Have you heard? Gas prices could reach $3 a gallon this summer, forcing Americans to radically rethink the SUVs they drive and causing politicians to expend enormous amounts of political capital reshaping the country’s energy consumption.
Please. Sockdolager has a request for those spouting such nonsense: Stop patronizing us. The current angst over rising gas prices will not result in any substantive changes to the country’s energy policy. Paying next to nothing for fuel has become as American as tax cuts for the filthy rich. That said, Thursday was Earth Day, and we can’t resist ranting a bit about the country’s dependence on black gold.
Living in oblivion
You don’t have to look very hard to find examples of how our government and its leaders view energy conservation. Take these two examples.
A quirk in the federal tax law allows business owners to get a tax deduction of as much as $25,000 off the price of a “light truck.” The deduction, originally intended to help farmers buy pickup trucks, is now being applied to SUVs. To qualify for this break, you just need to buy a truck that weighs more than 6,000 pounds. A Hummer or a Chevy Suburban will do.
President Bush is currently running a campaign ad that says, “Some people have wacky ideas, like taxing gasoline more so people drive less.” This is a dig at the likely Democratic presidential nominee, John Kerry, who a decade ago told a Boston Globe reporter that he supported a 50-cent tax hike on gasoline to cut the deficit.
Welcome to modern-day America. Where any idea that makes a lot of sense — i.e., one that might be generally beneficial to a large swath of Americans — is seen as wacky or down right unpatriotic. Apparently, it’s the persecuted Hummer drivers (read: the political donor class) who need a break.
Yes, this is all about money. Carmakers don’t want major changes to our energy policy because they make a killing on sales of gas-guzzling SUVs, which despite carrying hefty price tags are little more than truck chassis with a few extra seats thrown in. Detroit’s Big Three now sell nearly twice as many light trucks as cars.
Part of Sockdolager’s exasperation stems from the fact that weaning us off oil would require the kind of brave forward-thinking that our politicians appear incapable of. Europeans can generally stomach higher fuel costs because they have relatively robust public transportation systems, which provide people with an alternative to driving. A recent New York Times article noted that some car executives have recently come out publicly in support of raising taxes on gasoline. This shouldn’t be taken as a sign that carmakers have suddenly grown a conscience. They’d just rather see increased gasoline taxes than the alternative: the government imposing stricter fuel-efficiency guidelines. Jacking up the gas prices would, in the short term, just lead to lots of poor people being unable to get to work on a regular basis.
Sockdolager doesn’t pretend to understand why so many Americans need oversized SUVs, and we are resigned to the fact that this trend isn’t going away soon. But the least we could do is make people pay a premium for driving around in domesticated military vehicles.
Pimp my energy policy
Sockdolager’s new favorite program is the hilarious MTV reality show “Pimp My Ride.” For those not familiar with it, in each episode, rapper Xzibit visits an unsuspecting car owner and gives the person’s wreck-around-town a complete makeover courtesy of the cool cats at West Coast Customs in Inglewood, Calif. The appeal of the show is its unabashed excess and Xzibit’s ability to perfectly capture both the thrill and absurdity of the show’s premise. Crappy cars are regularly fitted with multiple DVD players, Lamborghini doors, fake nitrous canisters, 19-inch rims and various other bells and whistles.
We believe it’s high time this country’s energy policy underwent a similar makeover. Under Sockdolager’s “Pimp My Energy Policy” plan, Xzibit would swing by the Capitol and surprise legislators by announcing that he’s taking the country’s energy policy into the shop to be pimped. Stunned senators like Mitch McDonnell, R-Ky., and Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., would begin shrieking hysterically as Xzibit high-fives legislators while throwing occasional knowing looks to those watching at home.
How would this work? Simple. It would literally involve turning over all standards for vehicles that get less than 18 miles a gallon to the heavily tattooed and pierced experts at West Coast Customs. Using taxpayer money, West Coast Customs would mandate that these cars be fitted with whatever accessories they deem necessary. Vehicle owners would have no say in what was done to their cars. Suburban soccer moms wanting a sleek gray Lincoln Navigator would soon find themselves driving around their upscale communities with flaming racing stripes, Playboy Bunny mud flaps and spoilers
What would be the point of all this pimping? Driving an SUV has become de rigueur these days with everyone gleefully oblivious to just how unnecessary they are. Drivers who have no real reason for driving these vehicles should be embarrassed for clogging up the roads and the atmosphere. Pimping these vehicles would, if nothing else, make the ridiculousness of these vehicles more evident to the people driving them.
Disclosure: Sockdolager drives a bright yellow Nissan Xterra with a sandboarding rack on top.
David Bracken, Josh Eiserike, Reed Fischer, Tom Porto, Xinning Huang