With all the focus on female voters in this year's election, it's a wonder no one has mentioned the presidential candidates' positions on a woman's right to choose -- her mode of transportation, that is. For millions of women, especially mothers, the private automobile represents freedom. Yet, one candidate sees the automobile as enemy No. 1: "a mortal threat to the security of every nation that is more deadly than that of any military enemy we are ever again likely to confront," warned Al Gore in his 1993 treatise "Earth in the Balance."
"It makes little sense for each of us to burn up all the energy necessary to travel with several thousand pounds of metal wherever we go," he said. Instead, he'd like us all to take subways, buses, trains and trolleys. So, how would this affect women's lives? I certainly know how it would affect mine.
I've chosen to live in a rural community, more than 50 miles away from my downtown office in Washington, DC. I do my writing from home, but travel to Washington at least a couple of days per week. I could take the train in -- and occasionally do -- but I pay for it in lost sleep and convenience. The commute from my home to my office takes slightly over an hour if I drive. If I take the train, it takes almost two and half hours each way, door-to-door, and still requires me to drive 10 miles to the train station.
But even with the distances I have to cover, my need for an automobile today is nothing compared to what it was when I had young children at home. I learned to drive a car when I was pregnant with my first child. My husband and I were both college students at the time. My husband usually took morning classes, while I stayed home with our son. We switched places at noon, with barely enough time for him to toss me the car keys as I rushed out the door to campus. The local bus was out of the question.
As the children grew, and we entered the work world, driving to work meant we could leave later and get home sooner to be with the kids than if we relied on public transportation. And if an emergency occurred or one of the kids got sick, I could rush home or to their school immediately, as I did on more than one occasion.
And it's not just so-called working moms who need their cars. Young mothers, whose full-time job is running a household and raising their kids, probably spend more time in their cars than most commuters do. Without cars to run family errands and transport children to and from school and extracurricular activities, both moms' and kids' lives would be more difficult and restricted.
In 1993, Al Gore said that we ought "to establish a coordinated global program to accomplish the strategic goal of eliminating the internal combustion engine over, say, a 25-year period." If we give him 8 years as president, how far will he take us toward achieving that goal? And exactly how would he go about it? These are questions the more than 90 percent of Americans who drive to work ought to be asking Mr. Gore.
I don't know many men or women who would easily give up the right to drive their own cars, when and where they wished. And despite rising gasoline prices, most Americans are choosing bigger cars and trucks than ever. I doubt that candidate Gore approves, though he says very little on the subject on the campaign trail. But what would President Gore do about it? Is he willing to tell those soccer moms to leave the minivan in the garage or the working woman to turn in her new SUV and hop a bus? Or is he just going to impose higher federal gasoline taxes to discourage driving, as they do in Europe? Perhaps we better find out before we give him the chance to put that coordinated global program to eliminate the internal combustion engine in place as president.