Political Animal


August 29, 2011 11:20 AM Thomas Friedman, call the White House

By Steve Benen

Columns like this one from Thomas Friedman leave me baffled.

As for America, we’ve thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle class by using more steroids (easy credit, subprime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation).

It’s put us in a deep hole, and the only way to dig out now is a new, hybrid politics that mixes spending cuts, tax increases, tax reform and investments in infrastructure, education, research and production. But that mix is not the agenda of either party.

It’s not? Let’s see, a combination of long-term cuts, combined with additional revenue, with an emphasis on boosting investments in infrastructure, education, research, and production. Why does this sound familiar? Because it’s President Obama’s agenda. It’s not as if the White House has made an effort to keep the president’s vision under wraps — the president has been touting this approach for a long while. He recently wrapped up a bus tour in the Midwest in which Obama talked up this vision a few times a day.

How could Friedman have missed this?

I’ve heard jokes over the years about high-profile media figures who go on vacation in August, and just recycle generic pabulum in their columnist slots while they take a break, but I’m beginning to wonder if those jokes aren’t intended to be funny.

What’s more, this seems to fit into a larger pattern that keeps coming up.

Last month, David Brooks demanded some bold candidate to step up and present a “Hamiltonian/National Greatness” agenda, and then presented a wish list that might as well have been copy and pasted from an Obama speech. More than 100 business leaders have rallied behind Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s pledge to stop making campaign contributions unless policymakers adopt a series of economic measures, apparently unaware that the White House already wants all of those same measures.

Either a few too many key political observers are struggling to keep up with the basics of current events, or the drive to blame “both sides” in all instances has gone wildly off the rails.

I can appreciate why Friedman is reluctant to write a column effectively endorsing the entirety of the Obama vision of government. But for Friedman to pretend that Obama’s vision simply doesn’t exist is misleading, and bordering on irresponsible.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


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  • c u n d gulag on August 29, 2011 11:28 AM:

    Maybe his columns will finally improve - we'll have to give them another 6 months.

    If I were to write a biography of Thomas Friedman, I'd call it "The Earth Is Flat - And His head Is Fat!"

    Or, "The Earth is Flat - Just Not As Flat As His Head."

  • bleh on August 29, 2011 11:35 AM:

    Hey, look on the bright side -- EvenTheLiberal Tom Friedman and EvenTheConservative David Brooks agree on the policy! Soon enough, perhaps in as little as several months, they will discover -- in the same way as Nick Kristof has discovered that unemployment is bad -- that there are politicians who have (at last) come around to their enlightened point of view, and they will offer a few words in support of the actions of those politicians. Huzzah!

    But if you expect them EVER to give up on the "both sides do it" idea, fuhgeddaboudit. (1) it plays well in the Heartland of Uhmerica -- everybody hates Washington -- and (2) to actually criticize one side without also criticizing the other would generate such a firestorm of hatred that their publisher-masters would practically tear holes in the carpet scrambling to their offices to tell them to spike it or find another gig.

    Look, they have lifestyles to protect, okay? Sheesh, what's a cosseted, slightly dimwitted multimillionaire hack with ties to the Sulzbergers gotta do to get a little respect here?

  • Extreme Moderate on August 29, 2011 11:36 AM:

    Great column, steve. I think John Chait had something on this as well. Wonder why they missed this stuff? Is it because the Administration has done a poor job of communicating it's agenda? Cant' see that this is the case. So why...?

  • sjw on August 29, 2011 11:38 AM:

    If you don't broadcast your vision, hammer it home, push it and push it some more, then no one sees that vision. (I'm talking about more than a bus tour or a Saturday morning radion address. Geez, how complicated is this to understand? Go on all the major news shows. Hold a news conference every day. Send out the administration biggies to advertise the agenda. And for God's sake, stop playing politics like it's beanbag or an exercise in community organizing.)

  • rusty chainsaw on August 29, 2011 11:42 AM:

    What, did that colored fella say something? I missed it, I was too busy sucking my own dick.

  • Ron Byers on August 29, 2011 11:44 AM:

    In about a week and a half, two at most, Friedman will right that Obama seems to be jumping on the bandwagon he created in his late August column. That is the way self important people like Thomas Friedman work.

    I do have to agree with sjw. What do Democrats have to do to get the cabinet members and important legislators on the air. Not everybody watches MSNBC. Some still watch CNN and others watch CBS, NBC and ABC. There are OP-Ed slots available every day in the Times and Post. Somebody needs to hire a media professional.

  • DAY on August 29, 2011 11:47 AM:

    All these Punditorial Pontifications remind me of the joke about the hermit, after toiling 40 years in his cave, brought his invention out for all to see. A typewriter. . .

  • Joe Friday on August 29, 2011 11:49 AM:

    "...or the drive to blame 'both sides' in all instances has gone wildly off the rails."

    There ya go.

  • dsimon on August 29, 2011 11:51 AM:

    When I read Friedman's claim yesterday that "that mix is not the agenda of either party," I though immediately: wait, didn't he just describe Obama's and most Democrats' position? How could he--and whoever reviews his columns--have missed this?

    This "both sides do it" fake moderatism has to stop. Democrats are the moderates, and it's past time for people like Friedman to point out that those stopping any useful agenda are the radical members of the House Republican caucus.

  • Rathskeller on August 29, 2011 12:11 PM:

    Steve is too nice to say that Friedman is an empty-headed hack with a wholly undeserved reputation for insight. I really winced when one of my friends recommended one of his books. I think he could be replaced by a smart bot.

    rusty chainsaw - outstanding.

  • No Shame on August 29, 2011 12:14 PM:

    Friedman is an arrogant, self-centered ass. But no one has the guts to call him out.

  • Eric on August 29, 2011 12:16 PM:

    ...bordering on irresponsible? Really, you think he has to get worse to actually cross the line to irresponsibility?

  • DisgustedWithItAll on August 29, 2011 12:20 PM:

    sjw's right. The administration - and Democrats as a whole - are simply utterly incompetent at messaging.

  • jjm on August 29, 2011 12:23 PM:

    Friedman has always been what I would call "thick." He just never IMAGINED that the Iraq invasion would lead to prolonged war, for example.

    But really, I've said over and over and over again that the president's words, however clearly or succinctly stated, regarding his policies and his wish list are almost NEVER heeded, repeated, made watchwords or anything of the sort.

    For a long time I assumed that was because the GOP jumped in with their ridiculous antics and drew all the attention to their outrageous sound bites.

    But I am afraid something deeper and more unsettling is going on.

    No one can actually HEAR what the black man says.

    Women long experienced this inability of men to HEAR exactly what they were saying when they were making conceptual contributions. In one case, what a woman professor I know said in a course conducted by her for other professors, each time they met, they would attribute what she said to her husband, also a professor, but nowhere near the room. They just couldn't believe their ears.

    The same may be true here, of Obama the black man. Somewhere in their deepest minds they simply cannot BELIEVE someone of his race, or in the case of the woman professor, of her gender COULD MAKE A BRILLIANT COMMENT or PROPOSAL.

    Time and again I've caught even the progressive blogs complaining (most recently the complaint that Obama never mentions jobs...!!!) that the president has never demanded taxes on the wealthy, or talked about whatever their pet peeve of the day is.

    They just don't hear it. Because it comes from HIS lips... a very sad state of affairs.

  • edb on August 29, 2011 12:24 PM:

    No one wants to hear yet another Obama speech...

    [No, what no one wants to hear is GOP shills pretending to be "fellow liberals" trashing the President, and comments like yours will be removed from this site as soon as they are seen. We assume Crossroads GPS pays you on a piecework system, so you won't be making any money here. --Mods]

  • desraye on August 29, 2011 12:50 PM:

    " However, he is not fit to be President of the United States. He is damaging not only the Democratic Party, but the country. He should not run for re-election. But he will, since getting re-elected is the only thing he really seems to care about."

    SMH. Maybe in your world.

  • rrk1 on August 29, 2011 1:02 PM:

    Friedman is a dolt whose opinions are derivative and second-rate. He's lazy, dull, and predictable. Just as Brooks is predictable, banal and boring. The NYT calls this 'balance'.

    For whatever reason - poor (or no) message control, racism - Obama doesn't get any traction, nor does he throw himself into or get behind any of his 'good' ideas. He may put the idea forward, but then lets others define it, and then jumps in at the last moment when most of his 'good' idea has already been trashed into near oblivion. That's his MO, and it doesn't seem to be changing. Whether he doesn't know how to fight for what he stands for (whatever that is), or just doesn't want to, is still an open question. Other than nibbling around the edges, Obama is not a change agent,and we really don't know what he will fight for.

    But we have to vote for him since he has no competition on his left, and what the other side has to offer is insane.

  • dj spellchecka on August 29, 2011 1:27 PM:

    about a month ago fair caught friedman writing a column [published 7/27/11] where "what he's asking for is basically just what Obama's done."


    perhaps it's too hot, flat and crowded in nyc for tom to keep up with the news

  • Dave on August 29, 2011 2:03 PM:

    Thomas Friedman, I used to like you. But you've become a lazy, attention-seeking shadow of your former self. It's sad when a sharp, insightful commentator loses their touch and sinks to this level.

  • Tony Greco on August 29, 2011 3:04 PM:

    Friedman is too enamored of his self-image as the Serious Centrist trying to steer a sensible course between the "extremes" of left and right. He would spoil the story if he were to admit that Obama is right there with him in the center.

  • Anonymous on August 29, 2011 3:08 PM:

    @sjw @ DisgustedWithItAll

    "incompetent at messaging"???? WTF? Are you in a CAVE???

    1. The GOP-Owned Media is completely useless.

    2. The Obama Administration KNOWS THIS, and has done everything possible to circumvent the GOP-Owned Media's media-blackout of the POTUS. They have completely redone the whitehouse.gov, and there is video of the POTUS almost EVERY SINGLE DAY, not to mention doing weekly Twitter townhalls, and President Obama being in front of a microphone and multiple HD cameras making statements to the PRESS on a daily basis - you'd think the media would be ALL OVER THAT.

    3. Circumventing the GOP-Owned Media has made the GOP angry that they aren't the INFORMATION GATEKEEPERS that they want to be.

    The information is there - YOU just have to "change the channel" as it were, leave the 24/7 GOPropaganda Networks, and go to where the REAL INFORMATION IS.

    Example - have you really watched the Libya news as it has been happening on US-Based news channels? Or did you discover pretty early on - like LAST SUNDAY that BBC News and AL Jazeera were EATING OUR FUCKING LUNCH when it comes to JOUNRALISM? You'll get more information from the BBC on President Obama than you will on any US Media outlet.

    Let me make it easy - http://theobamadiary.com/ has video posted every time it's available which is almost DAILY.

  • bardgal on August 29, 2011 3:14 PM:

    The ARE YOU IN A CAVE was me .... sorry too busy being pissed off to write my name.

    jjm - BRILLIANT COMMENT. As a woman, I've experienced this personally almost every damn day, unless I'm either funny, sexy or both. Then people somehow HEAR ME.

    Thankfully, everyone has a skill. ;)

  • biggerbox on August 29, 2011 4:13 PM:

    I think that, if we want Friedman to know about Obama's agenda, he has to hear it from a cab driver. That is the way he gets all of his understanding of the world around him, isn't it?

  • ohhenery on August 29, 2011 7:16 PM:

    Friedman and the Cabooses perform their smash hit, "Wait Up!".

  • Doug on August 29, 2011 8:25 PM:

    "As for America, we've thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle-class by using more steroids (easy credit, sub-prime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation)." Thomas Friedman as cited by Steve Benen.

    WHERE has this clown been for the past twenty years? Does he never think to ask WHY we've had a "credit-consumption-led economy" and not one based on, say, increased wages which were, in turn, based on increased productivity? And how exactly can the word "thrived" be used to describe a situation where one has to go into debt merely to "maintain" one's current economic position?
    "Maintained", EXACTLY describes WHAT has happened to the middle-class; they've had to "maintain" their position by using credit, they certainly weren't being paid any for any of the increased productivity they produced! Or was it too difficult for Mr. Friedman to do a quick search to discover that, after inflation, the average middle-class earner hasn't had an increase in pay in 30 years?
    I lost any respect for Friedman when his writings about Iraq showed he had absolutely NO understanding of international politics, the Middle East, Islam or military strategy and tactics.
    We can now add the US economy to that growing list of those things about which Mr. Friedman knows nothing...

  • Sabina Eisner on September 08, 2011 8:47 AM:

    It is sad that people like Friedman get so much air time
    and people Like Chomsky do not. Last night he appeared on
    Charlie Rose speaking utter nonsense. He claimed that no
    President has told the American people the truth but when
    Carter told the Americans that they have to sacrifice, they
    voted him out.