What Is the Point of Thomas Friedman?

There is much glee on the ethereal plane high above the Bethesda clouds from which New York Times columnist Tom Friedman writes his column today. We're treated to his latest venture into despondent centrist wet-dream fanfic, in which the Mustache of Understanding imagines a world where political parties don't have bases, but still manage to dig deep, treat each other politely, and deal with false problems in bad ways through their own sheer purity of will.

Yeah, he's written another one of his "concept" columns. In this one, he imagines a future Associated Press article which, when printed in real life as an accurate write-up of real events, will signal the end of America's troubles. Until then, however, "we'll be stuck in a world of hurt." Perhaps because we'll still be reading Thomas Friedman columns misdiagnosing everything?

Freidman's fake AP article imagines the major players in Congress giving a press conference alongside the President, at the White House. They have big news.

Washington (AP) - It was a news conference the likes of which the White House had never seen. President Obama stood in the East Room, flanked by the House speaker, John Boehner; the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell; the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid; and the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi. The president asked Mr. Boehner to speak first:

My, what an unusual courtesy from the president! What does John Boehner have to say?

"My fellow Americans," the Ohio Republican began. "We have just concluded a meeting with the president, prompted by this moment of extraordinary economic peril. Our party, as you know, is convinced that the main reason for our economic decline is that we have too much debt, that government has grown too big and that taxes and regulations are choking our dynamism. But I have to acknowledge that, over the years, our party has contributed to this debt burden and government spending binge. We are not innocent, and, therefore, we owe the country a strategy for governing and for fixing a problem that we helped to create - instead of just blocking the president. The G.O.P. is better than that and has more to offer the nation. Therefore, we have informed the president that our legislators are ready to reopen negotiations immediately on a ‘Grand Bargain' to address all these debt issues once and for all and that everything will be on the table from our side - including tax reform that closes loopholes and eliminates wasteful subsidies, and, if need be, tax increases."

And the nation filled the streets in rejoice, to hear that yet another austerity package would be on the way during a period of wretched economic growth! Replete with tax increases, which... well, who knows how Tom Friedman would get John Boehner to dump strict anti-tax orthodoxy as the fundamental tactical strategy of the Republican party that defines everything it does. Maybe John Boehner will have a dream too! But really, how do you change the entrenched structural factors that make John Boehner do what he does? According to Tom Friedman, you pretend they don't exist and that people are just silly for no reason.

President Obama, then, "warmly embraces" Boehner — as if the American people aren't confused and frightened enough! — and gives his own lengthy, stirring monologue, calling on two old hacks to form another super committee that will be charged with solving every problem:

"Speaker Boehner and Senator McConnell, thank you for your commitment to act in our nation's highest interests. Let me say publicly what I committed to you privately: I have asked Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to revive their deficit commission and to use their recommendations for how to cut spending and raise revenues as the starting point for our negotiations. But it will now be called ‘The National Commission for American Renewal.' Because in addition to the original Bowles-Simpson members, it will include Senator McConnell, Speaker Boehner, Senator Reid and Congresswoman Pelosi, and its goal will indeed be a comprehensive plan for American renewal.

So that's how it gets done in a great country: Take every issue imaginable and have a dozen or so people plus Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles decide what to do with them, in one bill, in private.

Later in the monologue, President Obama starts talking about why he's a shitty president:

And I, too, have a confession: I've done a poor job integrating my nation-building ideas, including health care, into a single vision so people understood where I was going. I also let tactical political considerations - like abandoning the Bowles-Simpson commission - intervene, so Americans lost sight of my priorities. That will not happen again. No one loves this country more than I and my Democratic colleagues.

And finally, Friedman's colorful kicker: "At that point, all five leaders shook hands and retreated into the Oval Office. It was exactly 9:29 a.m. One minute later, the New York Stock Exchange opened. The Dow was up 1,223 points at the open - an all-time record." Aww! But did it then plummet when traders remembered how to do their jobs?

It's really not hard to write a fantasy story in which everyone in politics decides to get along and fix the country overnight. It's fiction; you just make up whatever! Anyone can do this. Shouldn't the New York Times political columnist's job be to explain how things actually work?

[Image via AP]