Gansler's public duty, parental strategy collide


Many parents accept that teens will drink and devise ways to keep them alive

October 24, 2013|Dan Rodricks

I guess the only thing worse for Doug Gansler would be the revelation that he ordered his Maryland State Police driver to run red lights to get the attorney general to his son's senior week party on the Delaware shore.

If that happened, could the trooper involved — or someone from the Brown for Governor campaign — call me at 410-332-6166? All conversations confidential.

I have another question: Was that a selfie Gansler was taking with his cellphone while the cast of "Porky's II" swirled about him at the beach house?

In the now-infamous Instagram that gave the Democratic gubernatorial candidate his latest case of agita, he appears to be holding his phone in the familiar self-portrait position. No knock on the guy; everybody does a selfie now and then. And taking a picture of himself is far better than what I originally thought Gansler was doing when I saw the picture on The Baltimore Sun's website at 4 a.m. Thursday. I thought he was raising a pint of Guinness stout.

Upon closer inspection, of course, the cellphone is clearly visible in Gansler's hand in what, as I said, looks like the selfie pose.

But Gansler had a different explanation. He speculated at his Thursday afternoon news conference that, in the midst of Boys Gone Wild, he was reading a text message.

I could speculate on what the text said, so I will.

"Epic party, Dude. Thanks."

"Dad, we're out of limes for the Corona."

"Home slice, go for ice?"

"Guy looks just like Anthony Brown taking pictures of you. LOL!"

All kidding aside — hard as that might be — I'll now summarize why Gansler's appearance at his son's senior-week party last June in Bethany is a problem: He's the chief law enforcement officer of the state and has spoken publicly against underage drinking. Yet he appears to condone it, in a controlled situation, and doesn't feel he had any "moral authority" to stop the consumption of alcoholic beverages by other people's children.

That was Gansler's first reaction when confronted with the conflict between the law and his apparent toleration of underage drinking.

In other words, he didn't think he had jurisdiction. The party was in Delaware, after all, he pointed out.

"Assuming for purposes of the discussion that there was widespread drinking at this party," Gansler told the Sun. "How is that relevant to me? . . . The question is, do I have any moral authority over other people's children at beach week in another state? I say no."

If you're a father or mother who neither judges nor coaches others in parenting, that response has an honest, candid ring. But if you're like a lot of other people — who care about not only their kids but their kids' friends — then Gansler's reaction sounds obtuse or cocky, and a little selfish.

Gansler was no interloper. He was part of the group of parents who organized and paid for the senior-week rental for their boys; some parents even chaperoned. They had rules for the house, and Gansler was one of the parents who explained them to the boys. The rules did not explicitly prohibit beer or wine.

Which gets me to why Gansler's behavior in this affair really shouldn't be a problem for his gubernatorial campaign: He's one of many parents who think the best approach to underage drinking is to acknowledge that it exists and do their best to make sure no one gets killed.

This country is drenched in beer advertising, with billions spent on it every year, most of it aimed at young adults. Teenagers, of course, are particularly vulnerable to those messages — and to the pressure that comes from their peers.

We're all aware of this, of course, having gone through it ourselves once upon a time.

Instead of demanding abstinence, and hoping the hammer works, some parents accept reality and try to control the outcome as much as they can.

That's not spoiling kids. That's making an attempt to protect them. You might not agree with it, but it's what some parents do.

On Thursday, Gansler conceded that he made a mistake by not intervening. "Perhaps I should have assumed there was drinking in the home, and I got that wrong," he said.

But come on. You can't tell me Gansler didn't have some expectation that a teen party at the beach during senior week would include some beer.

Obviously, the guy woke up Thursday to find himself caught between his public duties and his strategies as a parent: a tough spot.

There's been a lot of moral indignation about this, and I can go along with that — up to a point. As attorney general, Gansler probably should not have been part of any scheme to knowingly allow kids not yet 21 to imbibe alcoholic beverages. But as a father, you can't blame him and other parents for accepting reality and trying to let their boys have a good time, with some structure and rules.

The guy's a politician. But he's a father first.

Dan Rodricks' column appears each Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He is the host of "Midday" on WYPR-FM.

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