Posted by Bob Lord
One of the jobs I’d love to have is Tom Friedman’s. His job duties are to (a) learn as much as he can about interesting things, (b) travel the world to achieve that end, and (c) write about the stuff he learns. And he gets to squeeze in a few rounds of golf in the process. Not a bad gig. It would be hard to say he doesn’t deserve his position. His thirst for knowledge is incredible, as are his skills at communicating what he learns.
But I have a problem with his conclusion in today’s column, which can be found here, http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/opinion/friedman-elephants-down-under.html?_r=1&ref=opinion, and what I believe is a glaring flaw in his logic.
Friedman’s conclusion is a shining example of the mistaken theory that the political middle always owns the logical and rational high ground, and all policy should be based on the beliefs and values of those in the middle. Friedman laments that we no longer have “liberal Republicans and conservative Democrats, who nudged the parties together.” He contends that Democrats and Republicans are not forced to compete for votes in the center. In other words, according to Friedman, if we’d just compromise between the positions of the right and the left, we’d adopt well conceived policies and the nation would be better for it.
But Friedman’s conclusion is entirely at odds with the first two-thirds of his piece. There, he notes how the entire political spectrum in Australia and New Zealand could fit within the Democratic Party in America. He describes how there is debate in those countries about how to address climate change, but no debate about the science of climate change. He notes how conservatives in Australia and New Zealand have adopted single payer health care. He attributes the politics of New Zealand and Australia, in part, to those countries not being strong churchgoing countries.
So, in the first part of his piece, Friedman explains how New Zealand and Australia are getting it right policy-wise because their political centers are in the same place as the political left in America. Then, in his conclusion, Friedman completely contradicts himself, and blows it big-time, by reverting to the tired old moronic platitude that our problem in America is we need compromise between the right and the left. We’ve done that here, with Obamacare, recent banking legislation, and, worst of all, the ugly, ugly compromise on tax policy from the last lame duck session. And our health care system still is a mess, the big banks still are screwing everyone in sight, and more and more wealth and income is being jammed into the top one percent while average Americans hang on by their fingernails.
Freidman should have concluded by explaining how the entire political spectrum moves over time, which causes the political middle to move as well. Sometimes that’s a good thing, such as when previously extreme (yet morally correct) policies like abolishing slavery, granting women the right to vote, or conferring equal treatment upon gays and lesbians, move to the political center. Sometimes, however, that’s not a good thing. Over the past three decades, the entire political spectrum has veered far to the right in many respects. The result has been a political middle that has promoted destructive policies like the extension of the Bush tax cuts and truly destructive timidity on addressing climate change.
The reality in America is not, as Friedman implies, that the extreme right and the extreme left are equally crazy. We happen to be in one of those periods when the entire American political spectrum is to the right of where it needs to be. As a result, the political left here is sane and is promoting well conceived policies, like single payer health care and aggressive climate change legislation, while the political right has gone completely off the deep end, insisting that if we continue to cut the already record low tax rates of millionaires and billionaires jobs magically will appear.
Friedman isn’t any worse than any of the other pundits out there. But, because he’s smarter than almost all of them, it’s more disappointing that he promotes this fundamental misconception.