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(HOST) Commentator Mike Martin has been thinking about the high price of gas – and why we seem to think that “real men” need big cars.

(MARTIN) In American culture, the vehicle is sometimes considered an extension of a man’s virility; but with sky-high gas prices, this is changing. Even the macho Governor of California, Arnold Schwarzenegger, has supported legislation to let hybrid cars use carpool lanes. This free pass out of traffic jams would make hybrid cars very desirable, and boost demand for cars which guzzle less gas. It should be noted that Brad Pitt, who also has muscles and is a dude drives a hybrid.

This change in what our culture considers a manly car had to come. If you take a minute to think about it, it’s at odds with our American masculine ideal. American men pride themselves on being good providers and protectors of children driving a huge car stuffed with creature comforts isn’t a manly move. A guy doing that is burning his children’s inheritance and endangering his country’s prosperity and security. Since Hurricane Katrina, we also see just how fragile our energy infrastructure is. Make no mistake: if you’re cruising around town burning extra gas, you are not a dude. You’re living it up today, but your kids are going to pay for it tomorrow.

In our culture, the Real Man is selfless: he takes a hit for the team, he gives his last drop of water to his buddy, he makes sacrifices, and he does the Right Thing in a pinch. We know now that we must quit our oil addiction, but we can’t seem to do what we know is good for us. Cutting back is hard for us, but it will protect our economy, help the war effort, and counter negative effects of global warming like devastating hurricanes for example.

In our culture, we prize Yankee ingenuity and value guys who tackle tough problems head-on. The problem of finding safe, renewable energy is a big challenge, but if we can put men on the moon we can surely find new solutions. Our history is full of can-do types, and America is famous for its technology and innovation. It’s time for us to put our brains together, step up to the plate, and make fossil fuels obsolete.

Young people get it. Last year, at Champlain Valley Union High School, a group of students asked their current events teacher why we don’t do more for new-energy technologies. With their inspired teacher, Greg Cluff, and Vermont Representative Bill Lippert, they helped draft a bill to give Vermont hybrid buyers a tax credit. That bill is still idling, but since Hurricane Katrina people are now urging Congress to get tougher fuel economy standards. It’s the right thing to do if you are tough enough to sacrifice for a good cause, if you want to provide for your kids, and if you think that we can do better.

Come on fellas; take a hit for the team. Put the gas-guzzler in the garage; it’s what a real man would do. And, ladies, you can do the same.

This is Mike Martin of Burlington.

Mike Martin writes about issues of culture and education and teaches French at Champlain Valley Union High School.

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