TCS Daily

The 'Destroy Detroit Project'

By David Harsanyi - January 14, 2003 12:00 AM

Are soccer moms guilty of funding international terrorism? Republican-commentator-turned-Naderite-fundamentalist Arianna Huffington seems to think so.

After exhausting almost every conceivable avenue to demonize the SUV and its driver, including enlisting Jesus as a spokesman and targeting dealerships and personal vehicles with vandalism, activists have now resorted to exploiting America's fears regarding terrorists to further their pet cause.

Huffington's nonprofit group, Americans for Fuel Efficient Cars, has launched something called the 'The Detroit Project' (a misnomer for what should be called the 'Destroy Detroit Project'). The group has introduced an advertising campaign that charges SUV owners and manufacturers with helping Middle Eastern terrorists purchase guns with every gallon of gas pumped into an SUV tank. The 30-second TV ads that mimic the Bush administration's unconvincing anti-drug ads (which suggested that if you use or buy narcotics you're financing terrorism) began airing in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and Detroit.

"This is George," a young child's voice is heard saying in one spot. "This is the gas that George bought for his SUV. This is the oil company executive that sold the gas that George bought for his SUV. These are the countries where the executive bought the oil that made the gas that George bought for his SUV. And these are the terrorists who get money from those countries every time George fills up his SUV."

According to Huffington there exists a "credible link between driving SUVs and our national security." In reality, the spots are so flawed that many major stations, including WABC in New York; WDIV in Detroit; and WCBS in Los Angeles are refusing to run them. An official from WABC told the New York Times Friday that there "were a lot of statements being made that were not backed up, and they're talking about hot-button issues."

It is certainly reasonable to debate the negative effects of this country's dependence on foreign oil. And yes, it is commendable to campaign for the production of more fuel-efficient and alternative-fuel vehicles. (Fuel-efficient cars already exist for anyone who cares to purchase one. Ford, for instance, plans on selling a 40 mile-per-gallon gas-electric version of its Escape SUV later this year.) But to assert a "credible link between driving SUVs and our national security" is just bizarre. After all, since every car, truck, plane, motorcycle and tractor uses oil, aren't we all guilty of supporting terrorists?

The fact is that 80 percent of the gasoline in this country is refined from oil bought outside the Persian Gulf area. And the last time we checked, Osama bin Laden's fortune came from his father's construction business, not the oil sales of Saudi Arabia autocrats. Bin Laden's former home, Afghanistan, is highly dependent on farming and livestock, not oil. That's not to say that folks in some oil producing countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria, Libya and Sudan aren't contributing to terrorism - they most likely are. But will driving a Hyundai Sonata instead of a Ford Explorer make any difference? Of course not. Drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) could. But try bringing that up at the next Golden Globe awards.

And while no one can deny that the United States needs to increase its supplies of reliable, affordable and secure energy, the same group of pundits and activists that object so vociferously to our dependence on foreign sources, just as fiercely advocate restricted access to domestic resources and stringent limitations on energy suppliers. Maybe that's why this country hasn't built an oil refinery in 26 years, yet doubled its reliance on foreign oil from 25 to 53 percent since the 1973 Arab oil embargo.

Do Huffington and her cabal legitimately care about the environmental consequences of our oil use? If so they should be more honest and target the amount of driving Americans do, not the vehicles they happen to drive.

Huffington, who had reportedly traded in her 13-mile-per-gallon Lincoln Navigator SUV for a Toyota Prius that gets 52 miles per gallon, lives in the sprawling metropolitan Los Angeles area. Doesn't she do more damage to the environment buzzing around all day in her hybrid car than an SUV owner who lives in the suburbs of New York and utilizes public transportation to get to work?

Now, no one expects Huffington to do the right thing and utilize public transportation or ride a bike to work, but have we mentioned she travels in a private jet? One wonders how many miles it gets to the gallon? Perhaps a better target for her campaign would be billionaires like her ex-husband, Michael Huffington. How many helicopters, private jets does he ride in? How about co-sponsors, Hollywood producers Norman Lear, Larry David and Steve Bing? How many times do they fly across the country each year?

Not that any of this matters, mind you. Americans continue to buy SUVs at record levels, with sales up almost 7 percent last year and up 42 percent over the past five years according to the Wall Street Journal. Hummers, the top-of-the-line SUV, start at $50,000 and near six figures fully loaded, and sell out around the country. The company sold 18,861 H2s in 2002, after launching the vehicle last summer, and can produce 40,000 units a year, all of which General Motors expects to sell this year.

In the end, this ad campaign is no more than a cheap trick. The result? As someone wise once wrote: sometimes being ridiculous is more damaging than being extreme.

David Harsanyi writes from New York City.

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