The day after the Obama administration announced rules for tougher automobile fuel efficiency standards, conservative media pundit Glenn Beck ridiculed hybrid cars as undesirable and not worthy of tax incentives.

Glenn Beck

Glenn Beck

In a comedy routine on his radio program, Beck said: “Last year, when gas prices hit their all-time highs, at over $4 a gallon, of the top ten best-selling cars of 2008, exactly none of them were hybrids, not even the hero of the environmental universe, the Toyota Prius.” In truth, when pick-up trucks are removed from the 2008 list, the Toyota Prius ranked No. 10 for sales of passenger vehicles. In April 2008, when gas prices started their steepest ascent, the Prius rose to No. 8.

Beck’s sharpest barbs were aimed at tax incentives for hybrids. He said, “Do you know the average household income of a hybrid buyer is over $113,000? That’s more than double the average household, and six times the poverty level. The purchase of a hybrid is a better indicator of household wealth than a doctorate degree.” Speaking to an “idiot” liberal character, he asked, “Aren’t tax breaks for the wealthy usually the kind of thing you’re infuriated about?”

Beck’s comments echoed ideas expressed by Rush Limbaugh in March. Referring to hybrids, Limbaugh said, “Nobody’s buying ’em. Nobody wants them. The manufacturers are making them in droves to satisfy Obama.” He further characterized hybrids, high gas prices, and Detroit’s economic woes as an agenda of the Obama administration: “People are going to buy [hybrids] because Obama’s going to see to it the price [of gas] gets back up to four bucks, since that is the tipping point…Ford and Toyota are manufacturing all kinds of new hybrids to keep politicians happy. Politics. You want to know what killed the auto industry? Politics.”

Many Republican hybrid drivers would take umbrage with Beck’s and Limbaugh’s comments. One visitor of HybridCars.com wrote in 2005: “I am a tried and true Prius owner, and my next vehicle will be another hybrid. I’ll never go back to a full gasoline engine. I am a conservative, church-attending Christian. I love Rush Limbaugh and support George Bush…Please don’t lump me with the tree huggers. I purchased a Prius because I was spending too much money at the gas pump.”

Fighting Words

Beck’s comments could be dismissed as populist rhetoric, although such anti-hybrid viewpoints have resulted in acts of vandalism. There were reports of at least seven attacks on Priuses in Petaluma, Calif. in April 2008. Vandals used bricks or rocks to smash windshields, and there was one instance of a Prius getting rammed by another vehicle. Three months later, a Toyota Prius was set on fire in Los Angeles. Fire investigators concluded that the inferno was the result of arson. Anti-Prius vandalism dates back to 2004, when there was a spate of Priuses being “keyed” in Las Vegas. Several attacks against Priuses were reported in Seattle last month.

Hummer Vandalism

This past weekend, several Hummers were vandalized at a car dealership in Portland.

The most visible act of car-related political vandalism occurred in 2003, when so-called “eco-arsonists” set blaze to 20 Hummer H2s, valued in total at $3 million, in the eastern suburbs of Los Angeles. The vandals targeted the Hummer—the vehicle that for many symbolizes gas-guzzling and disregard for the environment. Several vehicles were spray-painted with graffiti slogans, including “Fat, Lazy Americans”, and daubed with the letters ELF, which stands for Earth Liberation Front, a radical fringe ecological group, which claimed responsibility for the attacks.

This past weekend, several Hummers were vandalized at a car dealership in Portland. Vandals poured chemicals on the Hummers, causing damage to the vehicle’s body. Portland police and the FBI are investigating.