What would Jesus drive?

Rich Lowry

11/26/2002 12:00:00 AM - Rich Lowry
The country is in the grips of a religious war -- not against Islam, but against SUVs. A group of evangelicals visited Detroit last week to excoriate the makers of SUVs, trying to shame them with the rhetorical question "What would Jesus drive?" The implied answer is: nothing bigger than a Honda Civic. The evangelicals were thus playing on the (false) image of Jesus as a wimpy enviro-weenie, presumably because he wore "Jesus sandals" like so many liberal kids today. If one is guessing Jesus' automotive preferences, there is no reason to believe he wouldn't have driven to his confrontation with the temple money-changers in an imposing Ford Excursion. But "What would Jesus drive?" is still an excellent addition to the campaign to try to guilt drivers out of their SUVs. Bill Maher is also doing his bit with what can loosely be called a "book" -- think "Run, Dog, Run," with more text -- titled "When You Ride Alone, You Ride With Bin Laden." Maher, whose specialty is making outrageously ill-informed statements and hoping a few people will mistake them as humor, argues that driving big cars empowers terrorists by increasing U.S. dependence on foreign oil. But four of the top five importers to the United States are Canada, Mexico, Venezuela and Nigeria. Osama bin Laden is not known to reside in, or get funding from, any of those countries (if Maher has information to the contrary, he should immediately contact his nearest CIA agent). That leaves Saudi Arabia, one of the biggest importers to the United States. The Saudis are indeed intimately connected to Islamic terrorism, since they are the primary funders of a worldwide radical Islamic network. Driving tiny cars, however, won't put them out of business. The Saudis are the lowest-cost oil producers in the world, meaning if everyone in the world drove an experimental Toyota like Maher, oil prices would drop, and all the marginal, high-cost producers in the world would go out of business -- leaving the Saudis with an even higher market share. When Maher putters down the L.A. freeway in his hybrid car, he is arguably doing Crown Prince Abdullah's bidding. The smart way to handle the Saudis is to increase U.S. leverage in the region so significantly that we can pressure them to end their radical evangelism. Invading Iraq is a crucial step in the process -- one that Maher opposes, on the theory that his underpowered car can put a bigger scare into the House of Saud than 50,000 U.S. troops next door. If the anti-SUV campaign makes no sense as a matter of geopolitics, it is because it is really driven by a lifestyle war. Maher, for instance, can drive a tiny car because he chases models instead of raising children. So he chooses to consume his fuel in other ways. When he had an Los Angeles-based TV show, he would routinely fly guests from the East Coast on flights that burned roughly 10,000 gallons of jet fuel. SUVs are so hated because they are a symbol of middle-class suburban comfort. No one is protesting against the Ford F-150, the pickup truck that has been the best- selling vehicle in America for about 30 years and only gets 16 miles per gallon. The anti-SUV campaign doesn't even make sense as a matter of fuel economy. The smaller SUVs, like the Chevy Tracker, don't get mileage much different than ordinary cars. Even a big honking SUV, like the Chevy Suburban, gets 13 miles per gallon, not that different from the highly popular Ford Taurus, which gets about 20. And SUVs aren't the most environmentally harmful cars on the road. As Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute points out, by one estimate roughly half of all auto emissions come from 10 percent of cars, the older, ill-repaired models that are probably owned by economically distressed households. What would Jesus do? Maybe buy a poor person a nice, shiny new SUV.