Sunday, April 25, 2010

The Tom Friedman Pet Cause Party

Friedman begins today's column by saying that he's been trying to learn more about the Tea Party Movement. He then goes on to demonstrate that he knows nothing about the Tea Party Movement, urging it to basically drop its entire agenda and turn itself into the Tom Friedman Pet Cause Party.

Granted, the name he comes up with — Green Tea Party — is cute, but that doesn't make his effort to take a column about the Tea Party and turn it into a manifesto for his own pet cause any less lazy or self-aggrandizing. And why not an Herbal Tea Party to support marijuana legalization? Or a Black Tea Party to defend civil rights? You're not the only one who can come up with cutesy names, Tom!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Putt putt

As any regular reader of the mustachioed marvel's columns is sure to suspect, the man has clearly been phoning it in for quite some time now. However, even by the sorry standards of Tom's recent work, today's column stands out as an exceptionally lazy effort.

Friedman starts out with an anecdote from a golf clinic he attended this past winter, describing how working on his putting and chipping had the unintended effect of improving his long game, as well. Thankfully, he quickly answers the obvious question this story raises: How the hell does this relate to anything other than this man's bourgeois pastimes and stunning lack of inspiration when it comes to thinking up metaphors?

Well, you see, by passing comprehensive health care reform, Barack Obama also strengthened his hand in foreign policy. Two issues with this metaphor come to mind. First, Tom, how did working on your putting and chipping also improve your long game? I'm not a golfer, so forgive me if I'm missing something, but I don't see an obvious connection. I used to be a kick-ass mini-golfer, but that skill definitely didn't translate into being able to hit a 300-yard tee shot straight down the fairway. Second, how exactly is comprehensive health care reform the political equivalent of putting and chipping? Correct me if I'm wrong, but putts and chip shots are the shortest shots in the game -- the small stuff, the finishing touches. By contrast, this bill was the centerpiece of the president's entire domestic agenda.

But OK, I'll bite. Next question: How does passage of a health care bill bring Obama foreign policy benefits? Fortunately, the mustachioed marvel has another metaphor at the ready, in the form of a quote from Osama bin Laden: "When people see a strong horse and a weak horse, by nature they will like the strong horse." Yes, you read that correctly -- apparently when Tom can't get a hold of Nandan Nilekani or Dov Seidman for a snappy quote supporting his views, number three on the speed dial turns out to be none other than the infamous terrorist mastermind. Friedman presents this quote with absolutely nothing in the way of context, leaving us to assume that bin Laden was one of his partners at the aforementioned golf clinic.

The logic goes something like this: Heads of state across the world keep close tabs on American domestic politics, and when the president scores a major legislative victory, they realize that the president is strong, which makes them more likely to do what he wants; by contrast, when the president suffers a major legislative defeat, foreign leaders are more willing to defy him. This is a plausible argument and could make for an interesting debate. Personally, I think Friedman is vastly overstating his case (even though, if true, it would have the welcome side-effect of allowing us to say that by opposing health care reform, Republicans were working to embolden America's enemies). Call me crazy, but I just don't see the following conversation taking place in Tehran:

Ahmadinejad: "The U.S. Senate used an obscure parliamentary procedure known as budget reconciliation to pass a bill reforming the American health insurance system."

Ayatollah Khamenei: "Shut down the reactors."

In fairness to Tom, he does have a couple quotes from Defense Secretary Robert Gates restating his point. However, uncritically accepting quotes from people more powerful than him has gotten Friedman into trouble before. (See Nilekani, Nandan -- "world is flat" quote.)

Finally, before you even know what hit you, Friedman takes the column and turns it into a rallying cry for every policy initiative he's been pushing for the last five years, cutting and pasting his standard boilerplate about entrepreneurship, information technology, infrastructure, immigration and deficit reduction, with a reference to "soft power" thrown in for good measure. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the last four paragraphs of this column are the auto-signature on the bottom of Tom's e-mails.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

"Gang of Four Techs"

Forbes Magazine's Beijing correspondent Gady Epstein has posted an entertaining piece in which he pens a mock Friedman column offering advice to Chinese President Hu Jintao on his upcoming visit to Washington. It's highly amusing, and the man clearly has a solid understanding of the finer points of Friedman style. However, efforts like this always run into the same problem — how do you parody somebody who already is a parody?

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

He's No Expert

When I pulled up our hero's column this morning and saw that it began "I'm no expert on ... ", I was filled with excitement. What would the end of that sentence be? "The judicious use of metaphors"? "Understanding the limits of American power"? "Leading a lifestyle that conforms to the low-carbon gospel I preach?" My mind raced as I considered the possibilities.

The full sentence turned out to be: "I'm no expert on American politics, but I do know something about holes." Later on in the paragraph, he shows us just how much of an expert on holes he is, sharing his "first rule of holes": "When you're in one, stop digging."

OK, two things, Tom. First, if you're no expert on American politics, then WHY HAVE YOU BEEN WRITING COLUMN AFTER COLUMN ABOUT IT IN THE PAGES OF THE NATION'S MOST PRESTIGIOUS NEWSPAPER FOR THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS?????? And not just writing columns, but publishing books, appearing on television and giving lectures all over country? It'd be one thing for Friedman, who doesn't have an MD, to say, "I'm no expert on open-heart surgery" before offering a thought or two on the subject. Similarly, it'd be OK for a heart surgeon to say, "I'm no expert on American politics" before making an off-hand remark. However, this is the equivalent of the heart surgeon saying, "I'm no expert on open-heart surgery" before picking up a scalpel and cutting somebody open. If you're no expert on open-heart surgery, then how did you get a job as a surgeon? And why are you about to operate on that guy???

(Did you see what I did there? I used the power of metaphors to make my point more vivid. That's right, Tom -- two can play at this game ...)

Second, an expert on "holes"? Seriously? What the hell does that even mean? (There are any number of raunchy, off-color jokes that I could make here, but I'll leave you to your imaginations.) Also, if somebody is in a hole with a shovel, isn't it quite likely that he wanted to dig a hole in the first place? If not, why did he get a shovel and start digging? I get the point, but that doesn't mean that we shouldn't strive for internal consistency in a metaphor's logic.

I know what you're thinking -- that this is just a throw-away opening, a way for Tom to come off as folksy and self-deprecating. Yes, that's quite possibly the case. But it doesn't make it any less dumb. Moreover, the rest of the column really does drive home the point that Friedman probably isn't qualified to be writing about American politics for the New York Times. In it, he argues that we're seeing the emergence of a new electoral bloc -- the "Newocracy" (clever, huh?) -- composed of managers of multinational corporations, technology entrepreneurs and "aspirational members of the meritocracy," which I guess means high school seniors applying to Ivy League colleges, or something. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he makes this argument without citing a shred of opinion polling or empirical data, instead relying on a series of quotes repeating his main points from some Baruch College professor named Edward Goldberg.

Like all readers, I eagerly await the unveiling of Tom's remaining "rules of holes."