Thomas Friedman’s bad habits

Thomas Friedman's bad habits
Thomas Friedman's bad habits
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If New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman hoped to get people talking with his column today, it was a sterling success – I’ve lost count of how many pieces I’ve read today about Friedman’s latest submission. The responses haven’t exactly been positive, but at Friedman can at least take comfort in knowing his column is being read.

Before getting into his latest piece, I wanted to note a little context. In 2011, Friedman seemed to develop a bad habit: he kept writing columns complaining that President Obama had failed to take a certain action, apparently unaware that the president has already taken that action.

In August, Friedman presented a policy platform he believes is absent from America’s political discourse, but neglected to mention that it was practically word-for-word the same platform Obama already endorsed. In September, Friedman did it again. In early October, he did it again. And in November, the Times columnist did it once more.

That was last year. In 2012, Friedman has written that he wants both parties to find some kind of centrist, middle ground on big-picture national challenges, possibly pushed into responsibility by some third, independent force. Then, he wrote that column again. And then he wrote it again.

And today, the columnist wrote it once more.

This election has to be about those hard choices, smart investments and shared sacrifices – how we set our economy on a clear-cut path of near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform. The next president has to have a mandate to do all of this.

But, today, neither party is generating that mandate – talking seriously enough about the taxes that will have to be raised or the entitlement spending that will have to be cut to put us on sustainable footing, let alone offering an inspired vision of American renewal that might motivate such sacrifice. That’s why I still believe that the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate – like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative [New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg] – who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America’s global leadership before we implode.

It’s hard to know where to start, but let’s give this a shot.

By way of a kicking-off point, Friedman began by talking about the nation’s need to invest in infrastructure, and referenced the poor condition of the road around Union Station in D.C. What he neglected to mention is that the road is in bad shape because that traffic circle is currently under construction – it’s being repaired as part of the kind of infrastructure investment Friedman ostensibly supports.

What’s more, in the same anecdote, the columnist called for better rail service – a signature domestic issue for President Obama, which Republicans have fought tooth and nail. Mitt Romney has vowed to abandon rail and scrap Amtrak subsidies altogether.

Friedman wants “near-term, job-growing improvements in infrastructure and education and on a long-term pathway to serious fiscal, tax and entitlement reform,” which sounds like a line from an Obama speech, but which has no shot in Congress thanks to Republican filibusters in the Senate and Republican control in the House.

He goes on to complain about “small ball” measures like the Buffett Rule, which Democrats see as part of a larger tax reform initiative, but which can’t pass because of Republican filibusters in the Senate and Republican control in the House.

Friedman argues that the United States “needs a renewal,” which includes giving “our two-party system the shock it needs.”

Look, I’m not unsympathetic to the larger vision here, but the messenger has a confused message – Friedman wants a party that will commit to investing in infrastructure, education, and short-term economic growth, but is also willing to make concessions and compromises on long-term fiscal challenges on entitlements. But he’s also under the impression that the two-party system is failing him – even though one of the major parties already agrees with him.

The columnist wants Bloomberg to run as independent in order to push Democrats to be more … Democratic?

What Friedman doesn’t explain in the piece is how the mayor of New York’s imaginary campaign would help get 60 votes in the Senate for worthwhile ideas, overcome the fact that the House is being run by intemperate children, or change the fact that Obama already wants to deliver the agenda Friedman supports, but can’t implement in our system of government without Congress’ cooperation.

If recent history is any guide, Friedman will have an eerily similar column in May to the one he published today. Maybe that one will explore these details in a little more depth.

Thomas Friedman

Thomas Friedman's bad habits