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Jewish World Review Nov. 27, 2001 /12 Kislev 5762

Dave Shiflett

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Consumer Reports

The Yappy Warrior -- MOST people aspire to be heroes of some sort, and in wartime the urge picks up extra firepower. Just the other day, Arianna Huffington announced that she is giving up her Lincoln Navigator. Her colleagues at Salon and elsewhere, in apparent concert, argued that SUVs should be "cast overboard" in order to lessen America's "dependence" on foreign oil.

It is of course a major act of heroism to declare that other people should get rid of their vehicles, and while it is unreported if Arianna pink-slipped her driver along with the Lincoln one can assume her conscience has forced her into a Jaguar or a Beamer (to find out what she really bought, you have to pay for Salon's "premium" service - no thanks). That won't quite qualify her for a humanitarian food drop, but among her peers she'll be widely admired, which no doubt is the point of the exercise.

The admiration won't be universal, however. By general consensus, it is now considered crass in the extreme to use the war to pursue prewar agendas. The New York Times has reported, for example, that even the fiercest combatants in the culture wars have called a truce while we try to bomb Afghanistan out of the stone age.

The anti-SUV people recognize no such truce. Their crusade is of long duration, and now it takes on an ominous tone. Clearly, the attack on SUVs has become an attack on their owners' patriotism.

The argument is that if you drive an SUV you increase, in your own small way, our national "dependence" on foreign oil. Many of us, to be sure, would rather import oil from the extremely serene Alaskan wilderness, and vastly increase nuclear energy generation. As it happens, SUV critics tend to oppose both those policies. So we are left with the unstable Middle East. Being honest, we admit that SUVs tend to get around seven fewer miles per gallon than the modified go-carts favored by critics. We do not, however, see that as unpatriotic.

Instead, we consider the opportunity to drive larger cars to be a blessing of our consumer society - as is the opportunity to fly huge gas-guzzling jets to wonk conferences, resorts, television interviews, spas, museum openings, fashion shows, foreign vacations, and the better shopping venues, as Arianna can no doubt attest. Would she and her jet-setting colleagues be willing to restrict her travel to one or two trips a year? In the same spirit, would Arianna be willing to live in small, energy-efficient houses?

After you, dear.

We also admit to a taste for other foreign products, such as German beer, French wine, Asian sneakers, and the special type of journalism practiced in the UK. Does this make us junkies? Honest, we can give this stuff up anytime. We don't see kowtowing to terrorists as a good enough reason, however. It's also worth pointing out that Bin Laden's complaint against the U.S. is about far deeper matters - and indeed has no peaceful solution.

Arianna joins a small but vocal herd of anti-SUV scolds. Sen. Diane Feinstein calls drivers "energy gluttons." Journalist Geneva Overholster has denounced SUVs as "inexplicably popular extravagances" and "nonsensical, gaz-guzzling behemoths" - phrases clearly typed with pinkies raised. Geneva added that "I feel like a lunatic about SUVs and I hereby invite you to join me in raving." Only the morally superior, of course, consider their desire to rave as a sure sign of elevated character. For others of us, such is a plea for heavy medication.

Meanwhile, someone named A. J. Naomi reasons that SUVs are prized by "seemingly testosterone unbalanced males" while Ellen Goodman calls them "gas-guzzling, parking-space-hogging bullies of the highway." Ellen, whose deep explorations of mundane topics has earned her a Pulitzer Prize, also observed that "I am old enough to remember when the shape of a car was female, Detroit's sex appeal was all curves and cars were pitched to men with blondes draped over their hood. Now we're sold bivouac cars with brawn. It's no accident, one reader reminded me, that the Nissan Pathfinder was nicknamed the 'hardbody.' If the minivan is the soccer mom, the SUV is the muscle man, even when it's driven by a woman."

Ellen has some issues here.

She's not alone. The people who rail against SUVs also have issues with "sprawl" - otherwise known as the art of not living in box full of strangers - and are in general terrified by other manifestations of the expansive American spirit, such as 30-ounce beers, 24-ounce candy bars, 350-pound high school linebackers, 50-caliber target rifles, B-52 bombers, Daisy Cutters, the Super Bowl, and tattoos the size of bath mats. They like things puny. And while they might not like the Taliban's dress code, they clearly find something to admire in its full embrace of ox-cart and horseback technology.

It would be uncharitable to close without saying something nice about Arianna's sacrifice. The Lincoln Navigator is without doubt the absolute gaudiest of all the SUVs. It is very large yet very smug - a precise reflection of the soul many Navigator drivers: haughty, ostentatious, preening, perhaps hugely insecure. The fewer of them on the road, the better - though one assumes she'd going to sell it, not scrap it.

That Arianna has shed her Navigator may also be taken as yet another sign of her highly publicized (by her own hand) inner cleansing. She may reach perfection yet. When she passes by in her Jag, be sure to bow.

JWR contributor Dave Shiflett writes from central Va. Comment by clicking here.


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10/15/01: The Other Shoe: Waiting
10/05/01: Future schlock
08/08/01: Life on the Lam: A travel journal of sorts
07/18/01: Another Levy lost
07/10/01: Dont Snoop on Me
06/26/01: Scams To Live By
06/05/01: Never the Twain shall they meet
01/11/01: Letter From the Bush: Not the momma!
04/30/01: 100 Days of Platitudes
04/24/01: Sluggards, Unite
04/03/01: The Inn Crowd
03/30/01: Atheist for sale
03/27/01: Can you hack it?
02/13/01: Were All New Yorkers Now: In praise of provincialism
02/09/01: Mind your manners and NEVER say "Monica Lewinsky" --- or you may well get sued!
01/30/01: A Stiff Warning: Bushies beware
01/26/01: Babes in Boyland
01/23/01: Dubya, First Philistine? It depends on how you define the word 'artist'
01/19/01: Goodbye L.A., Hello Nashville
01/12/01: Elvis and the Rock of Death
12/07/00: Col. Sauls-ders roasts some ducks
11/23/00: Democracy may be under siege, but now comes the fun
11/21/00: The dolt vote
11/15/00: Now what will we do for fun?

© 2000, Dave Shiflett