Where Did ‘We’ Go?

New York Times

Where Did ‘We’ Go?
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN

The American political system was, as the saying goes, “designed by geniuses so it could be run by idiots.” But a cocktail of political and technological trends have converged in the last decade that are making it possible for the idiots of all political stripes to overwhelm and paralyze the genius of our system.

Those factors are: the wild excess of money in politics; the gerrymandering of political districts, making them permanently Republican or Democratic and erasing the political middle; a 24/7 cable news cycle that makes all politics a daily battle of tactics that overwhelm strategic thinking; and a blogosphere that at its best enriches our debates, adding new checks on the establishment, and at its worst coarsens our debates to a whole new level, giving a new power to anonymous slanderers to send lies around the world. Finally, on top of it all, we now have a permanent presidential campaign that encourages all partisanship, all the time among our leading politicians.

I would argue that together these changes add up to a difference of degree that is a difference in kind — a different kind of American political scene that makes me wonder whether we can seriously discuss serious issues any longer and make decisions on the basis of the national interest.

Comments:

3. Kate Madison

We cannot MAKE people think critically about what they are seeing and hearing. All we can do is teach our children critical thinking ability! America would be a very different and more mature place if we actually had a majority of people who could discuss their beliefs and feelings rationally!!!!

It was startling and moving to see the Democrats in attendance at the service at National Cathedral in the wake of 11 September 2001, appearing as if feudal lords to pledge fealty to their king. No one cried out “you lie”–and they might well have!

5. BC

I find it convenient for Mr. Friedman to say that W lost his legitimacy because of the Florida voting “mess” (what was his approval rating after 9-11?) when it was clear that he really lost his legitimacy when he waged war in Iraq. Of course he couldn’t put that without delegitimizing himself for his support of Bush on that front – which it seems continues today.

This is hardly a case of bi-partisan tit-for-tat. There is no equal blame here for the Neaderthal politics that would bring down America to bring down Obama. People who didn’t think G.W. Bush was legitimately elected, nonetheless worked to keep the Republic afloat, even to give the President what he deemed essential to the national good: war in Iraq, tax breaks for the top earners, no-bid contracts, privatization of governmental functions, no child left behind–you name it, he got it.

10. Geronimo4

Representative Trent Franks called Obama “an enemy of humanity” this week – with no remorse. As you say, this is getting out of control. Every person who sees where this language is going – from part-time census workers hanged naked to the murder of the head of the state Democratic party in Arkansas and random shooting in a Unitarian Church – needs to speak up now.

Their problem, however, is America’s problem. They have made it so. And it’s not just in Congress, either. The crumbling of the financial system and the markets was fueled by the same kind of thinking. Greed, short-term profit-driven carpe diem ethic, and a total disregard for societal well-being nearly bought down the machine that was generating the wealth the greedy couldn’t get enough of. The same can be said of the politics of today’s nay-sayers. They drove the economic and governmental machine without mercy, pedal to the metal, until it threw its valves and burnt its bearings. If they could savage their nation when in power–think Alaric in Rome–it seems only natural to continue now that they’re out of power.

14. Cdr. John Newlin

I had forgotten the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Mr. Friedman and in some selfish way I wish you hadn’t reminded me of it. But you had to write of it and in a far more important way, I’m glad you did. The analogy that you elucidate is so terribly chilling that one who confronts it wants to shake it off, to turn away in disgust and horror.
 
[…]We now have American men and women TV talkers who are doing the equivalent of shouting fire in a crowded theater and yet their poisonous slings and arrows are protected by the constitutional guarantee of free speech.

If, Mr. Friedman, the analogy you have so bleakly portrayed plays out to its horrific conclusion, who will hold the merchants of hate accountable for their very real role in its bloody end?

That there has been a massive, coordinated attempt to delegitimize President Obama from day one speaks volumes about today’s Republican Party. Having the responsibility to serve as a loyal opposition, they show themselves unworthy of the voter’s trust. They have become the anti-government governors, the anti-American Americans, justifying their treasonous behaviour with the fig leaf of representing some supposed Real America against the tyranny of democracy. Dixie of the mind rises again.

22. LAS

The campaign against President Obama from the right wing is paralleled by an increasingly escalating bullying directed towards targets on the left. First it was Jeremiah Wright, who made some stupid remarks but who was understandably angry given the poverty of the community in which he ministers. Next is was Van Jones, who also put his foot in his mouth but who committed no wrongful acts warranting departure. Then the Democrats not only stood by, but participated in the condemnation of ACORN, condoning the bullying directed against that organization for more than a year. It is rare that the Senate would usurp the responsibility of grant application reviewers in the executive branch and exclude a specific organization from eligibility for funding. We learn now that the next target is the SEIU, which will not allow itself to be such an easy target. It is time for the left to defend the targets of this bullying because every time the right wing gets away with it, they up the ante.
 
The facts are, convenient or not, that George W. Bush failed to be legitimately elected to office in 2000. Whoever won was left undetermined, but Al Gore massively won the popular vote. A clear plurality brought a Bill Clinton to Washington who triangulated his way to success. Neither 42 or 43, however, had the decisive victory of Barack Obama. John McCain didn’t come close to victory.
 
37. 10K walker
Mr. Friedman, the American middle finally got a clue about this and elected Barak Obama precisely because he appeared to have the best chance of re-uniting us as a nation. His election was a repudiation of the politics of fear and division.

But we aren’t so smart as we seem. All the Repubs have to do is change the words around a little, and we fall right back into line. When fear of terrorist attack stops working, just make it fear of socialism or fear of death panels and the gullible morons line right back up to do your work for you. All they have to do is tell people we have to spend endless sums of money on war and Halliburton or they’ll die, but that we can’t afford health care (without which they really will die), and people run with it like lemmings right off the cliff.

Once they cowed the “liberal’ media and “liberal” academia, it was all over. And the NY Times was pretty cowed. When CNN can base their reporting on what percent of people believe a politician while completely ignoring that all the facts point to that politician lying through his/her teeth, its all over. When Democrats in Congress show no political courage to stand up and make things right, we are doomed.

Without an education system that will teach us to think critically, without a media willing to call a spade a spade, we might as well give up.

115. 1248mm

The facts are, convenient or not, that George W. Bush failed to be legitimately elected to office in 2000. Whoever won was left undetermined, but Al Gore massively won the popular vote. A clear plurality brought a Bill Clinton to Washington who triangulated his way to success. Neither 42 or 43, however, had the decisive victory of Barack Obama. John McCain didn’t come close to victory.

That there has been a massive, coordinated attempt to delegitimize President Obama from day one speaks volumes about today’s Republican Party. Having the responsibility to serve as a loyal opposition, they show themselves unworthy of the voter’s trust. They have become the anti-government governors, the anti-American Americans, justifying their treasonous behaviour with the fig leaf of representing some supposed Real America against the tyranny of democracy. Dixie of the mind rises again.

Their problem, however, is America’s problem. They have made it so. And it’s not just in Congress, either. The crumbling of the financial system and the markets was fueled by the same kind of thinking. Greed, short-term profit-driven carpe diem ethic, and a total disregard for societal well-being nearly bought down the machine that was generating the wealth the greedy couldn’t get enough of. The same can be said of the politics of today’s nay-sayers. They drove the economic and governmental machine without mercy, pedal to the metal, until it threw its valves and burnt its bearings. If they could savage their nation when in power–think Alaric in Rome–it seems only natural to continue now that they’re out of power.

This is hardly a case of bi-partisan tit-for-tat. There is no equal blame here for the Neaderthal politics that would bring down America to bring down Obama. People who didn’t think G.W. Bush was legitimately elected, nonetheless worked to keep the Republic afloat, even to give the President what he deemed essential to the national good: war in Iraq, tax breaks for the top earners, no-bid contracts, privatization of governmental functions, no child left behind–you name it, he got it.

It was startling and moving to see the Democrats in attendance at the service at National Cathedral in the wake of 11 September 2001, appearing as if feudal lords to pledge fealty to their king. No one cried out “you lie”–and they might well have!

49. Darrell Hampton

MR. FRIEDMAN: You ask ”where did the we go”? It’s because of journalist like yourself that we have no “WE”. you guys legitimize any argument, always looking for the middle and writing about each side as if each side has a leg to stand on.

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