Tom Friedman Archive
Trevor asks in comments why I bothered to make this post. I reply as follows, in case it wasn’t obvious to you, either.
See, that’s the trouble. Tom Friedman is always eminently “reasonable,” but his ideas are always the same stupid tripe. “We need a credible Third Party!” Friedman says, and that party just so happens to have the exact same political orientation as Tom Friedman. And then there are a few quotes from some random dickhead in another country who also seems to endorse Friedman’s view.
He never substantively argues his points. Look at this paragraph:
“Looking at America from here, makes me feel as though we have the worst of all worlds right now. The days when there were liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, who nudged the two parties together, appear over. We don’t have compulsory voting. Special interest money is out of control, and we lack any credible Third Party that could capture enough of the center to force both Democrats and Republicans to compete for votes there. So we’ve lost our ability to do big, hard things together. Yet everything we have to do — tax reform, fiscal reform, health care reform, energy policy — is big and hard and can only be done together.”
What are the implicit solutions to our political problems in this graph? 1) Compulsory voting (stupid), 2) control special interest money (common sense), and 3) create a credible Third Party (impossible, given the way the American political system is designed). Aside from (2), which would be great, what the hell is there to like about this column? It’s standard Tom Friedman “I’m going nowhere special with this but I’m almost at my word count” fare. Oh wow, the right in New Zealand is different from the right in America. HOLY FUCKING MOLY PEOPLE, THIS STORY HAS LEGS!
The column isn’t offensive; it’s banal, inapplicable to American political realities, and strident in pretending otherwise. It’s milquetoast. It’s classic Tom Friedman, and I wish he’d just shut the fuck up already.
Hope that helps.
I missed this lovely book review of Friedman’s latest, That Used to Be Us, in the Wall Street Journal the other day. Apparently, it’s not quite as bad as some of his earlier efforts.
‘That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back” is a landmark in American popular literature: It is the first book by Thomas L. Friedman, the New York Times columnist and mega-best-selling author of “The World Is Flat,” “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” and so on, in which an alert reader can go whole paragraphs—whole pages, in a few instances—without fighting the impulse to chuck it across the room.
But it’s still plenty bad:
Mr. Friedman can turn a phrase into cliché faster than any Madison Avenue jingle writer. He announces that “America declared war on math and physics.” Three paragraphs later, we learn that we’re “waging war on math and physics.” Three sentences later: “We went to war against math and physics.” And onto the next page: “We need a systemic response to both our math and physics challenges, not a war on both.” Three sentences later: We must “reverse the damage we have done by making war on both math and physics,” because, we learn two sentences later, soon the war on terror “won’t seem nearly as important as the wars we waged against physics and math.” He must think we’re idiots.
I don’t agree with the editorial slant of the review, as you might expect given that it’s written by a senior editor of the Weekly Standard, but I’ll allow my Tom Friedman hate to win the day. Clearly, whatever our larger political disagreements (and they are legion), the left and right in this country can unite around the idea that Friedman is a giant hack.
If one is a spokesman for the sensible center, one must be even-handed, mustn’t one?
On the one hand, the Republicans are lunatics dedicated above all to destroying the Obama Presidency.
On the other hand, Obama didn’t endorse all the provisions of the Simpson-Bowles report.*
See? They’re equally bad.
That’s it, folks. Show’s over.
What kind of phenomenon is Tom Friedman? What does he think about as he sips his morning coffee? Does he honestly believe that the United States would be a better place if his particular brand of “enlightened” oligarchy were to be implemented? Could he possibly endorse the tripe he peddles in the nation’s most important newspaper twice a week? Would he maintain that it’s worth the salary he makes, the position of influence he holds? What does he really think of himself? Does he go to bed satisfied with the life he’s led? Does he have regrets? Can the sheer lack of self-awareness that he demonstrates in column after column really and truly be genuine? What makes the Mustache of Understanding tick?
I bring these questions up because The Friedman wrote a particularly egregious column today. Or, if not particularly egregious, then at least rather telling. In the process of whining about how we need Leadership For A Grand Bargain Otherwise Herbert Hoover, Friedman lays all of his cards out on the table:
All I know is this: If either of you [Boehner and Obama] had been a real leader truly committed to a Grand Bargain — which you both know is what we need — you wouldn’t have just walked away from your negotiations. You would have taken the issue to the country and not let up until the other guy came back to the table.
Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain and how you were prepared for it but the other guy folded — and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)
That’s it. That’s Tom Friedman. Sorry there’s so much bold, but it really needs to sink in for a second. So let’s unpack this really quickly.
First, “all [he] know[s] is” completely wrong. Let’s take it one step at a time. 1) Obama offered the Republicans everything but the kitchen sink (though he did offer some of the dishes!) for the Grand Bargain, 2) Boehner couldn’t get his nutbag caucus in line because he’s facing a power struggle with Eric Cantor, who epitomizes House Republican craziness, 3) Republicans threatened to ruin the economy if they didn’t get everything they wanted, 4) …? 5) “Both sides do it!!!”
The “neither of you is a TRUE leader, nyah!” stuff is equally repellent. Again, Friedman is a man who gets paid — paid very well! — to follow politics very carefully, but his analysis reads like that of someone with absolutely no knowledge of how the wheels of American government work. He’s too thick to realize that there was nothing that either of these leaders could do at the time. Obama could not allow his presidency to adopt a full-metal wingnut economic policy if he expected to be taken seriously as a Democrat in the next election; Boehner could not control his caucus, and very nearly lost his speakership over the debt ceiling, “Grand Bargain” fiasco. The country was quite literally held hostage by an intransigent group of extreme Republicans — highlighting, in fact, the crises our democracy might more regularly undergo if these people are given more power — but Friedman treats it as though it’s a lack of leadership that brought us to this place. “If you were real leaders, you wouldn’t have walked away from negotiations,” Friedman says, but did it ever occur to him that you can’t negotiate with nihilists — even if, as in Boehner’s case, you happen to share a good part of your endgame with them?
Of course it didn’t, because that was two months ago, and Friedman’s ideological filters have since transformed what actually happened into what he would prefer to have happened. Which, of course, goes like this: Left = bad, right = bad, center = good. Both sides do it, and there is no monopoly on truth, regardless of what the facts are.
The real tell, though, the part that I thought was revealing, was this (which I’ll quote again in full, for the lazy):
Instead you both mumbled publicly about a Grand Bargain… and then retreated to your bases. Boehner went back to his base, arguing that more tax cuts can get us out of this, and Obama moved back to his base, with his focus on taxing millionaires. (In my next life, I want to be a member of the “base” — any base. They seem to have so much more fun and influence.)
Nowhere in this “analysis” does Friedman assess the merit of the two bases’ arguments. For him, and other Village centrists, bases are irrational by definition, so there’s no need to investigate any further. Case closed, as it were. But what’s most galling is Friedman’s assertion that he’s not part of any base — that, moreover, the “bases” he so clearly disdains seem to have much more “influence” than people like him. Let me make this as plain as I can.
Earlier in the column, Friedman advises Obama, et al:
…[U]nlike [Herbert] Hoover, who was just practicing the conventional economic wisdom of his day when we fell into the Depression, you have no excuses. We know what to do — a Grand Bargain: short-term stimulus to ease us through this deleveraging process, debt restructuring in the housing market and long-term budget-cutting to put our fiscal house in order.
What kind of history is this? Amity fucking Shlaes? “We know what to do,” Friedman says, “and yet I’m going to pretend that the Roosevelt administration didn’t exist, that John Maynard Keynes didn’t exist, and that my fellow columnist Paul Krugman does not exist. Because history is just a set of facts, and grand narratives are so much more fun, even when they’re wrong.”
Which brings me back to Friedman’s assertion that he is of no base, but that he sincerely wishes he were because of all the “fun” and “influence” he would have. It brings me back to my rhetorical questions in the beginning, which can be summed up basically as, “Does Tom Friedman have a soul, and if so, how hard is he going to hell anyway?” The answers to which are simply, “No,” and “Very.” Friedman is a man who will do everything in his power to make sure that people like him, the political taste-makers and shot-callers, are comfortably sated till the day they die. He will peddle transparent crap like “entitlement reform” while decrying Obama for his “focus on taxing millionaires,” of which he is, of course, one. He will claim to be of no party or clique, and then shamelessly plug for the very wealthy under the guise of speaking for the hardworking man everywhere.
Of course, your everyday New York Times reader doesn’t have digs quite like this:
Nor does your everyday Times reader support “entitlement reform.” (Though, curiously, she does endorse higher taxes on millionaires.)
But then, Tom Friedman isn’t exactly your average Joe. He just plays one on TV.
Tom Friedman can call for slashing Social Security benefits because he’ll never have to rely on them. He can talk about raising the Medicare eligibility age, because his financial adviser informed him that he was a fucking multimillionaire and he will never ever be without leisure, never mind without a refill of a prescription. He can call for short term stimulus and long term austerity, because he’ll be fine either way. It’s all of a piece with Tom Friedman. He represents the interests of the very well-off to an audience of the well-off and the fairly well-off; he disguises it as sober analysis amid a flurry of cliches; and then he cashes his check and goes home to his mansion. He goes back to his base. His base isn’t left or right. It’s that sweet spot right in the middle, the one that caters to the interests of the wealthy under the patina of being above the fray. It’s the visage of cool, calm, and collected centrism — the “both sides do it” nonsense. The epitome of intellectual laziness: “In the final analysis, splitting the difference is the only sensible policy.” That mentality has never made less sense than it does now, as one of the country’s two political parties has been taken over by complete loons.
Nevertheless, you can count on people like Tom Friedman to keep counseling us about the error of our ways. “We don’t compromise enough,” he’ll warn. “We need to bargain more grandly! Everyone’s opinion is valid, there’s plenty of blame to go around (except when it comes to people like me, of course — it’s you left- and right-wingers who are the real problem).”
“Are they stupid or crazy?” is a question that gets asked a lot about the Republican party these days. The answer is always, “Both.” But when we’re talking about people like Tom Friedman, or David Brooks, or Fred Hiatt, or Mark Halperin, or any of the other pundits I don’t feel like rattling off right now, I think you should add a third possibility. The question should be, “Are they stupid or crazy or craven?”
To which the answer is, “Yes.”
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.
Honestly, if you can stomach it, click the link (if you do not have a Times online subscription, please don’t waste one of your 20 free articles — I promise to excerpt enough for you to get the gist). I laughed and laughed and laughed. And then I laughed some more. Friedman begins thusly:
This is a scary economic moment. The response we need is not easy, but it is totally obvious. We need a Grand Bargain between America’s two parties — and we need it right now. Until you read the following news article, we’ll be stuck in a world of hurt.
This paragraph portends bad things for two reasons. One, Friedman is a hack. Two, it signals that he’s about to engage in a creative writing exercise. Gauge my eyes out with a spoon! Egads, what inanity shall unfold?
All sorts of inanity. Remember, THIS IS THE NEWS STORY TOM FRIEDMAN IMAGINES MUST BE WRITTEN IN ORDER FOR THE COUNTRY TO GET BACK ON TRACK!!!!!!
Washington (AP) — It was a news conference the likes of which the White House had never seen. President Obama stood in the East Room, flanked by the House speaker, John Boehner; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell; the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid; and the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. The president asked Mr. Boehner to speak first.
Friedman used to write hard news before he became such a gigantic buffoon. Maybe it’s all the years he’s spent spouting his trademark buffoonery, but this is a terrible, terrible lede. He might as well have begun, “It was a dark and stormy night and the world was about to change, as an epic and historic news conference broke out at the White House.” What sort of news conference would have Tom Friedman creaming his pants so suddenly?
This kind of news conference:
“My fellow Americans,” the Ohio Republican began. “We have just concluded a meeting with the president, prompted by this moment of extraordinary economic peril. Our party, as you know, is convinced that the main reason for our economic decline is that we have too much debt, that government has grown too big and that taxes and regulations are choking our dynamism. But I have to acknowledge that, over the years, our party has contributed to this debt burden and government spending binge. We are not innocent, and, therefore, we owe the country a strategy for governing and for fixing a problem that we helped to create — instead of just blocking the president. The G.O.P. is better than that and has more to offer the nation. Therefore, we have informed the president that our legislators are ready to reopen negotiations immediately on a ‘Grand Bargain’ to address all these debt issues once and for all and that everything will be on the table from our side — including tax reform that closes loopholes and eliminates wasteful subsidies, and, if need be, tax increases.”
OMG. LOL. This is his idea of “the likes of which were never seen”? Because we had the Grand Bargain bullshit a couple of weeks ago, Boehner got 98% of what he wanted, and the stock market started to tumble. Whatever, Tom Friedman. What else did your fantasyland orange congressman say in this orgiastic revelry you just awoke from?
“…both sides will have to bend if we are going to get the kind of comprehensive budget agreement the country needs. To my Tea Party colleagues, I say: thank you. Your passion helped spur the nation to action, but the country cannot be governed, and our future secured, by bowing solely to the passions of any single group — liberal or conservative. I know that the Tea Party activists are true patriots and they will work with us as well.”
The Tea Party is comprised of a group of know-nothing cynics who just want guns and government handouts. (Hey, fuckheads, howz about me and the rest of da cosmopolitan libruls stop subsidizing your shitty, backwater welfare states? Then we’ll get to talking about cutting social security. K?) They aren’t patriots; they’re crybabies. And they’re crybabies, moreover, who think their tears are proof of their UltraMegaAmerica patriotism. But Tom Friedman, centrist extraordinaire, thinks they’re onto something, thinks that if John Boehner just whispers the right sweet-nothings into their ear that they’ll acknowledge that they don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about, step aside, and let the grown-ups handle cleaning up the mess they’ve made of our national affairs. What can I say? GOOD LUCK WITH THAT!
Oh. And then there’s Friedman’s fantasyland Obama speech. Let’s take a look at that.
“Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell, thank you for your commitment to act in our nation’s highest interests. Let me say publicly what I committed to you privately: I have asked Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to revive their deficit commission and to use their recommendations for how to cut spending and raise revenues as the starting point for our negotiations. But it will now be called ‘The National Commission for American Renewal.’ Because in addition to the original Bowles-Simpson members, it will include Senator McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, and its goal will indeed be a comprehensive plan for American renewal.”
Goodie! We’ll rename the Catfood Commission, come up with some even craftier ways to dismember the social safety net, and it will be Very. Very. Serious. And Good. For America. Just not the America Tom Friedman inhabits.
Continue, Imaginary Obama!
“I, too, have a confession: I’ve done a poor job integrating my nation-building ideas, including health care, into a single vision so people understood where I was going. I also let tactical political considerations — like abandoning the Bowles-Simpson commission — intervene, so Americans lost sight of my priorities. That will not happen again.”
Shorter Imaginary Tom Friedman Obama: “Fuck it, let’s just adopt Paul Ryan’s plan and call it good, eh, America?”
Finally, the imaginary, poorly written “news article” that prompted Tom Friedman’s wet dream (and prompted Tom Friedman’s wife to suggest that they should perhaps start sleeping in different beds) concludes on this triumphant note:
At that point, all five leaders shook hands and retreated into the Oval Office. It was exactly 9:29 a.m. One minute later, the New York Stock Exchange opened. The Dow was up 1,223 points at the open — an all-time record.
Aye, and that’s the rub, isn’t it? “Pretty” speeches aside, the only good thing about this fantasyland “news article” is that the Dow is magically up to 1,233 points one minute after the speeches conclude. Friedman seems to be saying, “IT ONLY TAKES ONE MINUTE TO HEAL THE COUNTRY, PEOPLE! THAT’S ALL IT WOULD TAKE! COUPLA SPEECHES, SOME ‘CAN’T WE ALL JUST GET ALONG’ SPIRIT, AND BLAM-O! PROBLEM SOLVED, DOW’S UP A BILLION POINTS, CAN I HAZ BOOK DEAL NOW?”*
This man gets paid by the New York Times and sells millions of copies of books. The only people who deserve what is coming in our inevitable imperial experiment comes crashing to the ground will be people like Tom Friedman, people who helped precipitate it. Alas, I think he’ll be just fine.
*(Edited second to last paragraph because I can.)