Wednesday, June 3, 2009

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See a sample reprint in PDF format. Order a reprint of this article now OPINION: WONDER LAND MAY 28, 2009 Obama vs. The Beach Boys

Daddy's taking the muscle-car culture away.


How long before the midnight drag races return on dark and dusty roads?

When Barack Obama announced that the government will use its fist to wave onto the highways of America cars that get 39 miles to a gallon of liquefied switch grass or something, he said, "Everybody wins."


The Beach Boys.
Everybody? What country has he been living in? This marks the end of the internal combustion engine as we knew it, and it is the way Americans have defined, designed and literally driven much of the nation's culture for as long as anyone can remember. Car culture is America's culture.

Mr. Obama is fond of giving people iPods as gifts. I've got a playlist for Mr. Obama's iPod.

Track 1: "Shut Down" by the Beach Boys. Clip: "Superstock Dodge is windin' out in low/But my fuel-injected Stingray's really startin' to go. To get the traction I'm ridin' the clutch/My pressure plate's burnin', this machine's too much."

Fuel-efficiency regulations could mean the death of American car culture. Wonder Land columnist Daniel Henninger explains. (May 28)
Track 2: "Little Deuce Coupe" by the Beach Boys. Clip: "She's got a competition clutch with a four on the floor, and she purrs like a kitten til the lake pipes roar."

It's 2016. Imagine a Brian Wilson ever thinking to write: "And she'll have fun, fun, fun til her daddy takes her Prius away."

At Mr. Obama's "Everybody wins" announcement ceremony in the Rose Garden, no one knew better how much has been lost than the cowed auto chiefs arrayed behind him. CAFE, the fuel-mileage standards Congress mandated 34 years ago, gradually squeezed the size and life out of America's cars. But something's getting phased out here other than gas-fueled cars.

Some of the most famous celebrity converts to the politics behind this new, shrinking world of plug-ins once wrote and sang paeans to muscle cars and a more muscular culture.

Track 3: "Born to Run" by Bruce Springsteen. Clip: "Beyond the Palace hemi-powered drones scream down the boulevard."

Time was Bruce Springsteen knew that "Jersey boys" mainly meant steel, chrome, rubber and auto tech. Check out the lyrics to "Pink Cadillac" ("but my love is bigger than a Honda") or the car-crazy "Racing in the Street," invoking Chevys with 396 Fuelie heads, Hurst speed-shifters and Camaros running "from the fire roads to the interstate."

Listen to Daniel Henninger's Wonder Land column, now available in audio format.
Track 4: "GTO" by Ronnie and the Daytonas. Clip: "Turn it on, wind it up, blow it out -- GTOoooo."

We are being offered a different world now. One designed, defined and driven by a new set of un-fun obsessions -- carbon footprints, greenhouse gas and alternative energy. This large transition passes before us, barely seen, as the gray water of public policy. Hardly anyone notices how much is being changed.

To put a stop to the new sin of spending too much time out on Highway 9, we are getting the mark-up hearings this week in Washington for the Waxman-Markey climate bill. It's 900 pages long, dripping with thousands of Mickey-Mouse rules to reorder how we live. A Senate Finance Committee document last week on the Obama health-care plan proposes "lifestyle related revenue raisers." Lifestyles like drinking beer. This is the "taxing bad behavior" movement. They get to define what's bad.

Track 5: "Hot Rod Lincoln" by Commander Cody. Clip: "We had flames comin' from out of the side/Feel the tension, man, what a ride!"

This tension over how we live arrived before the world began standing on its head over global warming. The guys in the hemi-powered drones used to mock the granola and Birkenstock crowd. Look who's on top now.

"Everybody wins?" Not quite. What's winning is a worldview that goes deeper than the data beneath global warming. The gasoline cars they want to turn into scrap were about a lot more than the thrill of roaring on.

The cars and their culture were a manifestation of what made the U.S. really different. The cars, like the country, were big, fast and unfettered. Their drivers were delirious with the possibility of finding something new in life. "It's a town full of losers, and I'm pullin' out of here to win!"

When Americans grew up, that's just what a lot of them did -- win. Now, it looks like we're being asked to throttle down to government-approved survival. They're even running the car companies, telling them what to build, and then they'll pay people to buy the product. Save the planet and lose the nation's heart.

The likelihood of resistance to this timid ethos from anyone in politics is remote. It was tough to watch former A-4 Skyhawk pilot John McCain try to outbid Barack Obama for the green lifestyle vote in the debates. We'll see what happens when people walk into auto showrooms (if they exist) and every car has a wheelbase of about 100 inches.

Maybe they'll bolt. Maybe the car culture will revert to where it began, when the whiskey runners in the South ran from the revenuers. This time the cars themselves will be bootlegged -- fat, fast and gas-powered -- racing through the night on off-map roads while the National Green Corps -- enacted by Congress in the second Obama term -- looks for them from ethanolic choppers overhead. Reborn to run.

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