Thomas Friedman strikes me as a creepy guy. Keep in mind, we’re talking about man who openly admires China’s lack of democracy because he thinks it would make it easier to get things done. Clearly, Friedman is not the sort of person who can be trusted with power, which is why it’s probably a good thing that he’s firmly ensconced at the slowly dying New York Times instead of actually making policy with the other wonky academics in the White House.
Of course, given the weird bubble Friedman apparently lives in, he couldn’t cut it in politics anyway — which is ironic given that he makes a living writing about the subject. That’ll become more apparent as you read his latest analysis of the nation’s mood,
On Nov. 19, Rasmussen Reports published results from a national telephone poll that showed that 47 percent of America’s likely voters said the nation’s “best days are in the past,” 37 percent said they are in the future. Sixteen percent were undecided. Just before President Obama was inaugurated, 48 percent said our best days were still ahead and 35 percent said they had come and gone. This is a disturbing trend.
What’s driving it? Let me say what’s not driving it. It is not that millions of Americans suddenly started worrying about the national debt. Seriously, do you know anyone who says: “I couldn’t sleep last night. I was tossing and turning until dawn worrying that the national debt was now $14 trillion.” Sorry, that only happens in contrived campaign ads.
I think what is driving people’s pessimism today are two intersecting concerns. The long-term concern is that people intuitively understand that what we need most now is nation-building in America. They understand it by just looking around at our crumbling infrastructure, our sputtering job-creation engines and the latest international education test results that show our peers out-educating us, which means they will eventually out-compete us. Many people understand that we are slipping as a country and what they saw in Barack Obama, or what they projected onto him, was that he had both the vision and capability to pull America together behind a plan for nation-building at home.
But I think they understand something else: that we are facing a really serious moment. We have to get this plan for nation-building right because we are driving without a spare tire or a bumper. The bailouts and stimulus that we have administered to ourselves have left us without much cushion. There may be room, and even necessity, for a little more stimulus. But we have to get this moment right. We don’t get a do-over. If we fail to come together and invest, spend and cut really wisely, we’re heading for a fall — and if America becomes weak, your kids won’t just grow up in a different country, they will grow up in a different world.
Skepticism about how powerful an issue deficit spending may actually turn out to be isn’t exactly novel, but Friedman’s lack of imagination as he considers the topic is breathtaking. Spending has ramped up to astronomical levels in the last two years, we just had a second European nation that had to be bailed out because it couldn’t pay its bills, and we have Tea Partiers all across the country taking to the streets over the debt. Yet, Friedman can’t conceive of anyone really caring about the issue.