»  National Review Online

June 5th, 2001

  The Demon Rum


Oh! that each fair girl in our abstinence band
Would say: "I'll ne'er give my heart or my hand
Unto one who I ever had reason to think
Would taste one small drop of the vile, cursed drink;"
But say, when you are wooed, "I'm a foe to the wine,
And the lips that touch liquor shall never touch mine."

The fuss over the Bush gals trying to buy booze with fake i.d.s has shed some interesting light on the current state of our morality. I did not know, for example, until these stories came out, that there is now nowhere in the U.S. that a person can buy alcoholic drinks before 21 years of age. This is amazing, when you think about it. Even more amazing, there are moves afoot to raise the age to 24, nationwide. (Tenth Amendment? 'Scuse me while I fall down laughing.)

To see what I mean, consider the things we do let people do before age 21. We let them drive, vote, marry, enter into contracts, run up lines of credit, start businesses, buy shares, scuba dive, skydive, fight for their country, own firearms, declare themselves "gay," and have abortions without parental consent. In fact, we let them do anything at all. At age 18, Americans are adults … who may not buy a drink for three more years.

I'm going to show my colors right away here: I think this is ridiculous. No, that doesn't quite express what I think. Let me try again: I think this is GIBBERING LUNACY. A drink, for goodness' sake! However did we get so damn prissy? America used to be famous for drinking. Visitors to this country in the 1950s reported with awe on the quantities of alcohol Americans disposed of daily. Working men would think nothing of slipping out of the house after dinner to put away fifteen or twenty beers in the neighborhood bar. Middle-class folk drank gin by the tankard: a couple of martinis after work to relax you, a couple more before dinner, a couple more after dinner … Drunkenness was regarded as a harmless, faintly comical side-effect of an essential social pastime. This was not long ago: Dean Martin was doing his lush act, to laughter and applause, well into the 1980s. What happened? The answer is, of course, that PC happened, run-amok trial lawyers happened, and the Boomer Imperium happened.

Especially that last. When you look at the state of modern morality, it's hard to avoid the impression that it's a sort of photographic negative of the morality of the 1950s. Back then, well-nigh everyone smoked and drank. The great majority of citizens thought that sexual promiscuity was shameful, that abortion was a form of murder, that homosexuals were pathetic freaks, that bastardy was a disgrace and that black people were morally inferior to whites. The people who believed those things were of course the parents of the boomers. In the great meritocratic wave that followed WW2, the boomers got themselves college educations, and came to look down on their parents and all the things their parents believed.

Of course, no high-spirited young person, in any age, has ever wanted anything to do with his parents' tastes or values; but this was generally just a passing phase. With the boomers, it is an entire ideology. Our parents smoked and drank: we shall stamp out smoking and drinking. Our parents deplored promiscuity: we'll make it the dominant theme of prime-time TV. Our parents thought it a disgrace to bear a child out of wedlock, or catch a venereal disease: now movie and pop-music stars display their bastards with pride, and when some basketball player gets VD, it is taken as a sign of divine grace. Our parents looked down on black people; we'll put them on a fast track to jobs, college admissions, government contracts. Our parents thought abortion should be a crime; we'll make it available over the counter at K-Mart. Our parents thought homosexuals were freaks; we'll make movies (American Beauty) in which they are the only well-adjusted characters. Good, bad, or just plain silly: whatever — so long as it's the opposite of what Mom and Dad thought.

The particular animus against alcohol is clothed in the mantle of "safety." If you take several drinks, one after another, you might fall down and hurt yourself. Worse yet, you might get in your car, drive away at speed, and kill my kid. Younger people are more likely to do this than older people. So let's stop young people drinking. The notion that there might be other approaches — make drunk-driving a lock-up felony, for example — seems not to be considered. The kind of people in charge here are not the type to contemplate indirect methods. It's bad; it might harm someone; ban it. We've seen all this with tobacco, of course, where the crusade has long since left the domain of reason and disappeared into a realm of sheer cackling insanity. In New York City, they now want to ban smoking in parks.

America's 200-year cultural war between, on the one hand, the thin-lipped, snooping, prohibiting, intolerant rooters-out of heresy and impurity that arrived on the Mayflower, and on the other hand the wild, fighting, drinking, smoking, shooting, Who's-your-master?-He-hasn't-been-born-yet! Scotch-Irish of the frontier has at last been won, by the Puritans. Sure, they're puritanical about a whole different set of things nowadays — the "A" for "adultery" brand is now an "R" for "racism" or "H" for "homophobia" — but the prim, persecuting, purifying cast of thought is all too plain to see.

My local newspaper, the far-left Long Island Newsday, ran a gushing story on Sunday about a "gay prom" to be held at a local country club. Around 200 "gay and lesbian, transgendered and bisexual" students from high schools — high schools! — all over Long Island will be dancing under the disco ball. "I'm proud of it," says sophomore Frank, 16 years old. "I have an incredible sense of pride and accomplishment." Pride and accomplishment, like he swam the goddam Hellespont. Newsday hastens to reassure us, though, that only non-alcoholic beverages will be served. Oh, that's all right, then.

Christ, I need a drink.