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Dying for Consumption

I'm standing in the parking lot of an enormous shopping mall, staring at a Ford Excursion. A 7,700-pound hunk of metal, the Excursion gets horrible gas mileage, while spewing massive amounts of hydrocarbons into the atmosphere.

It's the official policy of our federal government to offer Americans bribes, in the form of huge tax deductions, to encourage the purchase of such vehicles. In 2003, Congress enacted a provision allowing people who bought SUVs weighing at least 6,000 pounds to deduct the entire purchase price from their taxable income, if they claimed to use the things for "business purposes."

Manufacturers scrambled to add even more weight to vehicles, to make them eligible for the deduction. This further decreased the gas mileage and increased the pollution emitted by these environmental disasters on wheels.

The most awe-inspiring feature of this particular Excursion is a plastic decal shaped like a yellow ribbon, which its owner has affixed to the back door. The ribbon is embossed with the message, "Support Our Troops."

When writing this column, I usually make an effort to cultivate the persona of what in a recent New Republic essay my friend Jon Chait characterized as the "thoughtful observer." Thoughtful observers like to note the blind spots of ideologues all across the political spectrum. The thoughtful observer specializes in melancholy, a-plague-on-both-your-houses musings and fears above all the label of partisan hack.

But there are limits, and on this issue I've reached mine.

I could, for example, thoughtfully observe that here in the pseudo-lefty enclave of Boulder, Colo., it's easy to spot a $50,000 car sporting a "Live Simply So Others May Simply Live" bumper sticker. Or I could muse in a melancholy fashion on how the knee-jerk hawk is no more misguided than the knee-jerk dove, and possibly less dangerous.

I could, that is to say, emit a wistful sigh at the prevalence of human folly among those of all political persuasions, and return to cultivating my (metaphorical) garden.

I could do all these things, and normally I would, but today I just can't.

To the owner of the Ford Excursion who implores us to "Support Our Troops" I say this:

You, sir (or madam), are a monumental jackass. At this moment, American troops are risking their lives to protect your inalienable right to live your life in an impenetrable fog of selfishness and stupidity.

If not for the need to service this grotesque monstrosity on which you squander your money and that of the taxpayers who subsidize your comfortably numb life, those troops you support would not be getting killed and maimed in a country I doubt you could find on a map.

I sometimes wonder if anything short of dynamite can shatter your complacent fantasy that the Iraq war is about bringing democracy to the Middle East. The truth is that every Arab from Casablanca to Khartoum could be cutting his brother's throat, and yet this would remain a matter of indifference to our government if not for the need to ensure that you will be able to fill your Excursion with cheap gasoline.

To expect others to sacrifice everything for you, while advertising by your own behavior that you will sacrifice exactly nothing for them, is the height of political and social immorality. And to do so while claiming your political views are an expression of "moral values" is an obscene joke.

Drive off, Ford Excursion. Head back to your gated community, to patiently await the Rapture, or the next Nordstrom's sale. You've driven me past the limits of pundit endurance, and I long to return to the world of thoughtful observation.

Paul Campos is a law professor at the University of Colorado and can be reached at Paul.Campos@Colorado.edu.

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