Monday, November 05, 2012

More Thomas Friedman bullshit

By Frank Moraes

I know that Thomas Friedman doesn't exist just to piss me off, because he pisses a lot of other people off too. But at the moment, I'm feeling persecuted, because I was tricked into reading his most recent column. It is all Matt Yglesias' fault. He tweeted, "Everyone is going to hate this Tom Friedman column, but once again he's basically right." Yglesias is a smart guy, so I thought I'd check out the column to see if Friedman is "basically right." No, he isn't. In fact, he is just giving us the same line that he always does.

Thomas Friedman, like most Serious Centrists, is above ideology. He just wants to fix problems. Sure, he can see that the Republicans have gone on tilt. But that doesn't mean the Democrats don't have their own problems. This always reminds me of someone in 1969 watching the Cuyahoga River on fire and saying, "This is bad, but the nitrogen levels are elevated in the American River; let's not forget that!" Balance!

Now, Friedman tells us that if Obama wins re-election, this will cause the Republican Party to reevaluate and move to the center. Okay. That's fine. Friedman is a naive man with no understanding of psychology or sociology, but that doesn't make him evil. If the Republicans lose the presidencies, they will (1) blame it on Mitt Romney being a moderate; and (2) become even more extreme.

In the longer term, there may be something to what Friedman says. If the Republicans do not do very well in the 2014 midterms, then the party will likely start to moderate to some degree. But even then, it is not going to be a sudden lurch to the middle. It will be a slow process that will work from the more liberal areas out. Eventually, we may see a more reasonable center-right party. But to think that this will happen in the next couple of years is ridiculous.

But it isn't when talking about the Republican Party that Friedman is most off the mark. He can't talk about this stuff without blasting the Democratic Party over supposed entitlement reform. For Friedman, this means screwing the poor and middle classes. He seems never to have heard of the idea of eliminating the Social Security cap. Mustn't harm the rich! Instead it is: cut and delay benefits. Friedman is like a personal trainer who only thinks you are exercising if you are in great pain.

What is most annoying about Friedman and what is very much on display in this column is his hubris. Somehow, because he talks to taxi drivers, he thinks he has his fingers on the pulse of America. And this causes him to make ridiculous, untrue proclamations about what the common man wants:

A truly center-right G.O.P. would force the Democrats to have their own civil war -- the center-left versus the rest -- largely over tax/entitlement reform and defense spending. Obama has never fully tested where the Democratic base is on these issues, but that's coming. The Democratic civil war will encompass fewer issues than the G.O.P.'s, but it will be intense and unavoidable -- if we are to forge the Grand Bargains that America's center-right/center-left majority clearly wants and the country clearly needs.

I like the idea that Obama has never tested his base. The truth is that the liberal base of the Democratic Party has been constantly tested. Labor unions, for example, have continued to be loyal partisans even while the Obama administration has done nothing for them. Liberals got Republican health-care "reform" that they hate. On immigration, drug policy, and taxes, liberals have gotten nothing or worse. A man delusional enough to think that "moderate" means pro-gay marriage economic extremism is certainly delusional enough to think that liberals have gotten everything (or anything!) they wanted. But few others would.

The real belly-laughing aspect of that quote is that America wants and needs a Grand Bargain. Americans don't care about the debt. Unless they are specifically asked about it, they rarely mention it as a concern. As for what we need: it is more deficit spending. We need to stimulate the economy. What we don't need is more rich idiot blowhards like Thomas Friedman explaining to us what we really want.

(Cross-posted at Frankly Curious.)

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