We enjoy life under one of the best documents of government ever written: Our Constitution and its Bill of Rights.
We can pray to the God we choose -- or not. We can speak our minds. We can own property without fear (usually) of government seizure. We have individual rights -- even when accused of terrible crimes.
I believe one of the greatest freedoms Americans enjoy, one that isn't quite explicitly stated in the Constitution (but close), is being able to travel anywhere we want in this nation, anytime we want. And few, if any things reflect that freedom as much as the automobile.
This form of personal transportation is so much more than simply a way to get from point A to point B. The automobile is more than a major part of our economy. The car is hard-wired into our culture, spliced into our DNA.
Face it, we love cars
Our individualism is reflected and celebrated in:
-- Every 16-year-old who took that first solo drive and realized that they could just keep going.
-- Every road trip. Every Sunday drive. Every "Cabrio-sleigh" ride around the city to check out the Christmas lights.
-- Every commute. Every trip to the grocery store. Every late-night Dooonuttt Runnnn!!
Many people don't just own cars. They love them. they collect them. They refurbish them. They customize them. They polish the chrome and rub in the Turtle Wax with not just pride, but genuine love. As kids we drew countless fantasy cars. As adults we've enjoyed uncounted books, movies and TV shows that revolve around cars.
In contrast, teenagers vandalize trains and some people call it "art."
Beware the enviro-dictators
And yet, the enviro-dictators would have us believe that the automobile is the scourge of planet Earth. From the coal and iron ore mined to forge the steel, to the oil drilled to make the gasoline, to the highways that helped create suburbia, car culture is barbaric. Car culture has gone too far. Car culture must be stopped.
These people would have you believe that it was a giant, horrible mistake to have people driving the cars they own to the houses they own. They seem to prefer that people live like serfs again, forced to migrate back into over-crowded cities where they have no choice but to pay a landlord for shelter, no option other than depending upon government for getting around. (Unless, of course, you're rich. The rich don't ride the subway).
In rejecting the freedom of the automobile, a number of otherwise highly educated people are choosing the restrictions of life in the hive; trapped in a citiscape forever limited by the always-pinched budgets of public transit.
Yes, be "green." Get rid of that polluting car. Join the sardines on the rush hour train to downtown. Be "green." Stop wasting energy heating those evil McMansions with those silly comfortable spaces, adequate closet space and family rooms capable of hosting guests. Trade 'em in for big-city efficiency apartments (and in many cases, wind up paying just as much on rent as homeowners pay for mortgages.)
Yes, Choose dependency.
Hive life? Not interested.
Once we're caged, well, then some adjustments will have to be made. After all it's crowded in the cage. Tempers can flare. So mind your manners and try to ignore the security cameras.
There are reasons why Tracy Chapman wished she had a fast car and Bruce Springsteen sang about being born to run. So be careful, urbanistas, about what you're wishing for. Because, as the Eagles remind us In the City..."Nothing grows, and life ain't very pretty. No one's there to catch you when you fall."
It fascinates me how supposedly "worldly" urbanistas fail to observe what real people do with increased income in virtually every other nation in the world. When the previously poor people of India, China, etc., get better incomes what do they do? They buy CARS. They buy HOUSES.
They seek the good life -- the "dream" -- that we in America have taken so utterly for granted.
If the middle class cannot afford suburbia, that's bad
Americans may indeed be returning to the cities. But sadly, the migration does not reflect some green light of "enlightenment." Instead, it's a big red flag of growing economic weakness in the middle class.
Maybe some folks will be fooled by spraying some "enviro" perfume over this rot. Maybe some people (mostly well-paid people) will try to brag that they're "free" from the confines of car culture. But not me.
I'm going to resist the social bullies who try to impose a guilt trip upon people who own homes, drive cars and live in suburbs. (If you want to live in a big city, great, go for it. Good luck with your life. But don't act so morally superior about your lifestyle choice. I don't want to hear your suburbia bashing any more than I want to hear a vegan whining about meat-eaters or having a Jehovah's witness knocking on my door.)
So I'm going to keep an eye out for the back-seat-driver attacks on car culture. I refuse to apologize for enjoying one of one of the best things about being an American. In the months to come, I'm going to think about issues from the driver's perspective, and continue to note how our political leaders have failed at so many levels to serve the needs of their constituents.
The pro-car agenda
Congress people, state law makers, local council people...you want my vote? Then let's see where you stand on the pro-car agenda:
-- Sharply increase funding for road repairs. We've spent billions. Don't let the investment rot. Besides, we need to fully exploit the roads we already have.
-- Expand public transit on wheels: trolleys for the tourists, bus rapid transit for the highway commuters, and a bigger fleet of small buses on crosstown routes, not just serving downtown. If gas prices rise, because of China, Iran, or whatever, then more people will demand public transit. So give 'em something they can actually use.
-- Continue to push for technological improvements to reduce auto pollution and increase mileage. Modest steps toward pollution reduction and energy conservation frequently make sense. Radical changes, not so much.
-- Continue policies that support modest gas prices, until technology makes the electric car a full-blown competitor (a day that's not far away). Wanna raise gas taxes to fix roads? That might make sense. Wanna use gas taxes to pay for trains and bike paths? That does not make sense. Pay for trains and bike paths with their own pot of money -- assuming people are willing to pay when the choice is made clear.
-- Continue solid -- but not over-blown (No Solyndras) -- support for domestic electric car development and production. This includes research to make better batteries and faster re-charging stations, planning for home-based and public recharging stations, and supporting the necessary expansion of power plants to support a more robust electric grid. If America hopes to re-build any of its industrial infrastructure, we have a far, far bigger opportunity to create jobs with electric cars than with trains and streetcars. (Someday, maybe we'll have functional solar-powered cars. That would be a great day.) Bottom line: we need to be out in front in this field.
-- Support Supporting the "grid" by allowing more construction of well-regulated power plants drawing energy from American sources: coal, natural gas, nuclear, and someday (when tech advances finally make these sources competitive) solar and wind. To prevent abuse from the greedy, we absolutely need a strong EPA. A more robust domestic energy industry means jobs for Americans, and often in places that sorely need them, like Kentucky and West Virginia, rural parts of Ohio and the Dakotas, etc.
Continued support for technology and workplace cultural adjustments that allow people to live wherever they want. The increasingly robust power of online life supports working from anywhere. We do not need to concentrate into huge cities with 5 million, 10 million or more people. We are far better able to "telecommute" today than we were 10 or 15 years ago, when the over-enthusiastic thought the concept would be cool. That "someday" is here, now. Embrace it.