TCS Daily

Anti-SUV Crusaders Will Shoot Selves In The Foot

By Brock Yates - October 25, 2001 12:00 AM

It is bound to happen. The bipartisan chumminess that pervades the halls of Congress has to end. The September Terror is devolving into a protracted struggle deep in the mountains of Afghanistan and in the fetid kasbahs of the Middle East. This will force politicos of all stripes to seek headlines with tub-thumping domestic issues.

A sure-fire grabber for those on the political left will be the news issuing from the Environmental Protection Agency that automotive fuel mileage has sunk to a 21-year low of 20.4 mpg, primarily because of the popularity of sport utility vehicles and light trucks that dominate 50% of the market.

According to the EPA, light trucks, made up of vans, pickups and SUVs, average 17.3 miles per gallon and normal passenger cars 24.2 mpg. Both numbers are far below the standard set by the government for the so-called CAFE or Corporate Average Fuel Economy (27.5 mpg for cars; 20.7 mpg for light trucks).

Surely this news will prompt Congressman Edward Markey (D-Mass.), and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), to resume their pre-Terror cries to impose huge increases in CAFE standards. They will no doubt cite the recent pontifications from economics eminence grise Robert J. Samuelson supporting such a policy. Samuelson breezily claims that existing technologies can raise fuel economies in cars and light trucks by as much as 47% -- at least according to the National Research Council, (which, at last glance, had yet to design and manufacture such a vehicle of its own).

Raising CAFE will neither reduce dependence on foreign oil nor improve the environment, but it would affect Americans` choices for vehicles they find attractive in terms of function, utility and safety, as well as impose crushing hardships on an already-wobbly domestic auto industry.

But the left will have none of this, arguing as always that government knows better, and both a witless vox populi and rapacious auto manufacturers must be weaned away from modes of transportation that fail to fit their utopian models. Once the evil, four-wheeled predators have been eliminated, we will enter an environmental paradise with the citizenry obediently huddled on mass transit and legging it to work on Chinese-style 10-speeds. Exxon Valdez oil spills, smoggy blackouts in L.A., Firestone blowouts and Explorer rollovers will become distant memories.

Leading the charge toward this Nanny State of grace will be liberal Democrats who, in their haste, might be warned of the always dangerous laws of unintended consequences. We cite specifically their propensity to shoot themselves in the foot over the issue of guns.

Liberals hate guns. Yes, they pay diffident lip service to sportsmen hauling around shotguns and rifles in the great outdoors. But the notion of an armed citizenry is anathema. Following the horror at Columbine High School their screeches to ban private ownership of firearms became deafening. The politicos and their elite media handmaidens universally ignored counter arguments that crime rates actually go down in areas where citizens own guns. But people in certain politically sensitive areas of the nation were listening -- especially during the 2000 presidential elections.

One will recall that Al Gore was in the forefront of the soccer-mom, anti-gun crowd until his pollsters discovered the issue was producing an ugly reaction in Michigan, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania as well as states in the rural south, all of which held sizable voting blocs of hunters and gun owners. With the National Rifle Association at full cry and leaders of the AFL-CIO cautioning the Gorecistas that their anti-gun position could backfire with their membership, the issue was quietly dropped in the last weeks of the campaign. Now many seasoned political observers -- including former Clinton Press Secretary Joe Lockhart -- believe that George Bush`s victories in West Virginia, Arkansas and Gore`s home state of Tennessee were directly related to the Democratic opposition to gun ownership.

Now comes the anti-car crusade through proposed draconian increases in CAFE and massive, mass-transit investment. Who will be most affected? The blue-collar, workaday stiff who has elevated the Ford F150 and the Chevrolet Silverado C/K pickups to the two most popular private vehicles in America. So, too, for the much-covered voting bloc of soccer moms, who remain devoted to SUVs and mini-vans, thanks to their cargo and kid capacity, their easy loading and unloading capabilities, their high seating positions for improved visibility and their crashworthiness. Poll after poll reveals that women feel safer in these vehicles. And such sentiments are supported by hard numbers. Since 1980, when SUVs began to gain popularity, highway death rates have declined. This despite the wailing of the Left that SUVs are less safe than normal sedans -- a contention that has no statistical validity. Even the National Academy of Sciences agrees, noting that a tradeoff to lighter, more CAFE-compliant vehicles could cost thousands of lives annually.

Warning to the Democrats and the Greens: Gun the regulation engine on motor vehicles and you`ll dig yourself into a deeper hole than you did with firearms. There are vastly more truck and SUV owners than there are members of the NRA. Add to that millions more who attend NASCAR Winston Cup races, and who are drag racing, hot rod, sports car and vintage car enthusiasts who cherish their automobiles as the cornerstone of American freedom and mobility.

The great state of Michigan is home to hundreds of thousands of UAW auto workers, who might be expected to reflexively vote Democratic unless their beloved automobiles are threatened, both in terms of their livelihoods and their recreational proclivities. Millions more across the southwest rely on SUVs and trucks for their livelihood and outdoors sports of all kinds.

The common sense of these Americans will prompt adjustments in their driving habits and type of vehicles they drive. Law enforcement agencies already note a reduction in so-called "road rage" as the nation tempers its petty passions in the face of the national emergency. If fuel becomes scarce, the market will shift to smaller, more fuel-efficient vehicles without the government inducement. Americans will automatically respond to the economic environment without the Olympian wisdom from Washington.

The millions who favor trucks and SUVs are every bit as patriotic and attuned to the nation`s priorities as a Green puttering his Subaru in the slow lane sporting a "Save the Whales" bumper sticker.

And they vote.


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