The Toyota Hobgoblin, my piece in today’s Philly Inquirer

‘The whole aim of practical politics,” wrote H.L. Mencken, “is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.”

Last year’s hobgoblin was swine flu. The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology warned of as many as 90,000 excess flu deaths, and the federal government declared two national emergencies. Yet, flu season’s over and the CDC estimates estimates we’ve had perhaps a third the usual number of flu deaths.

This year’s hobgoblin is Toyota. You know, those cars whizzing hither and thither, smashing into walls, doctors’ offices, nail salons, and–here’s the best one–a Toyota dealership!

“Stop driving” recalled Toyotas, Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood told owners in February. Congress has held three days of hearings on the matter. Never mind that despite its bad press last year, Toyota easily grabbed first place in Consumer Reports‘ reader survey. found that while Toyota ranked third in U.S. car sales over the past decade, it ranked only 17th in safety complaints to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The government has to have that hobgoblin against which to defend it. Toyota was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Read my piece here, but not without your magic anti-hobgoblin crystal.