June 20, 2012 · 3 Comments
By Marie Burns:
Mea culpa. I underestimated Tom Friedman’s capacity for recycling his old New York Times columns. In mid-May, with the demise of Americans Elect – a coalition of mostly-unnamed deep-pockets entrepreneurs attempting to hand-pick the next American president, the better to keep her/him in their deep pockets – I wrote what I considered a touching encomium at the retirement – at least until the next presidential election season – of Tom Friedman’s fake third-party advocacy.
What a fool I was. The lede to Friedman’s Times column today: “Watching this campaign unfold reaffirms how much it would have benefitted from a serious, centrist third-party challenger.” Friedman argues that Mike Bloomberg on Buddy Roehmer or Sum Buddy would force the real Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan to cop to their radical economic plan, and would make Barack Obama do what he has already done. Friedman writes, “I know what I’d pay good money to see: an intelligent independent candidate just taking part in the presidential debates, because it would make both Obama and his Republican opponent better.” Oh, wait, my mistake. Friedman turned in that sentence back in February when he was running his friend David Walker for president. Here’s a Bloomberg for President column, this one dated April 18: “… the national debate would benefit from the entrance of a substantial independent candidate – like the straight-talking, socially moderate and fiscally conservative Bloomberg – who could challenge, and maybe even improve, both major-party presidential candidates….” Way different. One great thing about being Tom Friedman: you never have to read anything but Tom Friedman. (Think I’m kidding? As Friedman expert Belén Fernández learned, Friedman has said of his writing process: “I often begin writing columns by interviewing myself.”)
In today’s edition, Friedman argues that President Obama “wasted Warren Buffett.” Here Friedman does not mean “murdered Warren Buffett”; he calls it “a waste of Warren Buffett’s credibility” for Obama to have asked Congress to impose a “Buffett Rule” – a tax law that would impose a minimum tax rate for annual incomes in excess of $1 million. Instead, Friedman says, Obama should have introduced his own plan – which Friedman helpfully suggests could be called “the Obama Plan.” (With his talent for coining clever phrases, maybe Friedman can come up with a better campaign slogan for Obama, too.) Friedman, citing Alan Blinder, an economist and former member of the Fed whom Friedman met in Alabama and has quoted before, writes that the Obama Plan should call for (1) near-term stimulus, (2) a longer-term Simpson-Bowlesy deficit-reduction program, and (3) a plan to lower healthcare costs. Friedman acknowledges that Obama has already done (1), but claims he has not done (2) and (3).
Oh yes he has.
On (2). During the debt-ceiling negotiations with House Speaker John Boehner last year, Obama agreed to a ten-year, $3-trillion deficit reduction deal. As reported in the New York Times in February of this year, “Mr. Obama has come to adopt most of the major tenets supported by a majority of the [Simpson-Bowles] commission’s members, though his proposals do not go as far. He has called for cutting deficits more than $4 trillion over 10 years by shaving all spending, including for the military, Medicare and Social Security; overhauling the tax code to raise revenues and lower rates; and writing rules to lock in savings.” The same article, by Jackie Calmes, notes that the “credible” Warren Buffett evidently was not savvy enough to understand that Obama has essentially endorsed Simpson-Bowles. Too bad the only part of the New York Times Friedman reads is his own column.
Well, never mind. Friedman could watch the President on the teevee. In a widely-reported major campaign speech on the economy – delivered way last week – President Obama made lengthy remarks about the deficit – how it came about, how he has proposed to reduce the deficit, and how the Ryan-Romney plans would increase the deficit. During the speech, Obama also remarked that he had sent a detailed proposal to Congress last September “that would reduce our deficit by $4 trillion through shared sacrifice and shared responsibility.”
On (3). The plan to lower healthcare costs, which Friedman says Obama should propose, is called the Affordable Care Act. It passed into law more than two years ago. As healthcare expert Jonathan Gruber (an M.I.T. professor, Gruber helped write both RomneyCare and ObamaCare) reported in January, the ACA has already cut patient costs, stopped $3 billion in fraudulent claims in 2011 alone, and is putting in place coordinated care programs that should save billions more when and if the full range of provisions of the law kick in. (At any moment, our esteemed supreme justices may throw most of this effort into the Constitutional landfill project.) In the campaign speech linked above, the President also mentioned the healthcare costs savings – already in place – which Friedman says Obama should propose.
So in one speech last week, Obama covered everything Friedman writes Obama should propose under a brand-new “Obama Plan.” Prior to last week’s speech, Obama not only did everything Friedman said he should propose, he spoke about it many times. As economist Dean Baker writes today, “Friedman is essentially making a career out of haranguing Obama to do something he has already done.” Of course, how would Tom Friedman know what Obama has done? Being Tom Friedman means reading only Tom Friedman. This makes it impossible to learn what other people are doing and saying.
The real question at this point: why do the New York Times editors let Friedman get away with recycling dated material? Do they think the best use of their op-ed page is providing fodder for parody? Or winning prizes like “One True Wanker of the Decade”?
By the way, congratulations on the Wanker thing, Tom.
Marie Burns blogs at RealityChex.com