Back in the run up to the Iraq war, writer Brian Miller was working on an automotive story and dropped by the Seattle Weekly offices with an enormous new Hummer. We'd occasionally go out for test-drives of automobiles — we tooled around downtown's steep hills in one of the first hybrid cars, and the public reaction to that vehicle was strong: Everywhere we went, folks wanted to know what the heck we were driving. Their eyes sparkled like kids seeing a cool new toy. Seattle's reaction to the politically incorrect Hummer was entirely — and predictably — different.
The thing I remember most is that people seemed to register one of three emotions in their eyes when we pulled up to a stoplight: fear, loathing, and envy. No friendly waves, no "what's that you're driving?" Pedestrians hesitated stepping into crosswalks afraid of being crushed, green-minded citizens showed disgust at our planet-destroying joyride, and a few passersby looked at us with smirks that seemed to suggest they'd be happy to steal the big red Freudian machine out from under our unworthy butts.
At the time the Hummer seemed to me like a metaphor for how the world looked at America. It represented the wealth and hubris that powered us into the Iraq War. The Hummer, after all, was popularized during the first Gulf War — it was literally an agent of the Bush world view, and it became George W. Bush's foreign policy on wheels, a vehicle for producing fear, loathing, and envy overseas.
Now I read that the Hummer may shortly be sold off or phased out, a dinosaur wacked by the asteroid of $4-plus gasoline. Weird that it's a victim of high oil prices because it was the Hummer crowd that early after the Iraq invasion sported bumper stickers saying "Kick their ass, steal their gas." Ironically, it's the SUV crowd that's getting its ass kicked, gas-wise anyway.
It strikes me as appropriate that the Hummer is endangered at the moment Sen. Barrack Obama clinches enough delegates to be the presumptive presidential nominee of the Democratic party. He promises a less Hummer-like foreign policy, a diplomatic hybrid more fitting for the times. Or at least one that will inspire a happier range of reactions than fear, loathing, and envy around the world.