Hope Drives

Lileks and I were talking last Saturday on the NARNII show about the real “Two Americas” in this country. There’s a pessimistic America that believes the nation is spinning into a vortex of decay, global warming, and rich-vs.-poor civil war on the one hand – an American that thinks the rest of America needs its soul “saved” (not to name any names here). And there’s an America that is optimistic – that retains the spirit of its immigrant forefathers who came to this land to find a new, better life.

One America thinks our best days are behind us, and gets a secret tingle up their leg watching The Day After Tomorrow (“That’ll teach you to drive SUVs and ignore Mother Earth!”), and believes that we’d better quit nattering about freedom and the market and liberty and just hush up and listen to our older, wiser betters in China and India. One America sings “America: F*** Yeah!” with simultaneous comic irony and pit-of-the-gut sincerity.

One America voted for Jimmy “Malaise” Carter, Walter “Sure, I’ll Raise Your Taxes” Mondale, Michael “Look At Me In My Tank” Dukakis, Algore, John Kerry and Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer, and quietly waits for the inferno to overtake them; many of them even avoid having children, either because their thoughts of the future are so dismal or, in extreme cases, because they believe the human race should voluntarily extinct itself. The other America elected Ronald Reagan, flocked to see Rambo, waved the flag at times that made that other America blanche with embarassment, bought Smith and Wesson Model 29s and dared you to pry them from their cold, dead hands, and quietly contributed to the downfall of a genuinely evil empire, leaving the world a much better place than it’d been ten years earlier.

Now, I believe a couple of things:

  1. The world’s going to run out of oil. Not real soon, but eventually.
  2. The free market – assuming it’s allowed to be free – will anticipate and react to that inevitability faster than government will. People will adapt their behaviors in the short run (as they are today with gas prices); as the supply of oil contracts, the market will present alternatives.
  3. The market will present these alternatives long before government can mandate them. Long before the government can lay a half-mile grid of trolley tracks in every American city, industry will have developed an electric or fuel-cell car, running from something we do have in great profusion – nuclear-generated electricity, waste material, paperwork from failed Tic programs, whatever.
  4. Government actions will exacerbate the problem.

Let’s go back to optimism for a bit.

James and I were talking about how crushing pessimism was one of the dominant leitmotifs of American pop culture over the past fifty years. We also noted that next week’s Minnesota Street Rod Association convention at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds (at which the NARN will be broadcasting!) harkens back to an era when America was profoundly optimistic – where the sky, and beyond, was the limit. Cars were big, brawny, cheery and optimistic.

I noted, in contrast, that this is the face of the current American car-buying public (or at least the stereotype of it):

Now, the Prius is a perfectly fine car – Toyota builds a good vehicle, yadda yadda.

But I noted that other car makers had tried their hands at building hybrids – Honda, Volvo et al – and gotten dicier results in the hybrid market; they’d made the “mistake” of merely building hybridized versions of their regular cars. In other words, their “normal”-looking hybrids failed in the market, while Toyota dealers can’t keep the dorky-looking Prius in stock.

The reason, of course, is that the people who are concerned about “global warming” today want to be seen doing the vehicular equivalent of wearing a hair shirt. They want to drive a car that looks like a rolling cockroach, thus to feel closer to the nature into which they feel we are all about to decay anyway.

My statement; America – at least, the part of America that flies the flag and hears “God Bless the USA” with a certain tingle of pride even as they cringe at the mawkishness, the America that flies the flag on June 14, right-side up, no flame involved – will take the notion of alternative transportation into their hearts only when electric vehicles look like this…:

…only when hybrids look like this…:

Only when a ride on a light rail train looks like this:

…rather than some exercise in self-abnegation and penitence to Mother Earth (like Michelle Obama envisions for us…):

Then – when the idea of “alternatives” are seen not as expressions of shame, of crabbling about after the crumbs of our betters, of finding comfort in societal doom, but rather of progress rather than decay, of skill and prowess rather than doom – then, America will embrace these ideas.

So sign me up for the first electric Porsche 914.

Er…maybe the first one in the third year of production, anyway.

21 thoughts on “Hope Drives

  1. I’d be happy with a car that looks like a Mustang. An American looking car… or a cool looking foreign car. Certainly.

    Or, if I can ever get the money, a Lotus Seven with the license plate “KAR-120C”.

    Be seeing you.

  2. I should have known James would peg that exactly.

    Anything but “Man in Ape Mask”… maybe “John Drake”.

  3. With a 1600cc engine, 28mpg @75mph for Super Seven – that’s pretty green for an all out sportscar.

  4. Priuses are for suckers. You can’t get one for less than 20K. You can get a Chevy Cobalt for 10K, especially this time of year. The Prius gets 45 MPG, the Cobalt 32 MPG. If you drive 12,000 miles a year, you’ll pay $1500 for gas for the Cobalt and $1066 for the Prius, assuming gas remains at $4/gallon (which it won’t). Take the savings of $434 on gas and apply it against the $10,000 price difference and you’ll be ahead after, oh, 23 years.

    And these people want to run the economy.

  5. The best thing about a Prius is that it has a large flat rear end that is perfect for the placement of numerous bumper stickers. I think you can even have them dealer installed.

    But then, you have all the nauseous smug that they produce….

  6. Depends on the bumper sticker, MoN.

    On my old ’89 Chevy Cavalier, I had:

    “I’m Hung Like Einstein, and Smart as a Horse”

    “Kinky is Using a Feather; Perverted is Using the Whole Chicken”

    “I Beat Up Your Honor Student.”

  7. The battery in the prius is rated to last about 100k miles (8 yrs give or take) then you have to pay another $8000 to get a new one plus the hazardous waste disposal fee you have to pay for the old one.

  8. Foot,
    That’s actually:

    “I am not a number, I am a free man!”

    How could you miss that? You might need to reimmerse in some Brucy goodness.

    Then on to Leo McKern and “Rumpole of the Bailey”.

  9. I was quoting the song, not the recorded intro. You better scratch me from your black book, cuz I’ll run rings around you.

    And I’ll note that Lileks is oddly silent on the Maiden angle. Shame. Metal blogging on buzz.mn could generate literally dozens of several new readers.

  10. Foot,
    Yeah, but I’d rather use lyrics from “Back in the Village”… however, I can’t seem to make them fit without using a crowbar, so I won’t.

    Why the guys don’t tour with a giant Rover is beyond me.

  11. I would like to point out that a proper understanding of economics would indicate that, well before we completely run out of oil, the substitutes would come out of the woodwork and the last X million of barrels of petroleum would be as available and as useful as the last X million of gallons of whale oil. Enjoy your electric cars. I drive an SUV not because I love big cars but because I hate fossils and want to burn them all.

  12. When Democrats talk about two Americas, I always thought they meant Americans were either shepherds or sheep. The Democratic elite were the shepherds because they were smarter, better educated and more capable than the rest of us sheep, that needed the guidance of the shepherds because we are dumber, less educated and less capable.

  13. I saw some shit this mornin’ made me think twice. Now I’m thinkin’: it could mean you’re the evil man. And I’m the righteous man. And Mr. 9mm here, he’s the shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or it could be you’re the righteous man and I’m the shepherd and it’s the world that’s evil and selfish. I’d like that. But that shit ain’t the truth. The truth is you’re the weak. And I’m the tyranny of evil men. But I’m tryin’, Ringo. I’m tryin’ real hard to be a shepherd.

  14. Your theory that “merely building hybridized versions of their regular cars … failed in the market” fails to address Honda’s Insight. Honda introduced its hybrid “Insight” in 2000 … hardly styled as one of their non-hybrid cars.

    It is/was a clumsy effort when viewed from today’s market and when it was introduced there wasn’t as much interest in either fuel economy or carbon footprint. But then Toyota’s first US Prius was similarly clumsy and ill-designed.

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