I hate having to agree with Paul LePage, the Little Trump of Maine, but he does have a point:
Gov. Paul LePage said again Tuesday that he would propose increasing the age to vote or join the military to 21 to be consistent with a new law hiking the legal age to buy tobacco.
“This law subverts the United States Constitution and attempts to ‘social engineer’ legal behavior by adults who want to use a legal product that you don’t like,” LePage wrote to lawmakers on Tuesday. “If you don’t believe 18-year-olds are adults who can make their own decisions, then I hope you will support legislation that increases the voting age to 21 and prevents military service until a person turns 21.”
Unfortunately for LePage, two things would stand in his way: the U.S. Constitution and the U.S. military…
The 26th Amendment, passed in 1971 was only in part about voting rights. It was about the age of adulthood, and really about Vietnam and the draft. “Old enough to fight, old enough to vote” was too powerful an argument to ignore, and rather than give up the Vietnam draftees, they decided to lower the voting age, and the amendment passed in record time
So in the middle of the most unpopular war in our history, we decided by a supermajority that 18 year olds were adults. We believed it so strongly that we locked it into the Constitution itself.
As the 70s continued, we expanded that 18 Is Adult concept into other areas of the law, most notably the drinking age. But by the 80s we started rolling those rights back, starting with the drinking age, and now continuing into smoking.
But we did it differently. We had expanded adult rights to 18 year olds by enshrining it in the Constitution. But in the 80s with alcohol and now with tobacco, we’re taking rights away by mere legislation & ordinances.
The fact that we put it in the Constitution, rather than passing mere legislation, means a lot to me, and that needs to be part of any discussion of the issue.
Sadly, in this era you probably could pass an amendment taking the vote away from 18-19-20 year olds, especially since they vote disproportionately Democratic, and disenfranchisement seems to be Page One of the GOP playbook these days.
Through the three bar elections, it was nearly impossible to get anyone to engage me on the issue at this level. It’s always: “Yeah, but I hate drunk assholes.” And, now, “I hate smokers.” (So much of the rhetoric of anti-smokING is really anti-smokER and vilifies people for their own struggle with addiction.)
Most people, even legislators, privately concede to me that 21 is not about 19 and 20 year old college students drinking. No one cares much about that unless they’re doing something else that causes trouble. 21 is about 18 year old high school seniors buying for younger friends. To which I say, graduate people at 17, like Harry Potter and I did (oh, wait, Harry never went back to school for year seven) and punish actual offenders instead.
Maybe 18 Is Adult was a mistake, and I know far too well and personally the harm of young adult drinking. If I could change one thing about my life from 17 to 21 – my entire life, really – I would not drink. Alcohol abuse cost me an extra year of college, a point off my GPA and my first serious relationship.
But the age of majority should be consistent and I would rather expand rights than take rights away, even if those rights, like smoking, drinking, and gambling, are of dubious merit.
Things would have been very, very different if, instead of expanding voting rights so they could keep shipping 18 year old draftees to Vietnam, they had raised the draft age to 21 instead.
All I know is no military recruiter should be allowed to contact or even SPEAK to someone who can’t order a beer.