Yeah-ya, I was. Can you imagine? I’m not a resident of Burlington, but I was in town having coffee, enjoying the sunshine, you know, and it was a bit chilly out, not much was happening and that gave me time to consider carefully a movement underway in the State Legislature. It seems the former president of Middlebury College wants to change the drinking age in the state from 21 to 18. I don’t like that idea. I think it’s a bad idea. In fact, I think it’s such a bad idea that I’d really like to punch John McCardell in the nose just to watch it bleed. It seems he is not only former president of Middlebury College, he is also founder of a group called Choose Responsibility.
Sounds repelican doesn’t it.
Too bad they can’t adhere to their own goddamned advice.
Why would such an issue bring me to the Burlington Mayor’s office? The explanation is really quite simple. Burlington as a community will be the first affected by such a change in policy. There is a certain, what they call “Town / Gown” friction that exists between the residents of Burlington and the high concentration of college students in the area; students of such prestigious institutions as UVM and St. Mikes, along with several other lesser known monoliths of ivory. Much of that tension has a direct relationship with alcohol consumption. Both the City of Burlington and the University of Vermont have a vested interest in the maintenance of a certain level of tranquility between these two subgroups of the area demographic, and it seems that should make them natural allies in an effort to defeat this utter nonsense parading behind a label of responsible choice. In addition, all three representatives of the state at the federal level have both offices, and I presume some close connections, to Burlington. Our junior Senator, Bernie Sanders, began his political career in that very same Mayor’s office, and I am quite certain he is intimate with the issue of friction generated in the Burlington community by late night college binges.
So I thought I would stop by and see what the current Mayor had to say.
He wasn’t in. In fact, the office was nearly empty. Not quite, and that means that I did get to speak with an assistant to the Mayor of some kind, a gentleman whose name I have now forgotten. We did introduce ourselves, and had a pleasant chat for a few minutes. It seems he hadn’t heard of this issue, though it was announced on the evening news Thursday and in the Burlington Free Press on Friday morning that John McCardell had appeared before the State Legislature to discuss the topic.
The conversation was brief, pleasant, and he thanked me for bringing this to his attention when someone else walked in and stood some distance behind me. Perhaps I’m a bit oversensitive but it seemed to me that shortly after that he became a bit nervous, and anxious to have me out of the office, perhaps even out of the building. Seems a shame really, after all, until that point we had been having such a pleasant chat - and so naturally my imagination conjures images of the man behind me, using non-verbal communication skills, to indicate to the gentleman with whom I was conversing that I’m a whack job, coo-koo, lun-a-tic, and quite possibly armed and dangerous . . .
Well why not. After all, I am a whack job, and one need search no further for proof of that fact than this mass of verbiage before you today.
Ah well. So much for my venture to the Mayor’s Office.
One may be tempted to inquire just why it is that I find this issue so inflames my sensitivities. I would be tempted to ask the same of that nitwit McCardell. The evening news did indicate that he was a passionate advocate before the legislative body. “Are we a nation of outlaws?” he did implore his audience. This hardly seems an adequate defense of his view that we should lower the drinking age from 21 to 18. He seems to suggest that by reducing the drinking age we will eliminate altogether any form of illegal experimentation with the fruit of Bacchus. Bacchus it should be recalled is that ancient figurehead of wine, and of drama, and of orgiastic, irrational fertility.
Never mind that five of my friends were involved in a horrific accident in a VW on the eve of high school graduation many, many years ago. Never mind, for they all, by some miracle or twist of fate, did survive. It is not this that tempts me to fits of rage over this issue. Not at all. Rather, it is the utter certainty that a reduction in the drinking age from 21 to 18 will increase the availability of alcohol to the entire high school population, and not just at graduation. This cannot be without consequence.
Changing the law will not eliminate the problem, it will simply change the demographic.
Obviously, as a former head of such a prestigious university as Middlebury College, McCardell is not a complete moron, on the contrary. In fact we must presume, that after having received a salary of six figures in that occupation, the man is not only not a moron, but rather that he is a man of substance; a man of property and possessing a stock portfolio of some note. While I am most anxious to review what that portfolio might contain and whether or not any of his interests are financially entwined with the outcome of this legislation, it must be seen that any inquiry along these lines can hardly explain his apparent passion on the issue.
After all, if financial considerations alone were sufficient to arouse his emotions then surely he would not have entered the field of education at all, but rather would have become ensconced on Wall Street, where he would have no doubt learned to keep his passions to himself.
Perhaps the man’s passions lie more along the lines of drunken co-ed freshmen, but who can say? In any case, the man was astute enough to found a non-profit dedicated to the issue, and has now presented his case before the legislature at a time when tax revenue has fallen sharply, creating difficult budgetary decisions; and so while the man may be a nitwit, we cannot comfort ourselves with the thought that he is simply a dimwit. And someone, McCardell or someone else, has presented a couple of other related legislative issues before that August body. One is a measure seeking a federal exemption to states who lower the drinking age; current law allows the withholding of ten percent of the federal highway funds, and thus an exemption would permit the state to retain something like $27 million in federal funds for highway projects. The other is the consideration of a new penalty for DUI, and that is the installation in the offender’s vehicle of a breathalyzer tied into the ignition. Failure to pass the breath test results in a vehicle that won’t start.
Not a bad idea that, but it does leave me with a question, and that is: How difficult is it for the average drunk to bypass the system with a pair of wire cutters and some electrical tape? Or better still, get his eight year old to take the test for him? I digress . . .
Friday’s paper also notes that the governor’s plan for State spending on higher education is set to increase by $5.5 million, or roughly %5.8. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that investing in education is a wise choice; and yet in this case it seems to smell of pay off. It seems that neither UVM nor its president Dan Fogel are in position to advocate in their own interest on this matter, given an increase in state funding. An increase at a time when every other single area of government spending is in decline - if not simply cut altogether.
And now it seems I don’t want to punch McCardell in the nose at all. Rather I want to cut off his head with an ax, mount it on a post, and use it for target practice - with a shotgun - and then post the video on YouTube; in protest of what now appears to be a done deal.
But how? How can this be? How can a man, one who is well educated and who has dedicated his life to the cause of education; one who, it must be presumed, has had ample opportunity to witness the differences in maturity levels between 17, 19, and 21 year olds; how can such a man justify the sacrifice of a random selection of the high school aged population on the state’s highways - in the interest of increased tax revenue?
For let there be no doubt, that is what this is - human sacrifice. The statistics, I believe, make that quite clear.
Perhaps it is not the illegal consumption of alcohol behind a locked dorm room door that so concerns this former university president, but rather the inherent danger of international travel in an era of terror by co-eds during spring break seeking the pleasures of Bacchus wherever it may be lawful to do so. If by some strange chance this should prove to be the case, then let me recommend another course of advocacy. Let me suggest an examination of the growth and spread of social unrest in the face of bad government policy . . .
and public corruption.
© D. Winter
January 23, 2010