Scott Cavanagh
Freelance Writing, Editing and Photography

Bullying Politics Infringe on Personal Freedoms

Reprinted from Columbus Wired
November 1, 2000

While thumbing through my morning Dispatch the other day, I read that President Clinton had signed legislation requiring states to adopt the .08 blood alcohol level reading for drunk drivers or face the forfeiture of millions of dollars in federal road funds.

The measure continues a modern tradition of political blackmail in the name of public safety, while ignoring that fact that only 19 states have voluntarily adopted the lower standard.

While the president and other proponents of the measure probably have my best interests at heart, I'm not sure I want them caring about me quite so much.

Clinton's strong-arm move is nothing new. Back in the mid-80's Ronald Reagan dangled much-needed federal highway funds in front of every state that had not adopted the 21-and-over law for legal drinking. His message? Mothers Against Drunk Driving and other zealots are behind this measure - therefore it's either my way or no highways.

We live in a society that wants to treat children as criminals in court at the age of 12 because they should "know better," yet we tell 19-year olds that work, pay taxes and serve dangerous stints in the military that they are not old enough or responsible enough to drink a beer. They can take a bullet at 17, but they can't take a shot till 21. Great logic.

What has the 21 law accomplished? As anyone living in the University District knows, kids are doing more partying than ever - but now they're doing it in street parties that destroy neighborhoods instead of legally drinking in once-thriving campus bars and clubs. According to a survey by the American Institute of Substance Abuse, the illegality of beer for 18-20 year olds has helped increase the use of marijuana and party drugs like Ecstasy nearly three-fold. In addition, the few unfortunate kids who get caught breaking these laws are strapped with legal fees and a rap sheet for engaging in the same behavior their parents and grandparents reveled in. Other generations were having fun. Today's kids are criminals.

Now we take a legal act - social drinking - and slowly criminalize it. Is .08 safer than .09? Probably so, but .06 is safer, and .04 safer still. Where do we draw the line?

Anyone following these types of measures knows who sponsors them: zealots. Allowing MADD mothers who have lost children to drunk drivers to make alcohol policy is like letting parents that have lost sons to war decide whether we ever take military action again.

Their goal is obvious - no driving after drinking anything - period. Personally, I'd find an honest position like that less bothersome, because it would at least make sense, but when we have bars and restaurants on every corner, with absolutely no walkers, we don't have a system of justice. What we have is a random crapshoot where the poor sap who moves his wheel when he sneezes gets pulled over and treated like a serial killer, while the regular drinker who drives home every night does so for the 50th consecutive evening.

When the big drinker does get caught, he's out driving right way anyhow - just check the percentage of drunk-driving cases involving repeat offenders. Drunks who endanger lives are not blowing .09's on their breathalyzers.

But yes they are- say the safety disciples. Any alcohol changes body chemistry and impairs reflexes. But how good do reflexes have to be in order to drive? How about truckers who drive all night? Are we stopping them to check reaction time and reflexes? Are the reflexes of an 80-year-old with bad sight better than a 30-year-old with a .09? Should we take away these folks' privileges or send them to jail? It would save lives. So would lowering the national speed limit to 35.

This legislation is not about what is safe and what isn't. It's about zealots and social engineering for our own safety. Did we ride bikes without helmets as kids? Of course. Today you're a bad parent if your kid isn't dressed in full body armor for every physical activity. Take your dog for a ride in the car? Make sure he has a doggie seatbelt on! Enough is enough.

If MADD and other concerned groups want to end drinking, they should push for another prohibition. Otherwise they need to discontinue this bogus attempt to punish the casual drinker in a country where eight million people walk around every day under the influence of mind-altering drugs prescribed like candy by the doctor.

The only thing we need protection from are overzealous legislators who want to make themselves look good in the eyes of "concerned" special interest groups while chopping away at our personal freedoms.

Scott Cavanagh is News Director and Managing Editor of Columbus Wired.

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