Culture, International Relations

Tom Friedman: Losing The Future

Tom Friedman phones it in again, in yet another New York Times column filled with the same old cliches we’ve heard a thousand times. This time, instead of kissing the asses of the Butchers of Beijing, Tom Friedman decides to give the GOP some unsolicited and unwelcome advice. Apparently, what the Republican Party needs to do is just agree with the Democratic Party on everything, and all will be well.

The problem with Friedman’s ideology is that we’re already watching it fail. The blue-state model is failing here, and the European welfare-state model that the Democrats want to emulate is teetering on the edge of chaos. (Just observe the inevitable end-state of the European welfare state as exemplified in Greece.)

Friedman argues that we need spend more on infrastructure and education—the same old cliched thinking we’ve heard before. The problem with such spending is that it doesn’t produce anything: it’s the equivalent of digging ditches to keep people busy. Take “high speed rail,” the fetish of statophiles everywhere. Nearly every rail project in this country goes massively over-budget and few people ride in them. Yet we spend billions of dollars developing “solutions” no one wants to problems no one has. But that’s how America is supposed to compete in the 21st Century.

What we don’t need is more bureaucratic pipe-dreams. We don’t need more top-down initiatives made by Washington D.C. that have no basis in the needs of real people. Have we learned nothing from the 20th Century: central planning does not work. No government agency, no matter how well-functioning, has the level of knowledge necessary to make better economic decisions than the people who are actually effected by those decisions. Trying to direct the economy from afar does not work, never has worked, and won’t work in the future.

And of course, Friedman wants to “raise revenue” to fulfill all of his dreams of high speed trains and elaborate (and pointless) fights against global warming. The problem with “raising revenue” is every dollar taken out of the productive economy and put into wild-eyed government initiatives is a dollar that can’t be invested in something actually worthwhile—the fact is that the “Keynesian multiplier” is a myth and $1 in government spending does not magically produce more than $1 in growth.

And that’s why we shouldn’t listen to people like Tom Friedman. It’s not that the Republican Party lacks ideas, it’s that the Democratic Party is threatened by change. The poles of American politics have reversed. From the union battles in Wisconsin to the 2012 Presidential race, it’s been the conservative upstarts trying to overturn the sclerotic and malfunctioning status quo while the left tries to defend their fiefdoms from substantive change.

Friedman doesn’t want to embrace the 20th Century, he wants to repeat its mistakes. The 21st Century is all about the decentralized over the centralized, autonomous and intelligent networks over large institutions, the agile over the cumbersome. And there is nothing that is less agile, less intelligent, and less willing to delegate power and authority than the United States federal government. Yet Friedman and his ilk would imbue that same broken system with more and more power over every facet of our lives. It’s like arguing that we should take down the Internet and put everyone on Minitel.

If the United States is to be successful in the 21st Century, it can’t emulate the failed policies of the last century. If there’s one side in this equation that is horribly out of step with the times, it’s the one embracing the failed strategies of the past. Perhaps it’s President Obama and his cast of Clinton-era retreads that should simply give up.


You Call This A Scandal?

The New York Times‘s rather weak story linking John McCain to a female lobbyist seems to say a lot more about the internal politics of The New York Times than it does about John McCain. The story, which contains a few paragraphs of innuendo and a lot of old news, seems to be the least interesting part of the story. The more interesting part is the internal deliberations that went on before it was published:

Beyond its revelations, however, what’s most remarkable about the article is that it appeared in the paper at all: The new information it reveals focuses on the private matters of the candidate, and relies entirely on the anecdotal evidence of McCain’s former staffers to justify the piece–both personal and anecdotal elements unusual in the Gray Lady. The story is filled with awkward journalistic moves–the piece contains a collection of decade-old stories about McCain and Iseman appearing at functions together and concerns voiced by McCain’s aides that the Senator shouldn’t be seen in public with Iseman–and departs from the Times’ usual authoritative voice. At one point, the piece suggestively states: “In 1999 she began showing up so frequently in his offices and at campaign events that staff members took notice. One recalled asking, ‘Why is she always around?'” In the absence of concrete, printable proof that McCain and Iseman were an item, the piece delicately steps around purported romance and instead reports on the debate within the McCain campaign about the alleged affair.

What happened? The publication of the article capped three months of intense internal deliberations at the Times over whether to publish the negative piece and its most explosive charge about the affair. It pitted the reporters investigating the story, who believed they had nailed it, against executive editor Bill Keller, who believed they hadn’t. It likely cost the paper one investigative reporter, who decided to leave in frustration. And the Times ended up publishing a piece in which the institutional tensions about just what the story should be are palpable.

Here’s what’s particularly telling about this piece. The New York Times knew of these allegations since at least late November of last year. Yet in late January, they decided to endorse McCain for the GOP nomination, and didn’t give so much as a breath that would imply that the contents of this story had any impact on that choice. If the Times had any problems with the Senator’s ethics, one would think that they’d at least hint at them in their endorsement. Yet there is not even the slightest insinuation of any ethical concern in the Times‘ op-ed.

The timing here is deeply suspect. Why did the Times choose to publish a story that was clearly not ready for publication?

The question to be asked here is cui bono—who benefits from this story coming out now?

The Times may have been pressured to get the story out by The New Republic piece. That seems the most logical explanation, even if it doesn’t involve a great deal of common sense on the part of the Times‘ editorial board. They were facing pressure to run the story and they didn’t want to get scooped, so they went ahead when they shouldn’t have.

Of course, they’re not the only ones who could benefit. Could the Huckabee camp have pushed the story to give Huckabee some bounce in Texas? Perhaps, but that seems to be an unlikely scenario. Unless Huckabee thinks that he can force a brokered convention, he’s got no chance, and if the connection were to come out, he’d be toast.

Could it be Hillary Clinton? If she can get McCain down in the polls, her electability argument gets stronger. Even though the Clintons are capable of all sorts of Machiavellian maneuvers, I’m not so sure this is one of them. For one, it’s far too subtle, and far too indirect. It’s not implausible, but still unlikely.

Of course, when one examines anything that The New York Times does, it should be viewed in light of how helpful that would be to the Democratic Party. The Times is their Pravda, and their primary source of received wisdom. Yet even then the timing still seems suspect. Why break this story now? Yes, McCain has the nomination virtually in hand, but if you want to make McCain look good in the eyes of conservatives an attack by the Times will help rally the troops. The effect of this would have much more impact in the general election, not months away.

My guess is that the Times knew they had no story, but didn’t want to take the risk of someone else scooping them. Ultimately, McCain has plenty of time to deny what is clearly a weak story, helping to rally Times-hating conservatives to his side. Meanwhile, the Times gets caught in yet another case of poor journalistic ethics and political hackery. If this is a scandal, it seems to be a scandal that backfired on those who launched it.