Day By Day

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Anti SUV Bigots -- In their own words

ABC News has been running a series or pieces on how much ordinary people hate SUV drivers. Here's a sample from their April 25th report:

"I am less than secretly glad when I hear the agony of the SUV people paying $60 to $70 a week to fill their tank," wrote Bernard K. Addison of Los Angeles. "We do not need the size, we do not need the inefficiency, and we do not need the attitude of road ownership and invincibility that reflects in the driving patterns of the majority of SUV owners."

"It's good to see all these arrogant drivers of gas guzzling road machines end up paying half a week's pay to fill up their monstrous machines," wrote Brian Silver Fox of Hammonton, N.J. "I am far from an environmental activist, but there is no reason why anyone needs these vehicles, ESPECIALLY Hummers (which, like assault weapons, should be reserved for the military). I truly enjoy seeing all of them driving around with their jingoistic little magnets on the back, supporting our troops, who are dying simply for their 'right' to own these stupid machines."

"Why, yes, I do gloat at the SUVs paying higher gas prices!" wrote Maureen North of Syracuse, N.Y. "The last car accident I was in was due in part to SUVs blocking my vision of the oncoming small car that totaled my Honda Accord. But now I have another Accord, and am considering a Prius."

"I admit I do like to listen to the woes of SUV drivers filling up their tanks," wrote Carolyn Busch of Trenton, Ga. "Their explanations of why they need their gas guzzling barges aren't quite as 'convincing' now."

"I think that it's hilarious that SUVs are getting in the shorts for a change," wrote Mike Nielsen of Salt Lake City. "Never forget that the road is theirs. Those of us that drive economical-type cars are but the peasant trash — villagers that have no right to use their roads. After all isn't ostentatiousness the rule of the road? … Although I must agree that I don't like higher fuel prices either, it is somewhat psychologically reassuring to know that the 'fat cats' are in fact paying lots and lots and lots more money at the pump. Hooray for some justice!"

"Much as I hate to pay the higher prices, I do (I have to admit) secretly gloat at the money it takes to fill up an SUV tank," wrote Gail Walpole of Tallula, Ill. "I drive a VW diesel Beetle, which when new, got 50+ miles per gallon. It now needs tuning up because it is only getting about 45 or so miles per gallon. … Yes, I admit, people made fun of me when I used to drive my little [Geo] Metro and to a certain extent, my Beetle — but now, I am the one laughing! :)"

"I have hated SUVs and the mentality that gave birth to them since the early '90s when I was in high school, and will continue to hate them and the people that drive them with a righteous anger for as long as I draw breath," wrote Andy Bliss of Los Angeles. "On a daily basis, I let these people know my feelings with my car or a few fingers/choice words. I despise their selfishness, avarice and soul-less need to endanger others for their own comfort. I laugh as I fill my economy car for a fraction of what they do, watching them wallow like the pigs they are in their putrid opulent consumerism."

"Although [it is] somewhat painful to pay more than double the price for gas than I did a few years ago, high prices definitely have a silver lining!" wrote Grant Comer of Indianapolis. "In fact, nothing seems to encourage talk of alternative fuel research more than high energy costs. … My gloating lies in the fact that persons who have the political and economic power to finance and approve alternative fuel research are feeling the pinch of high gas prices personally and from their constituents. If they happen to drive SUVs or other poorly fuel efficient vehicles, then that pain is just magnified."

"I love it that the Hummer owners (and other SUVs) are paying out their noses," wrote Wade of Los Angeles. "I was at the pump the other day and saw a guy shaking his head after filling up his Hummer. I walked over to the pump after he left and he had paid $92.00! I had a smile on my face for the rest of the day!"

"My friends and I laugh at these women who are driving these chariots to get a Starbucks or groceries," wrote Cherie Celeste of Spring Valley, Calif. "No-interest new car loans that are paid for by cash-out home-equity loans don't buy gas or common sense. Someone should tell them that."

Joe Hernandez of Riverside, Calif., said he had a chuckle during the recent heavy rains in Southern California when he saw the driver of a large SUV turn back as cars of all sizes ripped through mud and water on a roadway. "She literally made a U-turn, stopped all traffic because she didn't want to get her shiny, big wheels dirty," Hernandez wrote. "People, if you are not going to use them right don't buy them at all."

"The SUV I hate the most is the Hummer H2," wrote Scott Cohen of Melvindale, Mich. "Every chance I get, I will flip them off, regardless of whether the driver sees me or not. Hummers are the most obnoxious and rude vehicles for people to use to show off how much money they are making, and that they stick their noses up at the rest of us while driving their $65,000 SUV that is a gas hog and is no good for the environment. I do smile when I see them pulling up at a gas station and spending over $60 on one tank of gas, though."

"What I don't like about SUV drivers is their reckless and negligent way they drive," wrote Judith A. Gill of Baltimore, "as if to say 'I do whatever I want on the highway because you can't hurt me but I can demolish you, so get out of my way.' They don't care about gas prices. They think they are superior to everyone else on the highways and roads of this country."

"What many SUV drivers may fail to realize is that the reason for high gas prices now is the massive demand for gasoline, spurred in part by people like them," wrote Daniel Smith-Weiss of Bedford, N.H. "SUV drivers have in part brought these high prices on all of us. So I do get a small sense of satisfaction seeing them pay so much more."

"I hate SUV owners," wrote Donna Bijas, a Nissan Altima driver from Middletown, N.J. "Not only are they the leading contributors to air pollution and acid rain, but try to back out of a space in any shopping center and it is near impossible. Small family style SUVs are reasonable, but do they need to be the biggest vehicle on the block? I hope gas prices send them to the poor house. I pay $25 to fill up and it lasts all week. I can't imagine having to pay $100+ per week. Good for them."

"I don't feel sorry for drivers of SUVs paying huge sums to fill up their gas guzzlers," wrote Peter Bowler of Dallas. "They are half the reason the gas prices are so high and our air is so polluted. I hope the high prices will keep these enormous pieces of crap off the roads."

Dave Conna of Stow, Mass., said he can get as much as 50 mpg in his 1993 Honda Civic VX, and objects to SUVs for environmental and safety reasons, and because they "fill the coffers of terrorists with funds." "If the owners say that they are not experiencing any more hardship than car owners [as a recent ABC News poll suggests], then the price of gas isn't high enough yet," Conna wrote. "High gas prices are one of the best things that could happen to this country: that we might finally get our energy house in order and stop acting like we are entitled to abundant energy at absurdly low prices. In fact, it is the ONLY thing that will save us from environmental and economic destruction, since appealing to people's logical and ethical side does not work enough."

"Japan was ready in 1974 with fuel-efficient cars," wrote Doug Ryan of San Gabriel, Calif. "Thirty years later, they have hybrids. Detroit has learned nothing in 30 years. Good riddance the makers of gas dinosaurs. The dinosaurs themselves, the SUVs, will stay around until gas prices rise so high the SUV driver, a brain-dead humanoid glutton of gas and asphalt, has to think twice about burning his money -- if he's capable. No resale value for that kind of dinosaur. They all get what they deserve for jacking up gas demand and gas prices. No tears for the SUV makers and their suckling gluttons."

"Although I don't like the high gas prices that I have to pay for my cars, I don't mind a bit that the SUVs, full-size vans and pickup trucks get hurt by the high prices," wrote Ed Caldwell of Bloomington, Ind. "Some of the drivers of those vehicles drive as though they are above the law. The police are afraid to stop them because they can't see their hands or glove compartment."

"I am gloating a little, but more importantly hope that this sends a message to Congress that they should have passed those laws that push automakers to make all vehicles more energy efficient, and a message to automakers that they should be more proactive about improving fuel efficiency for all vehicles," wrote Heidi Lovett of St. Petersburg, Fla.

"I would like to see gasoline prices rise to $4.50 a gallon or higher," wrote Richard Lane of Prescott, Ariz. "I would like to see a stiff tax levied to bring up the price to what people in Europe pay. This is the only way that Americans will change their gluttonous habits."

"It's amazing all the cars that I see with one person driving in a SUV on the freeway in Houston," wrote Debbie Mejstedt of Friendswood Texas. "I hope the price goes up to the same that it is in Europe. Maybe then people will think twice about their selfish gas guzzling tanks."

Read the whole article here. It does include some SUV drivers defending their choices.

There is something nasty going on here. Yes there are arguments that can be made against SUV's on the basis of fuel consumption and high centers of gravity, but placed in context they are rather weak. Rollovers are just one small subset of accidents and the risk incurred in them is more than offset by the protection afforded in other kinds of collisions; and SUV fuel consumption is only a tiny fraction of US total fuel consumption. Cutting it would have negligible effect on gas prices or national security concerns.

So why the horrible animus? Look at what these people are saying. First, they impute moral status to the drivers of SUV's [they are presumed to be arrogant, greedy, inconsiderate, selfish, gluttonous, dangerous, etc.] Then they argue that driving SUV's is in some way an anti-social act. But neither of these is justified -- in fact, from their own words these critics show themselves to be profoundly anti-social haters.

And, under this we see a whole lot of class antagonism. SUV haters assume that people who drive large vehicles are upper-middle-class snobs who think they are above the law, who are disdainful of the common herd, etc. But that is hardly an accurate vision of the SUV drivers I know, and several surveys have shown that the strongest market for SUVs is suburban housewives who are raising kids and appreciate the security and carrying capacity of the vehicles [they function today like the station wagons of old].

Why so many false impressions? Well, part of it is the result of a sustained effort by political operatives, environmental activists, and media types to demonize SUV owners. That has to have had some effect in ramping up these prejudices into full-blown bigotry. But these campaigns would not have been so effective if there wasn't an underlying cultural base upon which they could build.

Innacurate as it is, the anti-SUV bias defines a fault line in our society today -- it is not just a replay of the old cities against suburbs and rural populations antagonism that has characterized much of American history. It seems to be grounded in moral sensibilities. It bears more than passing resemblance to the old anti-yuppie animus of past years. It has blatant anti-capitalist overtones, and a generational component, and it plays off economic anxiety [however misplaced that is]. What more? I'm not sure.

This is something I am going to have to think about, because it has so many political, social, cultural, and economic dimensions, and seems to be so prominent a part of contemporary American culture.



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