Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Did you watch Rachel Maddow's interview with Tom Friedman last night? No, really, don't run screaming out of the room. Here it is:

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Friedman was brought on to talk about the disappointing Copenhagen summit and the need for unilateral efforts to go green on the part of the U.S. government (which Friedman thinks would be a spur to action in other countries).... Yes, I know -- Friedman is horrible. On foreign policy, he appalls us on a regular basis. He's the guy who said we needed to kick some Iraqis around in 2003 in order to tell evil jihadists and wannabes to "Suck. On This."

But if all you knew about Friedman was from last night's Maddow interview, you really, really might think he was an OK guy.

He talked about how Denmark could serve as a model for the U.S. today -- it drastically reduced its oil imports, drastically increased energy efficiency, and built green industries that now provide a substantial portion of the countries exports after the OPEC oil shocks of the 1970s, largely because it made serious changes in tax policy with regard to energy. As he talked about this, I thought about some of his bellicosity and his worship of the global, and I realized that there used to be a lot of people like Friedman in government and the punditry -- people who thought actual progress on domestic issues was perfectly compatible with maintaining the superpower status of the U.S.

I can't completely hate Tom Friedman because he talks about going green and repairing U.S. infrastructure as part of sustaining American strength -- which you would think would make the idea compatible to your swing-voter dad.

And at a time when David Gergen is saying that "it's a tragedy" if health care legislation passes "with only one party voting for it," Friedman is continuing to slam the GOP for intransigence:

You know, there's only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, what China has, and that's one-party democracy, and that's what we've got here in America today. We've got one party playing and one party isn't, at all. And so when you have one-party autocracy, you can order optimal solutions from the top down. But when you have one-party democracy and you have to get all 60 votes, as you were talking about, from one party, votes 1 through 50 cost you a lot, votes 50 to 59 cost you a fortune, and, wow, vote 60 is called Ben Nelson, and that's a giveaway to the whole state of Nebraska, you know. And so you basically have this in the health, you know, bill that you were talking about, but, Rachel, you also have it in the climate bill -- that if there were 6, 8 Republicans who were ready to join this bill, the giveaways to coal and the legacy industries in this country could really be minimized. And so we're going to get a suboptimal bill -- well, how long can we as a country thrive when our chief competitor can order, from the top down, optimal, and we can only produce suboptimal?

At least, unlike Gergen, he names a villain. And, sorry, he's right about "one-party autocracy" -- grumble about Democratic lobbyist sellouts and Blue Dogs all you like, but this wouldn't be happening if the Republican Party hadn't turned into a Rand/Reagan/Beck cult with an enforced orthodoxy that permits no compromise. At the end of the day, Ben Nelson and Joe Lieberman (apparently) had their price. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins didn't.

That one-party autocracy riff infuriated the right when Friedman used it in a column in September, and, hell, even I think it's a bit too nice to autocrats, but the longer our politics is like this, the more I'm grateful that Friedman is talking this way. He's no real progressive, but he's sometimes articulate about how what we see as progressivism is compatible with what used to be American centrism.


UPDATE: I was thinking that maybe Friedman was a bit off base regarding climate legislation -- hasn't Lindsey Graham been cooperating a bit with Democrats on that? -- but then it occurred to me that he's bound to back away, if only to preserve his viability within his purity-obsessed party. And well, here goes:

Senate Republicans warned Monday that the bruising fight over health care reform could deliver a knockout blow to another Democratic priority: passage of a climate change bill in 2010.

... Democrats aren’t united on climate change, and the bitter battle over health care has left even sympathetic Republicans with little desire to help....

"It makes it hard to do anything because of the way this was handled," said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

... Other potentially "gettable" Republican senators also sounded discouraging notes Monday.

"Right now, I would say that cap and trade is stalled," said Maine Sen. Susan Collins.

"Cap and trade has been delayed by the health care debate almost indefinitely," said Indiana Sen. Dick Lugar. "The question will be how many more battles members of Congress want to take on in an election year."

"I give it a very low chance," said Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a potential GOP target for bill supporters. "What it comes down to is our ability to work together as a body. And right now, the indicators are not very positive for climate change." ...

A lot of Democrats aren't on board -- but I think, when the dust settles, the number of Republicans who'll be cooperative at all will be (as usual) zero.

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