Sunday, May 2, 2010

Suck on What Now?

Not to pick on Friedman too much (and I'm probably cherry-picking his very worst moment), but ever since I watched this, I just can't help but think that Friedman is fundamentally unwise in a way that makes everything he writes (such as today's piece on Mexico) suspect:



It's not just that he got Iraq wrong, or even his inability to recognize that fact, both of which are bad enough (although the interview is from 2003, not 2009), but the bizarre, adolescent prism through which he considers Iraq that is really worrying. Saying "Suck on this", metaphorically or actually, shouldn't be viewed as an achievement by any adult person or nation, and it quite obviously shouldn't be a motivation for any decision that can place millions of lives at risk. Indeed, if looking for countries at which to toss epithets hadn't played a role in his analysis, one wonders if Friedman would have supported the war to start off with.

I've recently read some of the World War II books by Rick Atkinson, in which the correspondent Ernie Pyle plays a big role and comes across as eminently wise and judicious. For instance in this passage (which I actually read in a David Brooks column):
We won this war because our men are brave and because of many things - because of Russia, England and China and the passage of time and the gift of nature's material. We did not win it because destiny created us better than all other peoples. I hope that in victory we are more grateful than we are proud.
In the span of roughly three generations, we've gone from Pyle's eloquent and inspiring humility in the wake of one of (if not the) most important accomplishments in that nation's history to Friedman justifying the deaths of hundreds of thousands with "Suck on this". That's not a hopeful progression.

9 comments:

malcolm beith said...

friedman lost my respect back in 2001 when he said he couldn't understand why young men in the Palestinian territories because terrorists. If he had grown up in those sort of conditions, he'd be a terrorist too, i guarantee it.
that said, I don't think his points on Mexico are off. He simplifies things, yes, but what columnist doesn't need to do that? his readership, some of the most intelligent people in the US, still think Mexico is a country full of sombrero-wearing bandidos who have shoot-em ups at bars every saturday night.

don quixote said...

"We could have hit Saudia Arabia"

Come on Friedman! Suck on this A hole!

pc said...

Yeah the Mexico column wasn't so bad. As far as Friedman simplifying things, I have no problem with that at all, I just think you need to be able to trust the worldview of the person you're reading before he or she starts to dumb it down for you, and with Friedman, every time I watch that video I feel like writing a note beneath a Polaroid of him as in the movie Memento: don't trust this man. But then I wonder if I'm just making too much of a seven-year-old interview on an issue where passions where really high.

jd said...

Speaking from the NYC-DC axis, Friedman peaked early in the decade and his cachet has since fallen. Don't get me wrong, he's still the most influential foreign policy commentator in the country, which is depressing in a sort of "you get the pundits you deserve" sort of way, but he is not required reading for a certain sector of elites like he was five or more years ago. I like to think that the "suck on this" video - which has been posted on liberal blogs 20,000 times since it came out, and which I immediately send to any relative who cites him - has helped at least a bit in the transformation. But sadly, we'll still have Tom Friedman to kick around for quite a while.

Semi-relatedly, I'm too lazy to look up the piece Malcolm cites, but in general the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is actually where Friedman comes closest to non-jackassery. From Beirut to Jerusalem is a pretty decent book, and quite different from his new age/mystical-globalization tripe that followed.

jd said...

I should add that no discussion of Friedman is complete without reference to the legendary mustache of understanding:
http://www.macksimpson.com/adverb/images/mou-large.gif

pc said...

Hilarious comic. I had a mustache for a while two years ago, but alas I had no such increase in bizarre insights.

So all of my perception of Friedman is remote, not being in the corridor, but is someone else taking his place, or is this just a general decline of the NY Times column as an influential pulpit?

pc said...

Also I've heard that a lot about From Beirut to Jerusalem a lot, though I've not read it. I suspect one big reason is that he was still a full-time reporter then.

jd said...

I'd say among the pseudointellectual class in which I travel David Brooks is more frequently discussed. The difference, of course, is that Brooks's writing is almost exclusively domestic. But that's where the action is in the Obama era.

And again, not saying El Bigote doesn't move the crowd, just saying that among those who pay more attention, it's understood that his game is played out, so even when talking to folks who might share his inclinations, he just isn't discussed much anymore.

And to merge comment threads, I agree that once a week is better, with a few exceptions. To me, Paul Krugman can pull it off (though many people would disagree vehemently!) because his skill at delivering accessible explanations of economic concepts - and the applicability of those concepts to so many different spheres - means that he has a double fallback: semi-doctrinaire liberal politics (which are red meat for me, but I recognize the redundancy for others) or econ-focused explanation. It's a neat trick.

Ironically, one of the best examples of why the once a week limit should generally apply also comes from El Uni, in the person of Macario Schettino, who can be wicked when dissecting public and fiscal policy but busts out the "failed revolution" trope with eyeroll-inducing frequency.

I think the new model of columnist-cum-blogger is actually quite promising. Gideon Rachman of the FT is a great example of someone doing this well, as is, again, Krugman. Douthat should definitely be a once-weekly/blogger, although he'd still struggle to come up with worthy column ideas, I think. Macario might be excellent at this. And by the way, good Spanish-language Mexican political blogs - donde?! Maybe you've posted on this and I missed it, or maybe I'm just an ig'nant gringo, but why haven't I come across the Matt Yglesiases, Tyler Cowens, or Jon Chaits of Mexico?

pc said...

RE Mexico bloggers, it's weird how it's developed differently here. Most of the newspaper and magazine blogs that Ive seen either treat it like a supplementary, online column or dont post much. Some established authors have their own sites, but they usually use them to promote their own stuff. Jesus Silva-Herzog has one that kind of approaches the American model, but not exactly. As far as a netroots-style autonomous insurgency of opinion and commentary, nothing at all that I know of.