Head to head: John McCardell debates MADD CEO Chuck Hurley

March 6 was a watershed day for the drinking age debate: it marked the first time the leaders of two of the most vocal organizations on either side of the question met in public to discuss the merits and demerits of Legal Age 21. Beyond some sparring in the media in which MADD CEO Chuck Hurley has described John McCardell as “a dog with a bone,” (Boston Globe) a “dangerous gadfly” (PARADE) and Choose Responsibility as an organization representing nothing more than “off the cuff musings” (PARADE), Chuck Hurley and John McCardell have never formally debated.

We were, therefore, very excited by the invitation to join Chuck Hurley, a Dickinson College alumnus, for a debate at his alma mater. The two leaders met at Dickinson College last week in front of a full house of nearly 200 students, faculty, staff and community members to defend their perspectives on Legal Age 21. Even in a short format–Dr. McCardell and Mr. Hurley each presented for eight minutes, then were given three minutes to rebut–many of the key arguments on both sides were aired and addressed.  Questions from the audience further elucidated many of the points made on both sides.

One of Mr. Hurley’s recurring points made a play on the popular Staples “Easy Button” ad campaign.   He repeatedly described [CR] as doing nothing more than “pushing the Easy Button on underage drinking and drunk driving” and reminded the audience that there is “no such thing as an Easy Button.”  Frankly, we beg to differ, and would point to MADD’s strong lobbying for the National Minimum Drinking Age Act in 1984 as the most unmistakable example of pressing the “Easy Button” that we could find.  The passage of that act and attendant setting of the drinking age at 21 across America was a blunt instrument that, 23 years later, continues to take undue credit for single-handedly reversing the downward trend in alcohol-related traffic fatalities while ignoring many of the its unintended consequences.  Today, with an increase in binge and extreme drinking through the 1990s and beginning of the 21st century, and more than 1,000 lives of 18-24 year-olds lost to alcohol off the highways each year, we can see clearly that Legal Age 21 was an “Easy Button” pressed all too readily.

What the current, complex situation calls for is a critical look at our nation’s alcohol policies, and the culture they have propagated over the past three decades.   Last time we checked, there isn’t an “Easy Button” to help us do that–but who knows, maybe Staples will have a special deal on one soon!

Stay tuned for video from the Dickinson debate and updates to our homepage and all-new Volunteer Center coming soon…

3 Responses to “Head to head: John McCardell debates MADD CEO Chuck Hurley”

  1. Richard Kent Says:

    Is it ironic that this is posted directly above the empty chair post?

    Seriously, you talk about the 1000 lives of the highway as if that number means something. It doesn’t for two reasons:
    1. The minimum drinking age decreased the off highway fatalities – studies show that the non-traffic fatality rate decreased at the dame rate as traffic fatality, so that number is lower than it was before the 21 mda. So a thousand lives compared to what?
    2. Trafic fatalities are the real problem. In the same study where you get the 1000 lives off the road, they show there were 4000 lives lost on the road. Now everyone – ok, everyone who actually takes a scientific bent to studyinh this – agrees that 21 reduced traffic fatalitiws, which is where the fatalities are happening.

    So check you facts before you try to step into the ring again.

  2. Belindadr Says:

    well done, dude

  3. Eric Snyder Says:

    Mr. Kent, I can sit here with the utmost confidence in what I am speaking about, because I am an 18 year old college student. My peers are no longer involved in drinking and driving related fatalities because of several factors, and not a single one is the legal age to drink. Information about drinking and driving related fatalities in now more abundant than ever, and as a result the educated masses of the youth population are making better decisions, based on the full set of information. Everyone is against drunk driving… now, but it was not that way 20 odd years ago, because the information was not there. Another reason the fatalities have gone down is the stricter enforcement and punishment, especially against those underage, of DUI related laws, it is a deterrent to driving, not to drinking. On the University Campus I attend drinking is rampant, both on campus and off campus. Interestingly enough, the campus is a ‘dry campus’. I can tell you from personal experience that the more dangerous situations regarding alcohol come at off campus drinking events for several reasons. One, the necessity to drive is often common, and the drinking and driving element is introduced. Two, there is no system of monitoring binge drinking in these environments. There is no supervision to recognize signs of fatal consumption of alcohol, like in the campus arena, causing more deaths off the highway. In summation, 18-20 year olds are drinking, and drinking a lot in one sitting. They aren’t driving due totally unrelated events to the Legal Age 21 law. I repeat I have interacted with very few, and the number continues to lessen, who choose not to drink because they are not 21, and will drink after that. Those that do have a fear of the law tend to drink less often, but more in one night, causing a higher potential for fatalities both on and off the highway. This is my peer group, I understand what is going on in their minds, and I understand how to harbor a change for the positive, and that is through education and treating myself and my peers as the adults the Supreme Law of the Land defines us as, that promotes responsibility throughout our communities and saves lives on and off the road.

    Now, dealing with your highway related claims, there are many contributing factors. Like I said earlier, less young people especially, but people of all age groups, are driving drunk because of the knowledge and advancement of academia now present in our society. People understand the dangers of driving under the influence. Stricter laws and punishments, especially those targeted at 18-20 year olds, reduce the willingness to drive, but not to drink. Also, technological advancements in the automotive industry have lead to saving more lives as well. The implementation of mandatory seat belts has saved more lives in the vehicle than Legal Age 21 can ever wish to ‘save’. And how many of these 4000 lives are alcohol related, and how many are from the 18-20 year old range, and furthermore how many of them were not wearing seat belts, and even further how many were not informed on the dangers of alcohol abuse and/or drinking and driving? These numbers are not known, however CR tries to attack this problem at the core and provide education, provided responsibility, and foster growth of citizenry as defined by our Constitution.