rally in D.C. in a few months. Look at the poll numbers on washingtonpost.com! Although decidedly not a scientific or statistically defensible survey, it does indicate widespread support for continuing the dialogue about lowering the drinking age. Kudos to the presidents for getting inspiring debate about this important issue.

Marc Fisher: A good rule in life is to ignore all polls and surveys conducted by corporations or advocacy groups that have a point of view or an oar in that particular body of water. And while you're at it, taking with a shaker full of salt any non-scientific, "just-for-fun" online surveys is a good idea too. We do them here on the site, but in the hope and expectation that readers will discern and take seriously the difference between a non-scientific survey like this one and a real, academically-sound poll like those conducted by our polling department.


The days of colleges acting in the role of parents are long : I'm not asking colleges to be parents. But if they want to reduce illegal drinking, they can simply by enforcing rules. Have minimum standards of behavior. That isn't being helicoptor parents, that's society in a microcosm.

Marc Fisher: Check out the aggressive enforcement regimen at the colleges that take this the most seriously. You'll be impressed by the reach and seriousness of purpose of the programs--and then depressed by their failure to make much of a dent in behavior.


Alexandria, Va.: Mr. Fisher, I wanted to applaud you for your stance in the drinking debate. As a fellow GW alum, I attended the school when the legal age was transitioning from 18 to 21 in D.C. What I experienced is that I could pretty much drink anywhere I wanted without ID, and could purchase alcohol at liquor stores as well. It was not a deterrent.

As someone who lost a dear friend during my college years in a alcohol-related accident, I am sensitive to the drunken driving issue. Except in this case, the driver who caused the crash was 21. We all know turning 21 does not saddened make a person a responsible driver. You are an adult at 18 in this country. If that is indeed the law, there should be no exceptions.

Marc Fisher: Just a couple more and then we have to wrap it up....


Arlington, Va.: Marc, one of the difficult elements of this issue is the passion in which people believe in and argue their side.

Do you think people will be able to calmly discuss this and look for a middle ground? Is their any room for compromise?

Marc Fisher: Hard to see much hope for that. I'd like to be surprised on that point, though.


Washington, D.C.: I wish some of the anti-drunk-driving campaigns would focus on the driving, in addition to the drinking. One of the reasons drunk driving became a problem in the first place is that lots of Americans started living (and working, and drinking) in places where you can only get around by car. There's an alternative: the traditional urban patterns of pre-war cities.

But look through, e.g., MADD's materials, and there's absolutely nothing about mixed-use development, or creating walkable communities, or promoting public transit, or other ideas that would offer alternatives to driving.

The world would be a better place if drinking were the commonplace activity and driving was the somewhat shameful activity that was only considered acceptable on occasion and in moderation, instead of the other way around, which is the vision that MADD promotes.

Marc Fisher: That would be an interesting and creative way to shift the conversation.


Hanover, N.H.: I've heard some arguments that the 25,000 lives that MADD claims have been saved due to changes in the drinking age could just as easily be attributed to improved automobile safety, such as air bags, greater use of seat belts, lighter cars, etc. Has anyone clarified these arguments one way or the other?

Marc Fisher: I don't think that would be very easy to tease out, but those other factors do indeed make sense.


Alexandria, Va.: Re: the drinking age, Ezra Klein has an excellent post on his blog: "This could point the way towards a grand new education policy scheme: Drinking age is 18...if you attain a college-worthy GPA. Otherwise, 21. Implement that and you'll blow those other, way lamer, educational attainment proposals out of the water."

Solves two problems -- binge drinking and poor overall male academic performance -- in one fell swoop! Beat that, "No Child Left Behind." Kidding aside, this actually could be quite the incentive.

Marc Fisher: Yikes, that's just what we need--more class division! You're thinking creatively, but I think there's probably more downside than upside to that one.


Baltimore, Md.: Colleges getting serious about underage drinking: Marc, if college presidents were really dedicated to cutting down underage drinking (which often equates to horrendous abuse of liquor) there's an easy answer: expulsion. Seriously, if students knew, going in, that the second time they were found drunk on or off campus they would be expelled, I bet drinking would fall precipitously. Imagine mom and dad finding out they had just blown tens of thousands on a year's tuition because Jason or Amber decided to have a dozen jello shooters and then wander around screaming at 2 a.m.

Draconian? Of course. But to cite an analogy, there is very, very little drunk driving in Sweden because the penalties are extremely severe, including fines in the thousands of dollars for a first offense.

Marc Fisher: Extreme disciplinary measures make sense when the offenders are at the fringes of behavior, but when the offense is as widespread as in this case, it's hard to see how that sort of regimen would work.


Columbia, Md.: Thanks for the excellent piece on lowering the drinking age. It will take more than lowering the drinking age to repair the state of drinking on college campuses. We live in a binge culture (we binge on food, gasoline, television). Parents need to step up and teach their kids about responsibility and moderation.

That said, I strongly support lowering the drinking age. Of course, I also think that the driving age should be 18 (I'd say 21 if I thought it was remotely realistic). I like the idea of a graduated drinking license -- 18 to buy beer, 20 to buy wine, 21 for liquor, etc.

I am in my early thirties and growing up, my parents allowed me to have wine and beer on special occasions and in moderation. I drank in college, but not to the extent that many of my peers did. I believe this is partially due to being raised to appreciate alcohol as something more than simply a fast track to intoxication.

My kids are young, but I intend to allow them to have beer and wine on special occasions. Maybe by the time they head away to college this won't be an issue. I'm not holding my breath...

Marc Fisher: Sounds like a reasonable approach, and one that too many parents seem unable to restrict themselves to. It's one thing to teach your kids responsible drinking at home in the privacy of the family, and it's something entirely different to take those choices out to a wider circle of those kids' friends and schoolmates--that's where far too many parents go off the rails.


Herndon, Va.: Marc, On PBS's NewsHour on Tuesday, a guest stated that a very high percentage -- 75 percent? -- of students who were underage drinkers in college had already been drinking in high school. Given the implicit argument, 'If the drinking age is 21, kids will drink at 18, so we should lower the drinking age' are you concerned that lowering the drinking age to 18 would increase the alcohol consumption of even younger teenagers?

Research may be divided on the merits of the 21 drinking age, but I believe it has shown that the brain does not finish developing until into the mid-20s, which prompts the question, Why do we want to even give the appearance of encouraging younger people to drink?

Marc Fisher: The question then is whether lowering the drinking age is really encouraging kids to drink, or actually might send the opposite message in the long run--that drinking in moderation is just one more adult privilege that has to be learned and mastered. The existence of the right to vote is not coercive--it presents young people with the fact that they will be working participants in a democracy and it tells them that they need to get ready for that responsibility. Most young people don't vote; that's not good (or necessarily bad), but it does reflect that the granting of a right is not necessarily encouragement to take part or to abuse that right.


Marc Fisher: That has to kick things in the head for today. Thanks very much for coming along and joining in a lively discussion--we'll try to get to a wider array of topics next week, though coming at the height of the political conventions, I can imagine what we may be talking about....

Thanks again, and write if you get work.


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