Tom Friedman is a hack. I have pointed this out before. It is time to point it out again.
He opens today’s most emailed NYTimes.com article with a block quote from some Financial Times shill (who, when I read the words ” retired Singaporean” I knew — just fucking knew – would be a “taxi driver,” but who instead turns out to be a an ex-diplomat; you can’t always be right):
Kishore Mahbubani, a retired Singaporean diplomat, published a provocative essay in The Financial Times on Monday that began like this: “Dictators are falling. Democracies are failing. A curious coincidence? Or is it, perhaps, a sign that something fundamental has changed in the grain of human history. I believe so. How do dictators survive? They tell lies. Muammar Gaddafi was one of the biggest liars of all time. He claimed that his people loved him. He also controlled the flow of information to his people to prevent any alternative narrative taking hold. Then the simple cellphone enabled people to connect. The truth spread widely to drown out all the lies that the colonel broadcast over the airwaves.
“So why are democracies failing at the same time? The simple answer: democracies have also been telling lies.”
Coulda fooled me. I thought that dictators survived by being ruthlessly violent against dissenters and competitors within their populations. And by having imperial allies who want to extract their natural resources at favorable prices. But, whatevs. Tom Friedman is about to talk about our democracy gap, and how to solve the problem of “telling lies.” YES! Preach it, Tom Friedman!
Mahbubani noted that “the eurozone project was created on a big lie” that countries could have monetary union and fiscal independence — without pain. Meanwhile, in America, added Mahbubani, now the dean of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore, “No U.S. leaders dare to tell the truth to the people. All their pronouncements rest on a mythical assumption that ‘recovery’ is around the corner. Implicitly, they say this is a normal recession. But this is no normal recession. There will be no painless solution. ‘Sacrifice’ will be needed, and the American people know this. But no American politician dares utter the word ‘sacrifice.’ Painful truths cannot be told.”
Jesus, when did Friedman become a blogger/aggregator? Okay, okay. This isn’t really Friedman’s bad, except in the sense that he’s quoting it and stroking his caterpillar approvingly, but it still deserves to be trashed.
All we hear about from national politicians — all that we dealt with the whole summer with the debt deal debacle — was how we needed to tighten our belts and share the sacrifice in order to get us back on track to prosperity and debt reduction and grandma and apple pie. It was a fucking meme on the liberal blogosphere to make fun of the “shared sacrifice” bit, because, implicitly, this “sharing” of the “sacrifice” was understood to be, in real policy terms, undertaken by the poor and the middle class. You see, all people share equally, but some people share more equally than others. And since the rich have orders of magnitude more money than the poor and the middle class, it was understood by the chattering classes that they would share a teeny tiny bit more than those groups, and save the rest for “job creation.”
Get it? No? Good. It never made a damn bit of sense.
Of course, there is a big difference between America and Libya. We can vote out our liars, unlike certain Arab — and Asian — countries. Still, Mahbubani’s comparison warrants some reflection this week, which coincides with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and the president’s jobs speech. It is a great week for truth-telling.
9/11 wuz an inside job!!!!!!!!
But seriously, what did you just say, Tom Friedman? When have we ever voted out liars in this country? I mean, we vote out liars every few years during election season, but — this is the important part — we just replace them with more liars! I prefer some liars to other liars, surely, but to pretend that we’re going to find a legion of Pinnochios to rescue our political system is… childish? Has Tom Friedman never seen a campaign advertisement? What the hell kind of political observer is this guy?
Can you remember the last time you felt a national leader looked us in the eye and told us there is no easy solution to our major problems, that we’ve gotten into this mess by being self-indulgent or ideologically fixated over two decades and that now we need to spend the next five years rolling up our sleeves, possibly accepting a lower living standard and making up for our excesses?
For me, this is the most important thing to say both on the anniversary of 9/11 and on the eve of President Obama’s jobs speech. After all, they are intertwined. Why has this been a lost decade? An answer can be found in one simple comparison: How Dwight Eisenhower and his successors used the cold war and how George W. Bush used 9/11. America had to face down the Russians in the cold war. America had to respond to 9/11 and the threat of Al Qaeda. But the critical difference between the two was this: Beginning with Eisenhower and continuing to some degree with every cold war president, we used the cold war and the Russian threat as a reason and motivator to do big, hard things together at home — to do nation-building in America. We used it to build the interstate highway system, put a man on the moon, push out the boundaries of science, teach new languages, maintain fiscal discipline and, when needed, raise taxes. We won the cold war with collective action.
He answers his own question (George Bush was the cause of the “lost decade”) and then ignores it in order to pivot into… collective action? Where is this going exactly?
George W. Bush did the opposite. He used 9/11 as an excuse to lower taxes, to start two wars that — for the first time in our history — were not paid for by tax increases, and to create a costly new entitlement in Medicare prescription drugs. Imagine where we’d be today if on the morning of 9/12 Bush had announced (as some of us advocated) a “Patriot Tax” of $1 per gallon of gas to pay for education, infrastructure and government research, to help finance our wars and to slash our dependence on Middle East oil. Gasoline in the U.S. on Sept. 11, 2001, averaged $1.66 a gallon.
But rather than use 9/11 to summon us to nation-building at home, Bush used it as an excuse to party — to double down on a radical tax-cutting agenda for the rich that not only did not spur rising living standards for most Americans but has now left us with a huge ball and chain around our ankle. And later, rather than asking each of us to contribute something to the war, he outsourced it to one-half of one-percent of the American people. Everyone else — y’all have fun.
We used the cold war to reach the moon and spawn new industries. We used 9/11 to create better body scanners and more T.S.A. agents. It will be remembered as one of the greatest lost opportunities of any presidency — ever.
“And I advocated for all of it right up until, oh, I dunno, 2007 or so.”
My fervent hope is that on Thursday Mr. Obama will set an example and tell the cold, hard truth — to parents and kids. I know. Honesty, we are told, is suicidal in politics. But as long as every solution that is hard is off the table, then our slow national decline will remain on the table. The public is ready for more than Michele Bachmann’s fairy-dust promise that she can restore $2 a gallon gasoline.
For once, Mr. President, let’s start a debate with the truth. Tell us what you really think will be required to get us out of this stagnation, what kind of collective action and shared sacrifice will be needed and why that can lead not just to muddling through, not just to being O.K., but to restoring American greatness.
A leading columnist in the country’s most important newspaper is seriously calling on the president to stop hurting his feelings and use his jobs speech to heal the nation. Never mind that Republican obstructionism will prevent anything from being accomplished legislatively until at least the end of this Congress (and possibly forever). What galls me is this: “For once, Mr. President let’s start a debate with the truth.” It is a journalistic atrocity along the lines of Peggy Noonan’s famous “Would it be irresponsible to speculate? It would be irresponsible not to.” What kind of formulation is that? Does this guy even read his own newspaper? He seems to be under the impression that the onus is on the president — not the climate change denialists, or the anti-evolution crowd; not the abortion-is-murder party, or the “Founding Fathers were all religious zealots” set, or the “ACORN killed my grandma and is racist” folks; nope, the president — to be the truthful party here. To finally stand up and defend the truth! The troof! Proof! Just like that, and America will be saved. If President Obama gives a really cool and awesome and THATWASDEEPMAN and radical (but not in the Bill Ayers way) speech, Friedman sez, we can haz national unity. Or something. He never really explains how it will come about. Presumably, it just will.
This kind of faux-naive political dialogue, unfortunately, is the norm in this country. And I’m afraid that as long as it remains so, we’re essentially fucked. See you kids in the soup line.