Today, we consider "the drinking age," and whether it is better to make the District's 18-year-olds wait another 1,095 days before they can get drunk legally.
We arrive at this question not because 21-year-olds get less drunk than 18-year-olds, but because the federal government has threatened to take away the city's highway funds if the drinking age is not raised.
The matter will be debated this morning in hearings before the Senate Appropriations subcommittee on the District, and it comes not because of an increase in District 18-year-olds driving drunk but because of a continuing problem with suburban 18-year-olds coming into the District to drink and then returning to the suburbs drunk.
District residents are being asked to raise the drinking age to conform with the standards in Maryland and Virginia. We are being asked to prohibit the sale of liquor to our 18-year-olds, who are old enough to vote, get married and fight wars, because young people of other jurisdictions have not demonstrated the maturity and the responsibility of being of an adult age.
We are asked to believe that by raising the drinking age, we would curb the drinking tendencies of young people. Even though we know better.
When it comes to alcohol traffic fatalities, we should be looking at those drivers between the ages of 25 and 35 who work in the city, go to "happy hour" until the rush hour passes, and then drive home.
But no one, not a soul, will suggest that the drinking age should be raised to 65.
Personally, I think that as long as there are restrictions on drinking for some but not for others, it will be possible for everybody who wants a drink to get one.
While the new age requirement would hurt bar and disco owners, liquor store owners know that kids who want to drink can stand outside the door until a 21-year-old comes by. And if they really want to get "high," there are other places where their money will work just as well.
Not only that, they can still raid their parents' liquor cabinets.
One way to really put a dent in this alcohol business is to force all 10-year-olds to drink Wild Turkey with their Castor Oil until they throw up. It would take more than 10 years before they ever wanted to smell the stuff again. But this is something parents ought to handle.
As it stands now, the government is making the rules, so our choices are necessarily limited. We must play politics.
And Frank Wolf, the Republican representative from Virginia, plays hard. He says, "The District is the only place on the East Coast that has not acted to protect its young people."
D.C. Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) fired back admirably when he said, "Whatever the experiences of Maryland and Virginia and the rest of the nation, the irrefutable evidence is that our young adult drivers commit a disproportionately low share of alcohol-related traffic offenses."
But Wolf continues:
"It is also significant that the District is visited every year by many thousands of high school students and other young people. Since the District is one of the few places in the country where teens can buy alcohol, those who come here on class trips, internships and other purposes are unnecessarily at risk."
This is not true. But since we want to be friends with the Virginians -- in fact, want them to be neighborly and not try to take back the land on which our prison sits -- then we can play along.
Even though we know that drunk driving is as much a problem among people like politicians and adult commuters as among teen-agers, raising the drinking age owuld give the appearance of caring about the welfare of suburban kids.
This could be helpful down the road as we try to make peace with Virginia over Lorton Reformatory, not to mention getting those federal funds needed to fix those darn potholes.
Maybe we can get around to dealing with the problems of alcohol abuse, as it affects drivers -- old and young -- at some other time.