Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tom Friedman redux

By Carol Gee

Over the past years of my primary home, the South by Southwest blog, the most popular post I have ever written was about Thomas Friedman's "flat world," dated 7/19/05. In all likelihood, it is not because it was a brilliant post, but because the first line of it reads like a gold mine for college students with an assignment due. To quote:

Here's your cliff notes . . .
Thomas Friedman addressed the National Governors Association in Des Moines, Iowa recently. In an animated presentation, he talked about his thesis that "The World is Flat." ( reviews his book here). See also "Valin"'s long post and comments following it.

Here are some of the main points and themes that I took from watching his keynote speech to the assembled governors, broadcast on C-Span.

I have been meaning to revisit this most influential author, and today is the day based on regular contributor betmo's sending me this link from The Agonist: "There will be no reboot."* The post had its genesis in Friedman's latest op-ed piece in the 12/23 NYT, in which he opined that it is "Time to Reboot America." Bemoaning the GM bailout, Friedman compared his favorable technological experience on a Far East trip, with his unpleasant recent homecoming to an aging and dysfunctional U.S. infrastructure. To quote:

That’s why we don’t just need a bailout. We need a reboot. We need a build out. We need a buildup. We need a national makeover. That is why the next few months are among the most important in U.S. history. Because of the financial crisis, Barack Obama has the bipartisan support to spend $1 trillion in stimulus. But we must make certain that every bailout dollar, which we’re borrowing from our kids’ future, is spent wisely.

. . . John Kennedy led us on a journey to discover the moon. Obama needs to lead us on a journey to rediscover, rebuild and reinvent our own backyard.

How to peg Friedman's politics? He has written a number of columns supportive of President-elect Obama, one this month speculating that Obama might just be able to fetch a success from the war in Iraq. Opinion about Friedman's stripe varies wildly:

  • "Thomas Friedman's Socialist America" is posted at New York Young Republican Record.

  • David Sirota, writing in 2006 at The Huffington Post, labels him contemptuously as a "pompous and grandiloquent" friend to rich elites.

  • Reviewing Friedman's newest book, titled, "Hot, Flat and Crowded," NPR labeled his as a revolutionary opting for "geo-greenism." That sounds positively scary.

  • Wikipedia, naturally, has a thorough exploration of the three-time Pulitzer Prize winning author, noting that he originally supported the invasion of Iraq, but "later became an outspoken critic of the war and the Bush administration."

Now, what do I really think? I am ambivalent. Friedman fancies himself as a world-class guru on the Middle East, and incidentally, the Entire World. He can be smug during personal appearances on television. But he is due much credit for articulating the flat world concept that explains globalization in a way that truly fits for me. And his television series on the history and politics of the Middle East was foundational to my understanding of the region. What is your take on Tom Friedman?

Hat Tip Key: Regular contributors of links to leads are "betmo"* and Jon#.

(Cross-posted at South by Southwest.)

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