Entry from July 3, 2002

Lloyd Grove of the Washington Post’s “Reliable Source” column reports that the Bush twins, Jenna and Barbara, were spotted at Stetson’s, a Washington bar, “sucking down Budweisers and chain-smoking cigarettes with a group of friends till well past midnight.” No doubt Mr Grove is proud of himself for performing a public service in conveying this essential information to a larger public. What, after all, are newspapers for? But even he could not quite get up the bogus indignation required by such public-spirited informants on these occasions. “Witnesses said Jenna and Barbara, who were with half a dozen friends, had no visible security,” he wrote, “and a source sympathetic to them told us it’s understandable why they’d want to down beers in a bar: ‘They’re college students on summer break. It’s hot outside. Duh!’”

Duh indeed! That college students drink is one of those universal truths that are only shocking to those who don’t mind looking ridiculous — like gossip columnists, for instance. That they are officially not permitted to drink in spite of this fact is entirely the result of our tenderness towards the feelings of those whose children have killed themselves with drink, usually by drinking and driving. They seek as a consolation for their loss to impose on all college students this ridiculous restriction — that they must break the law in order to drink — on the pretext that they are doing it for the sake of those who might otherwise end up as their children have ended up.

Though all sympathy is due to such people, less is owed to the morbidly sensitive legislators who, in deference to their understandable wishes, have used the threat of withdrawing federal highway money to prevent the states from returning the drinking age to 18 where it belongs. For though we have a duty to the dead, it does not supersede our duty to the living, which is to treat adults as adults, even if they may abuse the responsibilities that go with adulthood. It’s true that the graphs, if they could be plotted, of the onset of emotional maturity and of the age at which people are first put in charge of potentially lethal machines are moving in opposite directions. But it is no answer to this problem to delay emotional maturity even further by treating college students and others over 18 as if they were still in elementary school.


Every now and then one is brought up short by the New York Times and its breathtaking ability to offer up Stalinist assumptions as if they were mere commonplaces. In describing the row that recently broke out when several conservatives withdrew from participation in a symposium on the 100th anniversary of the birth of the Sidney Hook because the academic rapper, Cornel West, had been invited to attend, Emily Eakin wrote in the Times that

the conference would be the first major posthumous assessment of the philosopher, whose intellectual contributions have been overshadowed by his controversial politics. A protégé of John Dewey who distinguished himself early in his career with an important study of Karl Marx, Hook became increasingly disenchanted with the left, emerging after World War II as an ardent anti-Stalinist and hard-line cold warrior. Hook”s reputation as a turncoat was cemented in 1985, four years before he died, when Ronald Reagan awarded him the nation”s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Of course, one expects that “ardent anti-Stalinist” and “hard-line cold warrior” will be treated as near-equivalents, but for both to be treated as essentially in apposition with a “reputation as a turncoat” is remarkable even for the Times. A reputation among whom? Ordinary Americans? New Yorkers? Readers of the New York Times? Employees of the New York Times? Which group, I wonder, is most likely to believe that being “anti-Stalinist” is tantamount to being a “turncoat”?

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