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Opening Arguments

A fair shot

Alaska State Rep. and Vietnam veteran Bob Lynn wants to lower the drinking age from 21 to 18 for active-duty service members, using the rationale that "if you can get shot at, you can have a shot." Should Republicans get on that particualr bandwagon?

Republicans are supposed to stand for limited government, freedom and federalism, but it was under a Republican administration—and a Republican transportation secretary, Elizabeth Dole—that states were forced to raise their age limits or face financial penalties. That was before the tea party, though. Perhaps today, when Republican leaders across the board are singing the praises of limited government, it is time for them to put their money where their mouths are and support an end to the federal drinking-age mandate.

And if arguments based on fairness and principle aren’t enough, perhaps one based on politics will do the trick: This will get votes.

Democrats traditionally do well with the youth vote, and one reason is that they have been successful in portraying Republicans as fuddy-duddies who want to hold young people down.

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Republicans are supposed to be against mandates aimed at the states, so this would demonstrate consistency. Second, it’s a pro-freedom move that younger voters—not yet confronted with the impact of, say, the capital-gains tax—can appreciate on a personal level. Third, it puts the Democrats in the position of having either to support the end of a federal mandate — something they tend to reflexively oppose — or to look like a bunch of old fuddy-duddies themselves.

The "old enough to die for my country" argument would have been even stronger in my youth when young men could be drafted and sent off to fight for their country against their will: Hey, kid, go stand over there with this target on your chest, and by God you'd better be sober, too. But I think it's still valid today.

But speaking of fairness, I'm not sure about applying it only to active-duty military members. When they turn 18, young people are out of high school and have the adult responsibility of deciding what to do with the rest of their lives, whether to immediately go to work or spend four years in college (or a few years in the military) instead. That seems like a better drinking-start age than 21, which for some arbitrary reason we have taken to thinking of as adulthood's start. Why not 20, when the teens are left behind?