The Friedman Factor


I don’t keep a hit list. Well, not an official one. And it’s probably a good thing I don’t. With so many negative cultural associations regarding Nixon, the last thing I need is to start imitating his paranoia.

But it’s true, and nobody’s really surprised: There are journalists whose work I just don’t like. Over at the New York Times, for instance. Sure, Frank Rich can be charming from time to time. And I can appreciate the fact that he doesn’t always piss me off, but he generally offers little more than schmoozing, mainline, “establishment” journalism. Or, as some might say, professional empowerment.

Rich is just an example. While he drifts safely about the main stream, he’s hardly a scourge.

Unlike Thomas L. Friedman. Something about Friedman reminds me of Dr. Phil. And something about him reminds me of Dr. Dobson, as well. Either way, or even added together, what you end up with is a shrill, annoying intellectual bully pushing the sort of crap that you might find funny except that it’s not offered up as a joke. Yet, despite looking for someone to suck on his big stick, Friedman has managed to catch me off-guard. Luckily, he wasn’t swinging his two-by-four at my head.

Okay, okay. It’s the goddamn mustache that reminds me of Dr. Phil. And the penchant for physical violence reminds me of Dr. Dobson. And the dishonesty? Well, Phil, Dobson, Friedman … why do I want to make a lipstick joke here?

Oh, right.

So here’s the deal (not that you care): One of my minor projects is a blog I call “Better Reading“, which is pretty much what it sounds like. That is, it’s something akin to what you get when you cross an news clipper and a coupon clipper. A name, a title, a couple of teaser paragraphs, and maybe someone else will read an article they wouldn’t otherwise. And, you know, it’s a roster of usual suspects from my sections of the philosophical and political spectra: Mark Steel, Glenn Greenwald, Paul Krugman, the editors of The Economist (?!) ….

Point being, you wouldn’t expect to see Friedman. I know a lot of people really like him, and feel reassured by his even voice and calm visage on their television screens, but something about the guy just makes my skin crawl.

Still, though, that I don’t like him isn’t a full-blown condemnation. In fact, it’s just an opinion. And ignoring him entirely on the basis of that opinion wouldn’t be fair. Nor would it be helpful. For instance, I would have missed this gem:

Let’s today step out of the normal boundaries of analysis of our economic crisis and ask a radical question: What if the crisis of 2008 represents something much more fundamental than a deep recession? What if it’s telling us that the whole growth model we created over the last 50 years is simply unsustainable economically and ecologically and that 2008 was when we hit the wall — when Mother Nature and the market both said: “No more.”

We have created a system for growth that depended on our building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more factories in China, powered by more and more coal that would cause more and more climate change but earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more U.S. T-bills so America would have more and more money to build more and more stores and sell more and more stuff that would employ more and more Chinese …

We can’t do this anymore.

And then I wouldn’t have had that moment of thinking, “Whoa, I’m really posting Friedman?” I found it so amusing that I decided I needed to do it again. (And here you are.)

Anyway, do we really need a moral to the story?

Fine, fine. But I think it’s obvious. Let me know if you need a hint.

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