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Jewish World Review Feb. 3, 2003/ 1 Adar I, 5763

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

If you drive an SUV, park next to me

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Honestly, if I didn't already own an SUV, I'd go out and buy one. While I'm at it, I might grab a Big Mac and fries, shoot a deer and run over a war protester.

Not because I love SUVs, but because the recent Kafkaesque assault on SUV drivers has just about exhausted my legendary sensitivity reserves.

First it was the "What would Jesus drive?" campaign positing the notion that SUV-driving is a sin second only to stoning pregnant rape victims. Next Arianna Huffington -- columnist, author and FOH (Friend of Hollywood) -- produced a series of anti-SUV ads playing off anti-drug commercials in which teens admit to helping terrorists by smoking pot.

In Huffington's ads, supposed SUV drivers -- soccer moms and the sort -- look into the camera and deadpan phrases such as: "I helped hijack an airplane"; "I helped blow up a night club"; "I gassed 40,000 Kurds." In other words, people like yours truly are guilty of aiding and abetting terrorists.

Now, Matt Lauer, co-host of NBC's Today show, has outed himself as a guilt-addled SUV owner during the show's weeklong exploration of the nation's gas-guzzling problem. As he introduced recent guests, Lauer impersonated a man thinking and mused:

"While it's great to haul my son's junk around, am I using more than my fair share of the precious fuel that's available?"

The segment included Robert Kennedy Jr., senior attorney with the National Resources Defense Council, and Sam Kazman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Kazman's group was identified as receiving some of its funding from the auto industry, while no mention was made of Kennedy's funding sources and donors, but you can guess they don't belong to the vast right wing, which, as everyone knows, supports war at any cost so long as the United States gains dominion over Middle East oil reserves.

Credit goes to the always-alert Media Research Center for noting Lauer's unequal treatment of his guests. Meanwhile, America is left in reality limbo: Will Matt give up his SUV? Will he share with us when he does? In keeping with Today's probing tradition, will we get to watch?

Huffington is ahead of the game in moral one-upmanship. She's already shed her Lincoln Navigator and drives one of two other cars parked in her driveway -- a Toyota Prius and a Volvo wagon. To her credit, Huffington rejects any claim to being holier-than-thou.

"I connected the dots late," she said. "This is why I want to help other people to connect them."

While it's inarguably true that SUVs use more gas than some other cars, there's a problem with what's otherwise trying to pass for high-minded logic. Most people who drive SUVs don't drive them solo, but pack them with kids. In other words, they carpool, which saves gas, right?

Furthermore, what uses more energy: An SUV that gets filled up once a week? That would be mine. Or, say, a Brentwood mansion with electronic gates, such as the one in which Huffington lives?

I don't resent rich people. In fact, I aspire to be one, find them useful to the economy and prefer their parties. But I do resent when other people insist that you ascend to their higher moral ground just because it makes them feel better.

The truth is I don't like or need my SUV any more and plan to get rid of it as soon as I find someone newly emerged from a coma. When I bought it seven years ago, I lived "out." Our dirt driveway had a habit of washing away when it rained. I had boys and dogs and happily hauled dirt, fertilizer and sacks of compost. I'm over it.

We moved back to the city. Our driveway is paved, our dogs fewer, the kids are grown, and I walk to work. (Yes, Jesus walks with me.) Until I can wrangle a trade-in, however, I do not feel guilty or ashamed about my SUV, which sits in our driveway wishing that it were younger and more attractive -- a Toyota Prius, perhaps -- living behind locked gates.

As for the pot-smoking/terrorism connection, by the way, I doubt potheads are supporting much terrorism related to drug trafficking these days. There's probably more marijuana being grown between Tallahassee and Thomasville than seeps across our national borders. Too bulky.

But smoking weed does make you stupid, kids, so stop it. You're going to need your brightest lights to see through the murky cerebral emissions that pass for thinking these days.

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