Someone Stop This Man Before He Writes Again
Thomas Friedman is at it again, in a New York Times op-ed that begins thusly, with a quote from Lewis Mumford regarding the decline of Rome:
“Everyone aimed at security: no one accepted responsibility. What was plainly lacking, long before the barbarian invasions had done their work, long before economic dislocations became serious, was an inner go. Rome’s life was now an imitation of life: a mere holding on. Security was the watchword — as if life knew any other stability than through constant change, or any form of security except through a constant willingness to take risks.”
It was one of those history passages that echo so loudly in the present that it sends a shiver down my spine — way, way too close for comfort.
Thank you, o mighty Mustache of Understanding.
Ok, so this time Friedman’s not responsible for the stupid quote (though he does get to it later on, as we’ll see), but he does manage to embarrass himself by finding it so compelling. I’m going out on a limb a bit here by taking on Mumford’s quote because he was a much smarter man than Friedman (who isn’t?), but the fact is, what brought down Rome wasn’t a helpless flailing for security but a corrupt oligarchy like the one we have now. In that regard, the parallels are correct. At some point around the demise of the Republic, a handful of wealthy families decided that their wealth and its further accumulation was the only thing that mattered, and from that point on, the empire that followed was doomed. When protecting and enhancing the wealth of the few is the highest objective, things like competent administration of territories, security, and public welfare all tend to go by the wayside, with the inevitable result that the whole edifice becomes weakened both from without and within until it can no longer sustain its own weight.
I can understand why this terrifies Friedman, given that he’s married to the billionaire heiress of a shopping center fortune (a fortune which has been whittled down quite a bit during these past couple of years, arguing for the existence of a just God). He, and people like him, are who the whole edifice is propping up now.
But the real hilarity comes with Friedman’s prescription for the way forward:
There is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just on the right wing but in the radical center.
“Radical center?” WTF? Where does he come up with this crap? This reminds me of the time I caught a snippet of right-wing radio while travelling cross-country – the only bit I caught was some buford warning about “…these radical Buddhists…” which makes you wonder, what exactly does a “radical Buddhist” do? Nothing – at all?
But I digress. Friedman can always be counted on to put the “moron” in “oxymoron” as he’s done here. He goes on to identify the sterling attributes this “radical center” will embody:
We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.
There’s so much stupid there that it’s going to take a few sentences to deconstruct.
First of all, someone with an op-ed slot at the Times damn well should know about the structural barriers faced by third parties seeking power in a system set up top-to-bottom to favor a two-party structure. There’s a reason why third parties have been a rarity in our history, typically making some noise for two or three election cycles before flaming out or being subsumed by one of the dominant parties, and those barriers won’t fall just because Tom Friedman thinks it would be really cool to have a “radical centrist” party. Next, there’s the passage about “education reform, without worrying about offending unions.” Last time I checked, the problems in education had a lot less to do with shitty teachers and the unions that protect them than with underfunding, the substitution of standardized testing for real learning, and now, state textbook committees that want to rewrite history to their own liking. Yes, our schools suck – but it’s because people like Friedman have been arguing for decades that tax breaks for millionaires are more important than good schools, not because we don’t have good teachers. In fact, I’d venture that Tom Friedman is more responsible for a collective drop in IQ than any hundred shitty teachers are. Then there’s the gem about how we need to press forward with “corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left.” That’s a whole grab bag of stupid in one phrase, from the bit assuming that corporate taxes are too high (they aren’t; with all the loopholes and subsidies we’ve built in for various sectors of business, our effective corporate tax rate is about the lowest in the industrialized world), to the assumption that lowering those taxes below zero (which is what many corporations now pay) will “stimulate jobs” when a zero tax rate hasn’t, to the coup de dumbass assumption that there’s a “far left” in this country and it can be defined as “people who think that if German companies can thrive and grow to the point that they’re outproducing us with a much smaller population while paying much higher taxes then American companies should be able to do the same.” In these assumptions, we again see the impact of Friedman’s personal interests: I’m sure it benefits his wife’s fortunes greatly to not only keep corporate taxes low, but also to reward companies with tax incentives for outsourcing production to keep the retail establishments that rent from her shopping center company well-stocked with cheap imported goods. As it all too often does, in this passage, hippie-punching stands in for facts in Friedman’s shorthand.
But Friedman has saved the best for last:
We need a third party on the stage of the next presidential debate to look Americans in the eye and say: “These two parties are lying to you. They can’t tell you the truth because they are each trapped in decades of special interests. I am not going to tell you what you want to hear. I am going to tell you what you need to hear if we want to be the world’s leaders, not the new Romans.”
Getting a third party candidate on stage during the next presidential debates will be a piece of cake, Tom. Just call Ralph Nader; since you’re already cribbing his stump speech from 2000, I’m sure he can fill you in on how to go about being included in the presidential debates.
Then perhaps you can explain why we should find your ruminations about ancient history compelling, when you apparently don’t recall what happened 10 years ago…when you were already pontificating on current events for your op-ed pieces in the New York Times.
The continuing absence of a Dickipedia entry for Friedman remains a mystery.
(h/t to DougJ at Balloon Juice, who reads Friedman regularly so I don’t have to.)