Drinking and voting

I will always remember the day I turned 22.

It was the birthday I realized my age did not limit me. I didn't go out to the bars nor did I get hammered with friends at home. There was nothing special about this birthday. I had been able to drink for a whole year. The only indulgence I allowed myself was a six-pack.

As I walked up to the checkout with my six-pack, I kept looking around. I felt guilty. I wondered if anyone was going to question my age. I checked my back pocket to make sure my wallet was there. I pulled my wallet out twice to make sure my ID was in place. I felt as though I was breaking the law. I feel this way every time I buy alcohol.

This paranoia stems from my fear of being caught with alcohol as a minor. Most 21- and 22-year-olds revel in drinking alcohol because they still experience the psychological elation they got from underage drinking. America's taboo of liquor drives us to love and hate alcohol. Why is that?

America expects its youth to accept responsibility and grow up in increments. Sixteen is the first big step, when we begin to drive. Automotive capability is the lifeline of Western independence. With a car, we can drive to other responsibilities: jobs, relationships and citizenship.

Next is 18. High school is over, we can go on to pay for further school or start a career. We are deemed citizens. We can vote, smoke and gamble. We may also buy pornography, but that is our own prerogative. We can elect the man who sends us into war, commit suicide with tobacco, and waste our money in hopes of never working again. But we cannot get drunk.

The highest responsibility we have is citizenship. Our country treats alcohol as our highest responsibility. This focus on alcohol intensifies our relationship with alcohol and distracts the importance of citizen participation in politics.

I am not saying minors should drink alcohol, but that the last responsibility we earn should be our citizenship. The last responsibility we earn will be the one we are most earnest about attaining. The voting limit was 21, until 1971. We lowered the voting age because 18-year-olds were drafted into the Vietnam War. These brave men were young enough to die for our country but not old enough to elect the man who sent them to war. Everyone thought lowering the voting age would change the country; hundreds of thousands of new votes were created.

But, this demographic has yet to impact our politics. What can explain the lack of political fervor throughout the young voting population? Eighteen is not a mature enough age to decisively choose anything.

So why is the drinking age 21 and not 18? Eighteen is a very impressionable age. Young men and women should be protected from the possibility of becoming an alcoholic. However, our government should also protect our young men and women from crippling psychological problems post-war stress disorders create. If our country developed the same strength of taboo around voting as it does alcohol, the voting public would not consist of half the country. If our country created more pressure on voting, I would be worrying about which bill to vote for than which beer gives me less indigestion.

is a graduate of Southern Oregon University with a degree in English. He lives in Ashland with his fianc&


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