Michael Wolraich's picture

    Thomas Friedman, Michael Bloomberg, and the Coming Implosion

    On Wednesday, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman repeated his call for Michael Bloomberg to run for president. Friedman has finally given up on the fantasy that America's "radical center" might coalesce around a moderate third-party candidate, but in his latest column, he argued that even if Bloomberg can't win, he could still make a difference:

    I still believe that 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 by speaking honestly about what is needed to restore the foundations of America's global leadership before we implode.

    To avoid imminent implosion, Friedman recommended "fiscal, tax and entitlement reform," which proves that the radical center has some really groundbreaking policy ideas. Unfortunately, he didn't offer many details. His chief concern seemed to be that his cell phone kept dropping calls during his too-slow train ride to Washington. While many people would be happy for a President Bloomberg to speed up the NYC-DC connection and add a few cell towers, it doesn't seem like much of a campaign platform.

    Friedman's plea for centrism follows on the heels of his colleague Bill Keller's clarion call for the two major party candidates to move to the center, to which our own Dan Kervick snorted, "They are already in the center.  What does he want them to do, start fondling each other?" In that case, Bloomberg would be forced to snuggle between their passionate embrace.

    Whether or not one agrees with Dan that Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are ideological bedmates, you'd have to be a New York Times columnist not to see that these two would happily share a newlywed suite if they could get away with it.

    Has Friedman forgotten the way Barack "Post-Partisan" Obama chased after John Boehner with a bouquet of roses wrapped in a budget plan? Does he really think that Mitt "Mr. Fix-It" Romney would flee his bipartisan accomplishments in Massachusetts if his pollsters told him that his constituents were enthusiastic about his love-fest with Ted Kennedy.

    There is only one reason that the Obama and Romney are not joining hands and singing, "I've been working on the railroad," as they lay tracks for high-speed trains across the continent: The voters don't want 'em to. Americans may whine about partisanship and dutifully tell pollsters that they just want everyone to get along, but when election time arrives, they keep voting for the wingnuts, particularly on the right.

    Can Friedman really have forgotten that Obama explicitly campaigned on rebuilding American infrastructure and that the crown jewel of this initiative was none other than a high-speed train network. Moreover, he actually managed to pass some minor legislation to kick it off. For these efforts, the voters rewarded him in the mid-term elections by electing a slate of Republican governors who promptly canceled all those rail projects in their respective states. We're not talking about crazy right-wing strongholds likes Mississippi or Oklahoma. This happened in the swing states of Florida and Wisconsin and the blue-state of New Jersey, which killed a much-needed rail tunnel to Bloomberg-land.

    So forget about Bloomberg for president or post-partisan Obama or Romney the closet-moderate. America is deeply, bitterly, stubbornly divided. And unless someone fixes that problem, we're not going to see those high-speed trains anytime soon, and we're certainly not going to get any of that "fiscal, tax, and entitlement reform" Friedman says we need.

    Sometimes I think the only thing that can put us on the right track is a nice big implosion.

    Michael Wolraich is the author of Blowing Smoke: Why the Right Keeps Serving Up Whack-Job Fantasies about the Plot to Euthanize Grandma, Outlaw Christmas, and Turn Junior into a Raging Homosexual



    Didn't we have both implosions and explosions already? Under Dubya?

    Fair point. Maybe we're just screwed.

    I totally agree with you on this. 

    One facet of this when it comes to national politics is that people forget that the national demographics on political matters is not evenly spread across the country.  A House Rep doesn't care if 60% of Americans favor this or that policy if 60% of the constituents in his or her district. 

    Those in Congress tend to disregard the presidential election effort, and rather focus on maintain what districts and states they have, and then adding a few of the swing districts and states. 

    The coming implosion as the only thing that will get people to do the right thing was discussed from the environmental perspective on Lulu's news article about Paul Gilding.

    2x4 therapy may be the only way.

    But doesn't hope spring eternal?

    Friedman's lede was an embarrassment -- a rich man complaining about his commute and, of course, if you're one of his regular reasons, you know that his subtext was that trains are faster and cell coverage better inside of China's major cities.  He never thinks to mention, of course, that a vast portion of China's population lives at subsistence level poverty.  We Americans would be fools to trade a better city to city express train with Wi-Fi for the lot of a contemporary Chinese citizen.

    As for the rest of it... it's all just his fantasy that Bloomberg will spend the money necessary to push... Thomas Friedman's ideas to the point where they will become truly mainstream.  One of the funny things about this column is that Friedman, for once, couldn't reach 850 words without acknowledging that Obama basically represents everything Friedman might want, but that he simply hasn't achieved those things because of the opposition Congress.

    Now, he goes after Obama for the "small ball," Buffett tax idea.  I don't love the Buffett tax either.  I'd rather see a more progressive tax code with capital gains and dividends taxed more like wages.  So would Friedman.  So, I gather, would Obama.  But nobody can make that happen with the current Congress.  Somehow, Friedman thinks that Michael Bloomberg has the charisma necessary to motivate the electorate to push the Republicans to adopt or at least accept these ideas.

    Given that Obama is exactly a million percent more charismatic than Bloomberg*, and failed at this, it's certainly an odd claim.

    In the end, Friedman wants us all to shut up and listen to him.  The Bloomberg candidacy idea is just a polite way of saying it.




    The break of a thirty-six inch water main adjacent to the New Jersey Turnpike has opened up a sinkhole that is  presently a half mile across,  200 400 feet deep and is threatening to swallow  has swallowed up Perth Amboy.

    Company authorities said that the valve necessary to shut down the flow had rusted open.


    Honest to god you got me laughin again!

    And I apologize, but I got nothin except this tribute to Bloomberg:


    And unless someone fixes that problem.....

    I'm pretty much over the generalities without specifics.  Everyone complains and offers a better destination, but very, very few give up any specific road map with twists, turns and exactly how to overcome the obstacles in place.

    The 'someone' needs to be a team effort by many rebels with a positive cause.  There has to be a willingness by the majority to plot the realistic path to a better destination or else we're going to still be going nowhere, most likely crashing and burning in the process. 

    It's so easy to critique without any of the responsibility of 'doing and achieving'.

    Friedman jumped the shark, but he hasn't offered up anything original or helpful.  tsk. tsk.  A hack on attack is his current state, hopefully he'll find his way back.

    The 'stashe don't sweat it...he married very well...

    What's the cheapskate doing taking mass transit? Tell him to pony up for a limo, or at least give a cabbie his due.

    Mass transit works in China because 1 billion people don't have cars. (30 years ago they were all on bikes - a friend described it as a flock of birds - the lead turns, they all turn).

    They have good cell phone coverage because the government knows which oligarchy they're backing and force them to provide service. With ours, we favor Verizon's madness, but pretend it's a free market. Okay, we'll get LTE coverage, but the costs for basic phone ownership have been outrageous.

    But it doesn't matter when little Tommy 7-years-old favors all foreign wars and all the budget-busting defense expenditures - of course Tommy can't have phone in metro - he bought his big Mattel rat-a-tat-tat bunker buster - did he forget? Wait till next Christmas, Tommy, just wait. Spare us the tantrum or we'll put you to bed. And don't forget, bi-partisan Jesus will save you.

    I was going to do this as a post, but it kinda fits with the Friedman piece. In their haste to advocate privatization, About Those Better Roads in China, the American Enterprise Institute misses the point about infrastructure.

    While the president apparently takes it as a given that Chinese infrastructure is better than America’s, the reality is otherwise: U.S. roads, bridges, airports, and the like are leaps and bounds above what the Chinese have. A closer inspection reveals that China suffers from a serious lack of infrastructure that threatens to throttle their long-term growth prospects.

    They go on to argue that America still has far more of everything than China, which is true to a point. But President Obama didn't say better, he said newer. An even closer inspection reveals that our infrastructure—while certainly far more extensive—is falling apart, and the funds to maintain it are not being allocated.

    They argue that China's investment in high speed rail will never pay back. I'm fine with regular speed rail myself, but no one's funding that either.

    Roads and bridges are also commonly managed by private operators throughout the world, who earn a return by charging tolls. The value added for consumers is that, increasingly, the tolls are levied so as to minimize congestion on the roads, resulting in vastly faster traffic as well as a marked reduction in emissions.

    What is the value added for consumers that can't afford the tolls, and instead drive on secondary roads?


    Being the first mover isn't always an advantage.  I'm fine granting that China's major cities and the regions between them have better wireless coverage than you'll find in the U.S.  But which population, on average, has better personal access to telecommunications in general?  These comparisons tend to forget the vast rural wasteland of poverty that's part of the China story that nobody talks about.

    Which is not to say that China can't catch up and surpass us by intelligently implementing new technologies while our old stuff rusts, breaks down, falls apart or just plain becomes obsolete.  China gets to skip the Ma Bell buildout the way many American cities got to skip building roads for use primarily by horses.  China has the advantage of being able to operate largely by decree, but the disadvantage of having to deal with an extremely large population and land mass.

    There's no doubt that the U.S. needs to do better at shoring up, modernizing and improving its own infrastructure.  A lot of Old Worlders probably, wrongly, said that back in the 19th Century that the U.S. would never catch up.  But the vision of China that one gets from Friedman columns is almost certainly incomplete.

    This article notes the high buildup of major highway & railway trunks, while only slight increase of lower quality rural roads.


    I refuse to read Friedman these days but I'll stipulate that he's delusional about the benefits of a third-party candidacy and, no doubt, the Chinese economic model for the U.S. (He's deluded on most things.)

    But direct comparisons of standards of living in both countries are equally off base. China's economic infrastucture got its start (its start!) barely 30 years ago. Prior to that, you had a crumbling empire, foreign domination, rule by warlords, war and civil war, and disastrous ideologically driven policies -- Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution -- capped off by a famine that killed tens of millions.

    That's the base they started from. Yeah, rural poverty remains a problem. But people live at least twice as long as they did in the '30s, and everyone can eat. Not everyone owns a home or a car, but millions do. And they're working on their telecommunications-access problem.

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