Last night, John wondered why so many American journalists have “hailed” dictatorships as “the exemplars of superior forms of human organization.” Today, as if on cue, arrives Thomas Friedman’s column extolling the virtues of one-party rule in Red China.
The insufferable New York Times columnist declares:
There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today … Our one-party democracy is worse.
One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century.
According to Friedman, this insight was inspired by watching the debate over health care and climate change reform. Even Hitler had better excuses for imposing one-party rule.
Friedman may also have been influenced by the rise of the internet in political discourse [and more specificaly the fact that it helped take down Van Jones, of whom Friedman is a fan] and criticism of President Obama’s speech to the nation’s school-children. These phenomena appeared to have driven Friedman into a near-rage when he appeared Sunday on “Meet The Press.” But I figured he had appeased his inner autocrat sufficiently by loudly calling criticism of Obama’s speech “STUPID” several times.
In any case, as Kenneth Anderson says, “this is quite an op-ed, even for Thomas Friedman and even by the historical apologetics of the New York Times.” Anderson continues:
Friedman does not mean this merely. . .in the sense that there are better and worse autocrats and dictators. That point was forcefully and correctly made by Jeane Kirkpatrick back in Dictators and Double-Standards in the 1980s. No, lest anyone misunderstand him, Friedman is at pains to emphasize that he is not doing a Double-Standards Dictators, Least Worst Alternative analysis here. That would be important, as assessing tradeoffs usually is. On the contrary, he is deliberately comparing autocracy and democracy, and specifically China and the United States, and finding the latter wanting by the admirably robust standards of the former.
There is the dismaying whiff here of the 1930s and the loss of faith in those years by political elites and the chattering classes in the future of parliamentary democracy as measured against the robust and healthy decision-making processes of those, uh, non-parliamentary systems; a loss of faith in the ideal of parliamentary democracy when what, in fact, was warranted was a loss of faith in a particular cadre of corrupt and cynical political elites themselves. There is decadence here, but it is not the decadence of democracy. (Update: To be clear, before chattering classes get all chattery … it is just a whiff, of decadence, and no, not the F-word.) The impasse of the American political class over reaching Friedman’s elite-preferences on everything from health care to climate change, and his dismissal of the processes of democracy in favor of China’s autocratic rule, lead him to th remarkable thought [that one-party autocracy is better than what we have in the United States today]
It is characteristic of Thomas Friedman’s thought to move from particular issues of policy to sweeping conclusions about the Nature of Man and God and the Universe, typically based around some attractively packaged metaphor – flat earth, hot earth, etc. Rarely, however, has he been quite so clear about the directness of the connections he sees between his preferred set of substantive outcomes; his contempt for American democratic processes that have, despite all, managed to hang in there for, I don’t know, a few times the length of time between the Cultural Revolution and today; and his schoolgirl crush on autocratic elites because they are able to impose from above.
Let me just say for the record that this is a monstrous column. When faced with American public defection from elite-preferred outcomes on certain policy issues that involve many difficult tradeoffs of the kind that democracies, with much jostling and argument, are supposed to work out among many different groups, Friedman extols the example of … China’s political system, because it’s both enlightened and autocratic? Who among us knew?
JOHN adds: Friedman’s column is indeed monstrous. We on the right sometimes harbor dark suspicions that liberals, if they had the opportunity, would be glad to dispense with the messy process of democracy. And with us. Friedman goes a long way toward confirming those suspicions.
In addition to being monstrous, the column is dumb. Friedman says we have “one-party democracy” in America. What is that supposed to mean? His explanation makes no sense: “The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing.” No, what is happening is that Republicans and Democrats disagree. Republicans are opposing the Democrats’ health care and carbon tax legislation because they believe–correctly–that both represent terrible public policy. When Republicans proposed Social Security reform and Democrats opposed it, were we a “one-party democracy” because “only the Republicans were playing”? I don’t remember Friedman yearning for fascist solutions during the Bush administration.
Actually, as should be obvious, the fact that the Obama administration and Congressional Democrats may need some Republican support to enact sweeping changes in the health care system or a destructive cap-and-tax system is proof that we are a two-party democracy.
If Tom Friedman isn’t the most overrated man in America, he’s a strong contender.
PAUL adds: That’s for sure. And Friedman has now become the leading member of a small but not insignificant band of leftists driven more hysterical by having its party in power, but unable fully to control policy, than by being out of power.
SCOTT adds: Jonah Goldberg provides this hilarious postscript: Friedman is a huge Van Jones fan. No wonder he was so distaught about Jones’s resignation on Meet the Press this past Sunday. And Jay Nordlinger provides his own postscript, noting Friedman’s past affinity for Chinese tyranny and adding: “When it comes to Friedmans, I’ll take Milton. Or Ignaz. Or various personal friends . . .” Finally, Mark Steyn made me laugh.