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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thomas Friedman's Constituency

by David Atkins

 Does wanker Thomas Friedman ever tire of being wrong? Is there really anyone left in America besides maybe Linda Parks) who can read this without laughing?
And that is why I still hope Michael Bloomberg will reconsider running for president as an independent candidate, if only to participate in the presidential debates and give our two-party system the shock it needs. President Obama has significant achievements to his record. He has done a solid job stemming the economic crisis he inherited and a good job managing national security and initiating important reforms — from health care to auto mileage standards... 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 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.
Jonathan Chait served up the best response to this stupidity a few months ago:
What, by contrast, are we to make of third-party activists like Thomas L. Friedman or Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz? They have a president who supports virtually everything they want—short-term stimulus, long-term deficit reduction through a mix of taxes and entitlement cuts, clean energy, education reform, and social liberalism. Yet they are agitating for a third party in order to carry out an agenda that is virtually identical to Obama’s. In a column touting the third-party Americans Elect, the closest Friedman comes to explaining why we should have a third party, rather than reelect the politician who already represents their values, is to say that such a party “would have offered a grand bargain on the deficit two years ago, not on the eve of a Treasury default.” He agrees with Obama’s plan, in other words, but proposes to form a new party because he disagrees with his legislative sequencing. As political analysis, this is pure derangement. It’s the Judean People’s Front for the Aspen Institute crowd. But these sorts of anti-political fantasies arise whenever liberals are forced to confront the crushing ordinariness of governing. (Matthew Miller, a fervent promoter of Americans Elect, likewise pined for a third party in 1996, on the curious grounds that President Clinton wasn’t doing enough to balance the budget.)
In a sane country, Thomas Friedman would be laughed off the cocktail circuit. But this is not a sane country. There is admittedly a small section of the comfortable educated population that shares the Thomas Friedman view about the prime desirability of social progressivism mixed with fiscal conservatism. They tend to be a small subset of creative class pseudo-liberals who either labor comfortably for the government or depend heavily on the stock market to provide them an income stream. So cutting wages and safety net provisions while juicing the stock market all while keeping abortion safe, legal and rare as long as we don't talk about it too much seems fine and dandy for them. But it's a pretty vanishingly small crowd, one that fools itself into believing that it has more support than it actually does. What actually drives so-called "fiscal conservatism" in this country, beyond the propaganda of the very rich, is a sense of aggrievement that decent standards of living are provided to "those people." Remember: almost everyone wants to tax the rich. The main reason the rich don't get taxed is because a bunch of people are conned into worrying the money might go to people who don't look like them, act like them, or live where they live. The "deeply conservative" Deep South loved them some FDR and some socialism until the mid-1960s or so, for reasons that can only be credibly explained by those who want to be banned from the Very Serious circuit. In short, there's very little in the way authentic, enlightened support for "fiscal conservatism," otherwise known as austerity. Policy that is as wrong in Spain today as it was in America in 1937. But that doesn't stop the Thomas Friedmans of the world from thinking they have a big constituency out there that agrees with them, or the New York Times from publishing it while more honest and knowledgeable writers heave exasperated sighs in futility on blogs and the pages of Rolling Stone.