The Beach Boys Redux: Muscle Cars and National Security

by Bill Chameides | May 28th, 2009
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

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The Wall Street Journal wants to “drill, baby, drill.” But when it comes to fuel economy, it’s “burn, baby, burn” — and send those dollars elsewhere.

Flip to the journal’s editorial and opinion section, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find a voice not espousing the conservative creed. And when it comes to foreign affairs, you can usually expect those voices to be staunchly on the side of protecting national security … above all. But I wonder if there isn’t a glaring inconsistency in their messaging? So let’s wander back in time just a bit.

Drilling for America

One of the hot button issues of last year’s presidential campaign was whether the federal government should open up regions of the outer continental shelf and Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to drilling. The mantra “drill, baby, drill” became the rallying cry for McCain and his supporters.

And what is the rationale behind “drill, baby, drill?” National security, plain and simple.

The United States consumes some 25 percent of the oil used worldwide, and 60 percent of the oil we use is imported. As a result, more than $350 billion flow out of the country every year. And, because oil is a global commodity, our foreign oil expenditures effectively place huge sums of money in the hands of Middle Eastern countries, countries that in many cases do not have America’s best interests at heart.

The pro-drilling logic goes: if we drill for more domestic oil, we will import less foreign oil, and thus we will bolster our economy and tighten our national security. And because national security trumps all, the fact that drilling in the areas under discussion might destroy unique, irreplaceable natural resources should not be a reason to not drill. Admittedly, their argument and its national security implications must be taken seriously.

It probably comes as no surprise that the Wall Street Journal‘s editorials and opinion pieces took the side of the drillers. One version of the mantra was “Drill! Drill! Drill!” — the headline of a June 12, 2008 editorial that argued that our reticence on drilling meant that the United States was no longer “a serious country” ready to compete on the international stage. The problem was our “environmental moralisms,” something we should not expect other countries to “play along with.” And because of those moralisms, we needn’t worry about other countries burying us — “we’ll do it ourselves,” wrote Daniel Henninger, the deputy editor of the journal’s editorial page, in his regular Thursday column, “Wonder Land.”

Muscle Cars More American Than Protecting National Security?

If one favors oil drilling in environmentally sensitive areas for reasons of national security, wouldn’t it be logical to support President Obama’s new fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks? After all, those standards will save significantly more oil than we can expect to get from opening up currently protected areas of the outer continental shelf and ANWR. Isn’t it worth sacrificing large, gas-guzzling cars to strengthen our economic and geopolitical position?

Apparently the journal’s answer — or at least Henninger’s — is no. Why? Because, believe it or not, those new standards will spell the end of the muscle car, and muscle cars are, writes Henninger, fundamental to our national heritage.

Sure, many Americans love big, high-performance, mega-horsepower cars and have for decades. And yes, Henninger is correct that hot rods and drag racers are forever etched into the American psyche in the pop music of the ‘50s and ‘60s. But equally etched into our culture are the Pony Express and the days when the railroad was king. (Tune in on Monday to learn more about how we became a nation of cars in the first place.)

Is keeping large gas-guzzlers more important than protecting our nation’s security and economy? More important than stopping the flow of dollars from the United States to the Middle East?

It is a strange logic that is followed in the WSJ’s editorial pages: “Environmental moralisms” are un-American, trumped by the need to protect American interests. But putting muscle-car nostalgia above national security? American as apple pie. Don’t forget to burn a little rubber on your way to the supermarket to buy that apple pie. It’s part of your cultural heritage, according to the WSJ. And don’t worry about the fact that our friends in Iran will be singing the Beach Boys’ “409” all the way to the bank.

filed under: automobile, faculty, fossil fuels, oil, policy, politics, transportation
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