Wednesday, January 15, 2003

What's Good For The Goose...

There's been a bit of a fuss lately about the ad campaign put out by the The Detroit Project, pushed by Arianna Huffington, and supported by Hollywood celebrities that urges Americans to not drive SUVs because doing so indirectly aids terrorists. The argument being that the low gas mileage of the SUVs causes us to buy more oil from regimes like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait among others who have been linked to having financial ties to terrorists groups. Leaving aside the rather tenuous nature of the claim, ( The U.S. imports about 52% of the oil we consume, 40% of the oil we import is used for gasoline, and the top five importers of foreign oil are in order Canada, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Mexico, and Nigeria. When you start doing a little math with those numbers it's hard to see how switching from an SUV to a more fuel efficient vehicle is really going to have a significant impact on the amount of cash available for a country to support terrorism. Unless of course you include Canada on that list which could be justified if you consider unleashing the music of the Crash Test Dummies on us to be an act of terrorism.), I don't really have a problem with the ads.

After all isn't this what free speech in America is all about? A group of citizens bands together, raises some money, and uses the proceeds to try to raise public consciousness on an issue that they are passionate about. Rather than asking the government step in and ban SUVs they are at least making an effort to persuade people to make their own choice on the matter by buying more fuel efficient vehicles. And if more consumers demand more fuel efficient cars the auto industry will produce more of them with a wider variety of offerings.

Last year, my wife seriously looked into purchasing one of the new hybrids, the Toyota Prius. The problem was that the car had very few features compared to other cars in a similar price range and size. She chose to go with a very well equipped Volkswagen Jetta rather than a bare bones Prius at around the same sticker price. It was obvious at the time that if you wanted the hybrid you were going to pay a significant premium for it. If greater fuel efficiency really turns your crank more power to you. Buy the hybrid. It should be all about choice.

And it should be your choice to drive a gas guzzling SUV if you want to as well. It might cost you more both in fuel consumption and vehicle price tag but that's your choice. I know that part of the ad campaign is also to try to get Congress to raise the minimum fuel efficiency standards for SUVs and if meeting increased standards is not an unreasonable burden on the auto industry I don't see a problem with that either. Pass the cost on to the consumer if you have to and make that part of the cost of driving an SUV.

Finally, there is a bit of irony here in that I believe that a lot of folks who support the Detroit Project and Arianna Huffington's efforts here are also the same folks who decry the influence of "special interests" in politics, lament the power of PACs, and have called for campaign finance reform. I can think of another group of citizens who raise money, purchase advertising, push political agendas, and seek to change the public's views on controversial issues of the day.

They're called the NRA.

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