With skyrocketing COVID-19 numbers attributed in part to the return of college students on Iowa campuses, Gov. Kim Reynolds last week ordered bars to close in several Iowa counties. New cases are concentrated in the young adult age group, and bar owners near the University of Iowa campus were criticized for not following coronavirus precautions.
But the “real” residents of Iowa City — you know, older folks who pay property taxes, not those rowdy young people living downtown — are mad that COVID is interfering with their cocktail hours.
At a news conference this week, Reynolds was asked about the possibility of increasing the legal drinking age, at the suggestion of Iowa bar and restaurant owners. Reynolds didn’t rule it out.
“We’re gonna try this first. … It’s been a horrible year, and nobody understands that more than I do,” Reynolds said on Wednesday.
It’s not just about the booze. Reynolds’ apparent openness to hiking the drinking age exposes the fundamental insincerity of the administration’s pandemic response.
“Personal responsibility” has been the governor’s refrain throughout the coronavirus pandemic. She’s asked Iowans to “do the right thing,” even when the wrong thing is legal. She says she’s not interested in imposing a mask mandate, because it would be difficult to enforce.
I’m sympathetic to Reynolds’ reluctance. Whenever I write about coronavirus regulations, it’s with a mind toward the difficulties of enforcement. Even as our nation reflects on its rampant over-policing, I constantly lament, people are calling for more restrictions without workable enforcement strategies.
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But if Reynolds really believes in personal responsibility, how could she even entertain the idea of taking away young adults’ right to drink booze? And if a mask mandate is unenforceable, what about drinking age?
Besides the speed limit, the drinking age might be the one law Americans take the least shame in breaking. Imbibing before the legal age is not only acceptable, it’s sometimes seen as a rite of passage. Even the squares and the old fuddy-duddies, who would never touch other illegal substances, will readily and fondly recall the alcohol-fueled revelries of their youth.
Almost 60 percent of U.S. teens try alcohol before they turn 18, and more than 10 percent of the nation’s alcohol is consumed by underage drinkers, according to the federal government.
The point is, every American knows the drinking age is unenforceable. That includes the governor, who has publicly discussed her battle against alcoholism.
While we’re at it, I have to point out that Reynolds is staunchly opposed to any kind of meaningful drug reform, even though drug laws are notoriously unenforceable — the harder the drug war rages, the more drugs Americans seem to do. She’s not receptive to decriminalization or even a real medical cannabis program, putting Iowa behind the vast majority of states.
Iowans ages 18 to 20 this year lost their right to purchase tobacco products under policies enacted by Reynolds and President Donald Trump. Soon, Reynolds may threaten 22- and 23-year-old Iowans with a similar clawing back of rights. It’s all brought to you by the party of personal responsibility.
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