Friedman has my empathy, as in I feel for you bro. I think
he really is alarmed. He just got back from Beijing and
while there h e wrote back, “China is doing moon shots.
Yes, that's plural. When I say ‘moon shots’ I mean big,
multibillion-dollar, 25-year-horizon, game-changing investments.
China has at least four going now: one is building a network
of ultramodern airports; another is building a web of high-speed
trains connecting major cities; a third is in bioscience,
where the Beijing Genomics Institute this year ordered 128
DNA sequencers - from America -giving China the largest
number in the world in one institute to launch its own stem
cell/genetic engineering industry; and, finally, Beijing
just announced that it was providing $15 billion in seed
money for the country's leading auto and battery companies
to create an electric car industry, starting in 20 pilot
cities. In essence, China Inc. just named its dream team
of 16-state-owned enterprises to move China off oil and
into the next industrial growth engine: electric cars.
to worry. America today also has its own multibillion-dollar,
25-year-horizon, game-changing moon shot: fixing Afghanistan.'
back stateside Friedman surveyed the political scene and
concluded that our “real problem” is that the country is
“in a state of incremental decline and losing its competitive
edge, because our politics has become just another form
of sports entertainment, our Congress a forum for legalized
bribery and our main lawmaking institutions divided by toxic
partisanship to the point of paralysis.” Wow.
got really carried away this past Sunday, writing that a
comparison between the country’s present situation and the
fall of Rome “sends a shiver down my spine.”
New York Times columnist thus joins a growing list
of pundits, across the political spectrum who sound, Jeremiah-like,
describing our times in apocalyptic terms. His criticism
is not that of someone on the far left decrying the workings
of the system. Rather, they are those of one who constantly
reminds us that he is proud to be a “centrist.” It puts
him right up there with one of the other proud proponent
of conservative centrism, Times columnist David Brooks
who sees the new cold war as one between authoritarian “state
capitalism” and “democratic capitalism” and who says that
of late “democratic regimes” have demonstrated “a tendency
to make unaffordable promises to the elderly and other politically
powerful groups; a tendency toward polarization, which immobilizes
governments even in the face of devastating problems.”
thing about “promises to the elderly” is big with these
people. To get him out of the political cul- de-sac in which
he has maneuvered himself, Friedman has gone from a “flat
earth” to an alternative universe, one in which there are
really two tea parties, the one we see on TV every day and
a mythical “real tea party.” The latter, he says, want us
to “actually raise some taxes — on, say, gasoline — and
cut others — like payroll taxes and corporate taxes. It
would require us to overhaul our immigration laws so we
can better control our borders, let in more knowledge workers
and retain those skilled foreigners going to college here.
And it would require us to reduce some services — like Social
Security — while expanding others, like education and research
for a 21st-century economy.”
sure I don’t need to ask who pays gasoline taxes and who
pays payroll and corporate taxes and who benefits from Social
Security. The class bias here is all-too obvious.
prescriptions are being written out by responsible conservatives
(that’s as opposed to one s that drew up the GOP’s “Pledge
to America”). Times Economic writer David Leonhardt
says that there really is a “truly conservative” approach
to the federal deficit problem. It goes:
brief version might sound something like this: The federal
government has outgrown its ability to pay for itself. Our
economic future and even our national security depend on
solving the problem. Yet President Obama has expanded health
insurance, increased education spending and escalated a
war of choice. Elect us, and fiscal responsibility won’t
have to wait in line.
detailed plan would start in the same place that Republican
campaign rhetoric does, with rooting out waste and bloat.
Some tasks, like mail delivery and air traffic control,
could be privatized. The federal work force could be reduced,
and pay for federal workers could be cut. Federal aid to
states could be cut, too.”
much for Friedman’s proposal to increase education funding.
sure I don’t need to ask who loses out when the Post Office
and air traffic control towers are privatized and who will
bear the pain when government workers lose their jobs and
Washington retains more of our tax money to pay for things
like agricultural subsidies and foreign wars. Class bias?
What class bias?
Friedman’s conjured up a mythical “Tea Kettle Party” to
counter the really existing Tea Party movement and last
week Brooks came forward with the “austerity brigades.”
To illustrate his point he described his recent visit to
California and his interview with billionaire Silicon Valley
gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman. (“Television doesn’t
quite capture how physically imposing she can be, and how
locomotivelike she is when focused and resolved.”) Boy did
she pull the wool over his eyes. He waxed on about her humble
“New England-style colonial” with its “traditional furniture”
and “a middle-age Ford in the garage.” Evidently she didn’t
tell him she owns more than one mansion – one worth $2.3
million - and more than one garage. But all that was just
to set the stage for asserting “Whitman is representative
of an emerging Republican type — what you might call the
austerity caucus. Flamboyant performers like Sarah Palin
get all the attention, but the governing soul of the party
is to be found in statehouses where a loose confederation
of uber-wonks have become militant budget balancers. Just
as welfare reformers of the 1990s presaged compassionate
conservatism, so the austerity brigades presage the national
party’s next chapter.”
Chris Christie is “the Hot New Thing’ in the in “austerity
brigades,” writes Brooks, as he “not only has ideas to cut
deficits but he’s found a political strategy to enact them,
even with a Democratic Legislature.”
of the keys to cutting budgets, Brooks quotes Christie as
saying, is that “almost nothing can be sacrosanct.” “Inheriting
an $11 billion deficit, he spread cuts across every agency,”
he wrote. “He even had to cut education spending by $820
million but said any individual district could avoid cuts
if the teachers there would be willing to chip in 1.5 percent
of their salaries to help pay for health benefits (few districts
took advantage of this).” Brooks can with straight face
praise someone for cutting back on education in – of all
places – New Jersey. Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg
just gave a $100 million of his own money to help the beleaguered
Newark school system. When Christie appeared with the 26
year old entrepreneur and Newark Mayor Cory Booker to announce
the gift, the New York Times said it promised to
be ” a rare happy moment in a state troubled by budget crises,
scandals, political infighting and, most recently, the loss
of a $400 million federal education grant because of a clerical
it seems Whitman has lured Christie into California to boost
her increasingly troubled campaign. Brooks says Whitman
told him it was because “he offers a roadmap of where she’d
like to go.” (California Parents, students and teachers
beware.) We already have some idea where she wants to go.
She’s practically declared war on the state labor unions.
Whitman, who set quite a record for outsourcing jobs while
she was CEO at eBay, has proposed cutting 40,000 state workers
from the payroll, including employees of the University
of California system, and is in league with those who want
to reduce retirement benefits for public workers.
guess the message is obvious. The cadre of the “real tea
party,” the Tea Kettle party, the truly conservatives and
the austerity brigades have one thing in common: if they
come to power life will become a lot harder to pubic workers,
students, the elderly and who lot of others. Class bias
important Tea Party movement, which stretches from centrist
Republicans to independents right through to centrist Democrats,
understands this at a gut level and is looking for a leader
with three characteristics,” writes Friedman. “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.” Lord help us.
week after he wrote those words, Friedman got serious religion.
A new “third party” is in the making, he asserted; he knows
of two organizing efforts underway – one on the East coast
and the other in the West and there will probably be “a
serious third party candidate in 2012.” This appears to
be the main conclusion he reached after spending a week
in Silicon Valley, “talking with technologists from Apple,
Twitter, LinkedIn, Intel, Cisco and SRI.” I guess that’s
the social base of the Tea Kettle party.
is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just
on the right wing but in the radical center,” says Friedman.
Why is it that when I repeat those last two words people
unfortunate irony here is that in their clinging to and
wishing to redefine conservatism, people like Friedman and
Brooks always end up leaning right. Their urge to protect
the privileged like themselves puts them forever at odds
with the political forces that really do support the some
of the goals to which they insist they subscribe. On the
other hand, Whitman opposes an already voter-approved plan
to build a high speech rail system in the state on the grounds
that we can’t afford it. On Monday the Times reported
that the Obama Administration’s plan to build high speed
rail links could be brought to a halt because of opposition
from a handful of republican gubernatorial candidates.
candidate Leonhardt chooses to quote a lot, the “truly conservative”
Ron Paul of Kentucky opposes energy legislation which he
says will hurt the coal industry.
reformed and adequately financed 21st Century educational
system, the rebuilding and expansion of the nation’s physical
infrastructure, advanced training for a skilled workforce
and the accelerated development of clean, renewable energy
sources; these goals find their greatest support on the
left side of the aisle, But in a land marked by increasing
economic inequality you can’t achieve these things by increasing
the gap. That just leads to trouble.
Board member Carl Bloice is a writer in San
Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence
for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked
for a healthcare union. Click here to
contact Mr. Bloice.