Wednesday, September 29, 2010


I'm going to ignore the hippie punch in the following passage from Tom Friedman's latest column and take his point at face value. His conceit is that there are two tea parties in America -- the one we all know about and another one, which is unorganized and (in his opinion) far superior:

The important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats, ... is looking for a leader with three characteristics. First, a patriot: a leader who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party. Second, a leader who persuades Americans that he or she actually has a plan not just to cut taxes or pump stimulus, but to do something much larger -- to make America successful, thriving and respected again. And third, someone with the ability to lead in the face of uncertainty and not simply whine about how tough things are -- a leader who believes his job is not to read the polls but to change the polls.

At Balloon Juice, Doug J describes the hippie punch (which is really a punch aimed at icky non-middle-of-the-roaders of all kinds):

So no one on the non-centrist right or non-centrist left gives a fuck about the country?

Valid point -- but the question that interests me is this: Is Friedman hallucinating the vast numbers of Americans hungry for Friedmanesque progress, or do they really exist?

He goes on to write:

Democratic Pollster Stan Greenberg told me that when he does focus groups today this is what he hears: "People think the country is in trouble and that countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't. They will follow someone who convinces them that they have a plan to make America great again. That is what they want to hear. It cuts across Republicans and Democrats."

And maybe Friedman and Greenberg are right. Have you seen the new NBC/Wall Street Journal poll? The news-making statistic in the poll is that 71% of Republicans have now drunk the tea party Kool-Aid -- but if you pick your way through the complete poll data (PDF) you find out that large majorities of Americans -- 60% or more -- "strongly agree" or "somewhat agree" with each of the following propositions:

U.S. companies are outsourcing much of their production and manufacturing work to foreign countries where wages are lower.

Corporations are too focused on making the maximum amount of profit and so have held off hiring back workers or expanding hiring.

Health care costs are so high for American companies they cannot fairly compete.

The United States' educational system is producing fewer highly skilled and educated workers compared to other countries.

The United States has lost its technological edge in manufacturing.

Banks' requirements for loans make it too difficult for companies to get money and expand.

That's a fairly Friedmanesque list. It's also a fairly liberal list -- there's quite a bit of class warfare in there. But, yeah, Friedman's sense that Americans are generally upset about the decline of America, in a way that's not really teabaggy, is borne out. (Although I should point out that two GOP/teabag talking points on illegal immigrants and business taxes do get agreement in the mid-50s. See the chart at the end of the post, and click to enlarge.)

Now, it occurs to me that we actually had a real-world test of Friedman's proposition -- it was called the 2008 election. Didn't we actually elect a guy "who is more interested in fighting for his country than his party," who talked a lot about making America "successful, thriving and respected again," who seemed to be acutely aware that "countries like China have a strategy for success and we don't" and had Friedmanesque ideas on energy and industrial policy and the way those ideas could help America thrive economically?

Well, yeah. America voted for the guy and then, when he actually started rolling out that agenda, America decided he was a jerk, if not an Antichrist.

Doug J, grumbling about Friedman, adds:

Where the fuck is Matt Taibbi these days?

Update Speak of the devil.

Yes, Taibbi has a new article about the teabaggers. He notes that they, of course, are "sincerely against government spending -- with the exception of the money spent on them." He also notes that they rail against deficits now, but used to be easily distracted by trivia such as "John Kerry's medals and Barack Obama's Sixties associations."

And it occurs to me that the new Kerry medal scandal, the new Reverend Wright scandal, the new does-he-wear-a-flag-pin?, the new does-he-cover-his-heart-for-the-Pledge?, is the list of tea party grievances -- not just absurd issues like the birth certificate, but the deficit and the evils of the health care plan.

We elected a guy who said he wanted to go left-centrist (in a corporatist way) on taxes and energy and infrastructure, and even that Friedmanesque, corporatist/left-centrist approach was too much for the powers that be. But Fox and right-wing lobbyists, instead of limiting the agenda-thwarting sideshow distractions to silly stuff -- the modern equivalents to Kerry's Purple Hearts, such as ACORN -- also turned real issues into trivia. Health care became the Purple Heart-esque "death panels." Deficits became a betrayal of cartoonified Founding Fathers, portrayed by teabaggers themselves in tricorn hats at rallies.

And that, Tom, is why America's apparent wish for grown-up government is meaningless: the manipulators of right-wing lunatics will always find some way to derail any effort to slouch toward even semi-corporatist sanity.

And that way will always be to create propaganda cartoons.

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