The Word is Flat

Thomas Friedman, two pundits in one! Here’s Friedman in September of 2009, when Democrats controlled the presidency and both houses of Congress:

Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Our one-party democracy is worse….


And right around that time, Friedman was recommending that Obama go for the jugular when dealing with his opponents:

[Tiger Woods demonstrates] “a level of intimidation so complete, I cannot think of a parallel in any other sport. It is earned not just by winning, but by demeanor: polite, gentlemanly toward opponents, though totally focused on doing everything to win all the time.

President Obama could use some of that. It is not that he lacks toughness. But he is not yet intimidating. You have to win some diplomatic or political “majors” to have that authority. Winning passage of universal health care? That is like winning a Masters and a U.S. Open in the same year. Taking out Osama bin Laden? Another huge victory.

In politics, success breeds authority, and authority breeds more success. Until Obama earns that Tiger-like aura of intimidation, though, he will get tested—as much by Democrats as by Republicans. Once those points go up on the board, he will be playing like a guy with-19 majors, and Oval Office visitors will be a little less willing to say “no.”

Of course these days, with a divided Congress and an electorally vulnerable Carter-esque president, it’s time for gentility and a “Grand Bargain:”

If the G.O.P. thinks it can just obstruct Obama and hope that the economy tanks* — so Republicans will benefit in the 2012 election — it will be a mistake for the country and the party. I believe most Americans want a Grand Bargain both in substance and in style. They want to see our politicians working together, acting collectively. We underestimate how much the toxic political rancor in Washington today casts a pall over the whole economy and makes everyone want to just hold fast to what they have.

Republicans or Democrats who doubt this might want to give a call to Howard Schultz, the C.E.O. of Starbucks, who got so fed up with Washington politics that he bought a full-page ad in this newspaper urging Americans not to give political donations to incumbents of either political party until they show a real willingness to compromise and fix our mess.

In response, Schultz told me, “I’ve been inundated with messages from people I’ve never met. They are all sharing their stories that have one common theme: ‘We don’t feel represented, and we don’t recognize the country.’ The extremes on both sides have completely overwhelmed the silent majority of the country. I am not afraid to say to both extremes: the ideology that you represent is not the country. A person at Starbucks sent me an e-mail the other day with the Pledge of Allegiance and underlined was one word: ‘indivisible.’ The people in Washington should reread the Pledge of Allegiance and look up ‘indivisible.’ ”


Funny though, I don’t recall the guy who first uttered the notion of a silent majority getting much respect from the New York Times until decades after he left office. And if Friedman were actually serious about doing something about extremist ideology, he might want to have a chat with another Timesman down the hall

* Hey, that riff is certainly making the rounds these days, isn’t it? And it’s always fun to be hectored on putting partisan differences aside from somebody that disingenuous about your side’s intentions.


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