Maryland’s Gubernatorial Candidate Was Right to Let Teenagers Drink Beer

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Oct. 24 2013 12:45 PM

Sensible Parenting Advice From a Gubernatorial Candidate

Maryland’s attorney general handled his teen’s Beach Week party right, beer or no beer.

Maryland Attorney General Doug Gansler (white shirt with cellphone, right of center).
Doug Gansler, October 2002.

Photo by Tom Mihalek/AFP/Getty Images

The party, held last spring at a rental house at Delaware’s Bethany Beach, was a truly epic rager. “It was one of the best parties I’ve been to, hands down,” one teen told the Baltimore Sun, though he admits he doesn’t “remember much.” This spectacular beer bash—so intense as to be called the “eviction party” by those present—would have gone tragically unreported if not for the momentary presence of Maryland Attorney General Douglas Gansler, whose photo was taken as he navigated through the crowd of shirtless, sweaty high schoolers.

Now Gansler, who is running for governor, is taking predictable heat for his appearance at the party, which the National Journal suggests will hurt his chances in the election. It’s an easy narrative to understand: sweaty teens drinking beer! Gansler the party crasher! A hypocritical politician—the leading lawman in his state—who won’t even step in to stop an illegal gathering of sinful teens!

But that’s a shame. If his explanation is accurate, the plain fact is that Gansler and the other parents who helped organize their kids’ trip to the Eastern Shore were being entirely sensible. A group of parents rented a house for their sons the week after high school graduation—Beach Week, in Maryland schools parlance—and laid out an extremely well-thought-out set of rules for the boys, according to the Sun:

The parents arranged for two fathers to serve as chaperones each night, paid for food and negotiated rules that forbade the boys from driving, having girls behind closed bedroom doors or drinking "hard alcohol," according a copy of the rules and planning documents obtained by The Baltimore Sun.
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Now that is smart parenting!

There is of course a 100 percent chance that teenagers at Beach Week are going to drink and be idiots. As a parent, there are three ways to handle this situation: You can, understandably, forbid your children from attending at all. On the other side of the scale, you can just send your children off to Ocean City and hope their common sense will keep them out of trouble. Or you can make the tactical decision to oversee the festivities and keep things from getting out of hand: keep kids off the road, keep them out of each other’s pants, and keep them from doing shots. Would that all parents of teens were so “permissive”!

Now of course there are things that are sort of damaging about the story. There’s the bum optics of Gansler and his fellow parents’ being rich enough to pony up for a very nice beach house for their fancy private-school kids. (Judging from the photos, they didn’t get their damage deposit back.) That’s somewhat awkward, although Beach Week is not a strictly rich-kid phenomenon—one fun thing about the Eastern Shore is that there are so many rental houses with so many bedrooms that kids in all kinds of income brackets manage to get there the week after graduation. All you need is to know someone with a car that can make it across the bridge and parents who don’t padlock you into your bedroom.

And then there’s the photo itself, which is of course mortifying. Particularly spectacular are the trio in the foreground, caught joyously mid-pogo on a very nice-looking dining room table. In the middle, poor Douglas Gansler stands in a dress shirt, cellphone out, searching (he says) for his son to go over travel plans for the next day. He looks so sad! Who wants to vote for someone who looks that pathetic at what is clearly an awesome party?

Over the next few days, this will surely get picked up everywhere as a case for why Gansler is not fit for the governor’s mansion. But it’s a nontroversy. Penalize Gansler because you don’t like his policies, or because he rubs you the wrong way, or because he apparently loves telling state troopers driving him around to run red lights. Don’t penalize him for being a sensible parent.

Dan Kois is Slate's culture editor and a contributing writer to the New York Times Magazine.