Saturday, May 30, 2009

Obama vs. The Beach Boys

An era is ending: Chrysler is in bankruptcy court, GM is about to file for bankruptcy, and Ford is, somehow, hanging on. Japanese and Korean and German car makers now dominate the American car market. All of this has been decades in the making: in the 1980s I refused to consider buying a Ford aftr hearing the pathetic sound its car door made when I tested its sound. If either Chrysler or GM survive, they will be mere shells of what they were 25 years ago.

SUVs are everywhere. Hummers are around. Minivans zoom on the highways, refuges for the meek of heart and macho of huff. And the three US car makers are bankrupt. What we are seeing are the remaking of an industrial market and the emergence of a 21st century economy. Some bemoan the disappearance of their nostalgia. These two commentators are nostalgic, and they have much to say. O'Rourke writes books, and is shutting the curtain on the 1950s a half century after they ended. Hemminger is a right-wing zealot who does not miss an opportunity to bash the leftist, socialist, big-government, activist Obama, and here blames him for ending the Beach Boys age. Pathetic.

My dream car when I was a teenager; I wanted it in midnight blue.

What fins.

A 1950 Studebaker Commander Convertible, with its famous ‘bullet-nose’ front end.

Preston Tucker, in one of the few Tucker cars produced, celebrates being acquitted of charges of fraud over the failure of his automobile business in 1950.

Henry Ford and his Model T.

Louis Chevrolet sits behind the wheel of his prototype car in 1911.

Some people are waxing nostalgic about the demise of the American automakers of yore, the rise of hybrids, and changing times. Author P.J. O'Rourke really waxes (the title of his latest book is Driving like crazy: thirty years of vehicular hellbending, celebrating America the way it's supposed to be-- with an oil well in every backyard, a Cadillac Escalade in every carport, and the Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank mowing our lawn ).

The phrase “bankrupt General Motors,” which we expect to hear uttered on Monday, leaves Americans my age in economic shock. The words are as melodramatic as “Mom’s nude photos.” And, indeed, if we want to understand what doomed the American automobile, we should give up on economics and turn to melodrama.

Politicians, journalists, financial analysts and other purveyors of banality have been looking at cars as if a convertible were a business. Fire the MBAs and hire a poet. The fate of Detroit isn’t a matter of financial crisis, foreign competition, corporate greed, union intransigence, energy costs or measuring the shoe size of the footprints in the carbon. It’s a tragic romance—unleashed passions, titanic clashes, lost love and wild horses.

On the other hand,Daniel Henninger, Wall Street Journal columnist and devoted right wing fringe guy, makes his feeling clear on who is to blame; his column last Thursday was entitled "Obama vs. The Beach Boys," subtitled "Daddy's taking the muscle-car culture away."

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.

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