Djcnor’s Weblog

First Test of Obama’s Popularity

Posted on: January 27, 2009

Americans (a term I hate to use because it ignores all those Americans who are not from the US) love their cars. Given any rationalization at all, they’ll choose a big fast energy-wasteful one. Each individual will find a way to justify his or her exemption from any restrictions of that impulse.

Yes, I’m generalizing, and what I’m saying is not just true of Americans, but non-Americans aren’t going to be directly affected by Obama’s (or California’s) proposed restrictions, nor is it their good opinions of Obama that are at stake here.

I also have to admit that I am anything but impartial on this issue. Some smokers who give up smoking become rabid about the remaining smokers doing the same. Me, I’ve operated mostly without a car since my first husband and I agreed on divorcing that he would keep the ancient, balding, but still quite functional, Toyota with way over 100,000 miles on it, and I would keep our stereo. Sometimes, I had a car (for long trips and hauling), but mostly got around by bicycle or moped. The rest of the time, I’ve managed quite acceptably by public transportation. Living a good deal in New York City and in Europe made a big part of the difference.

I got spoiled.

I know some must find that statement unlikely, but it’s true. Taking the expenses of a car out of a budget frees a lot of cash for other things. Public transit also usually entails a standard, pretty much totally predictable cost per month, so it’s easy to figure it into the budget.

Obama’s not asking Americans to give up their cars, not at all. I’ll accept that such an idea would just not be practical at all for a good part of the US. To ask that really would entail seriously jeopardizing public opinion. Switching to more efficient cars will be a bit of a shock to the American system. It’ll require some adjustment. But I think they’ll be surprised just how small that adjustment will be, and they’ll be positively surprised by the benefits resulting and perhaps become more willing to make some of the other energy-conserving adaptations that have become commonplace in Europe. Whatever good will Obama loses with this move will, I think, return eventually. In their hearts, Americans know it makes sense, and they know he warned them that he would be asking sensible adjustments. The car industry will, in the end, be made stronger, more competitive in the world environment, as a result of making the changes it should have made a long long time ago. 

Maybe then Americans will be ready for a talk about public transportation and what it takes to make a system good enough for people to give up their cars, or at least survive perfectly fine without them when budget restrictions make that part of the budget optional. I pretty much consider myself an expert on that subject, but I’ll save it for another post.

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