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The Bush twins, drinking and me

By Kimberley Jane Wilson
web posted June 18, 2001

I stopped by my local news stand yesterday and saw a copy of People Magazine prominently displayed by the cash register. Normally I don't notice People because puff pieces on the latest "hot" new celebrity don't interest me at all. But this time, something caught my eyes. Jenna and Barbara Bush, President George Bush's twin daughters were on the cover. The feature article was a real hang wringer piece. Apparently Jenna Bush was caught trying to order a margarita. Could some one please tell me why this is news? I guess the editors at People live in a wonderland were college students don't drink.

U.S. President George W. Bush's daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna at the Inauguration celebration January 20, 2001
U.S. President George W. Bush's daughters Barbara (L) and Jenna at the Inauguration celebration January 20, 2001

I won't get into how unfair this coverage of the Bush twins is, after all the media didn't go into a frenzy every time former Vice President Al Gore's kids got into trouble and they refused to print some of the less than flattering rumors about Chelsea Clinton's manners towards her Secret Service detail. No, what really has me irritated is the ridiculousness of this country's alcohol laws.

I'm going to make a confession and I hope my mother never reads this article. When I was 16 I had my first alcoholic drink. It was on a weekend trip to New York with my class. That Saturday night someone sneaked a case of Pink Champale into the hotel room I shared with three other girls.

Did I call the chaperones or preach a sermon to my friends on the evil of demon alcohol? No! I grabbed myself a bottle and drank it down. Was that the start of an alcoholic binge? No. I didn't get drunk.

I didn't feel the need to have another drink when we got home and I didn't end up on some inner city street corner prostituting myself to support a drinking habit. This may disappoint the prohibitionists but when Sunday morning came I was fine. I got up and went to Mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and went along with my normal life. I didn't have another drink until I was 18. It was one tiny glass of Dom Perignon, drunk with my family's approval to celebrate my high school graduation.

In college I discovered strawberry daiquiris and Lady Marmalade, a drink whose mains ingredients are vanilla ice cream, whip cream and liqueur. Today I tend to order a daiquiris on my anniversary or birthday and that's it.

When I was Jenna Bush's age I was working a full time job. I was engaged to be married and was paying my own way through college. I was an adult.

A 19 year old can vote, die in war, marry, buy and sell property, pay taxes and go to jail. A 19 year old can have an abortion, a procedure that is neither quick nor pain free. Even in the best clinics women are sometimes seriously injured and some die. A 19 year old can do all these things but becomes a criminal if he or she picks up a margarita.

The legal drinking age was raised nationally to 21 with the best of intentions. Alcoholism is a serious problem in this country. However, for every falling down sloppy drunk who stumbles away from a bar there are several people who drink socially and do just fine. Do college kids binge drink? Of course they do. If something is presented to a human as desirable but unattainable to everyone but them that human will typically want to get as much as possible of that item. Perhaps if we stopped making beer, wine and liquor seem so glamorous and so much like forbidden fruit we wouldn't have so young people going whole hog when they get their hands on a drink. When a person can sit down and order a beer in broad daylight with hiding or lying it no longer becomes so exciting.

Prohibition has never worked in America. When all alcohol was banned Americans kept right on drinking. The folks in the country went to the moonshinhers for fruit wine and White Lightning. The folks in the city drank bathtub gin and went to speak-easy's -- secret clubs where they could dance, listen to jazz or the blues and have a drink. The Mafia became a significant force because the Dons controlled the booze market. Organized crime is still with us.

Thanks to prohibition millions of ordinary Americans of all ages and stations in life became criminals and faced arrest because they wanted a drink. Fortunately prohibition was struck down by a constitutional amendment but even today millions of Americans are still treated like criminals because even though they're adults they're still under the magic number of 21. When I was planning my wedding -- a wedding that I was paying for -- I was reminded by a restaurant employee that if I chose to have my reception there I could not have champagne or any alcoholic beverage at my table because I was only 20. I decided to take my business elsewhere. As it turned out the wedding was delayed and I was actually 21 on my big day. Afterwards we all went to a sea food restaurant in Baltimore. Instead of spending the money on alcohol we drank sodas, ate crab cakes and had a wonderful time.

Getting back to Jenna and Barbara Bush. Why are these two young women, both of whom are legally adults being persecuted for doing something that many of us, save those whose religions forbid it, do everyday? Saying that the law is the law is an intellectually poor answer. It used to be legal to own a slave, or beat one's wife as long as an object smaller than a man's thumb was used in the beating. Obviously America has had some stupid and evil laws on the books. Laws can be changed. Either raise the age of legal adulthood or change the alcohol law. Nothing else is really fair.

Kimberley Lindsay Wilson author of 11 Things Mama Should Have Told You About Men & Work It! The Black Woman's Guide to Success at Work

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