Thomas Friedman's New State of Grace

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Thomas Friedman

Dear Matt,

Why aren’t you writing about Thomas Friedman anymore?

Signed,

Richie

Solvang, CA

p.s. you’re a fucking liar if you try to claim you didn’t see Friedman’s “cutting off both your arms is not a good way to lose weight because it makes it hard to get a job afterward” column. You fucking saw that, I know you did.

 

Thomas Friedman is awesome lately. He’s stopped being the meanie of the "Suck On This" days.

There’s a cheery, happy, almost a giddy vibe to all of his pieces, even when he’s writing about really depressing things. He gives off an air of being at peace with himself. It’s kind of cool. This is from the other day:

Let’s start with the technological. In 1965, Gordon Moore, the Intel co-founder, posited Moore’s Law, which stipulated that the processing power that could be placed on a single microchip would double every 18 to 24 months. It’s held up quite well since then. Watching European, Arab and U.S. leaders grappling with their respective crises, I’m wondering if there isn’t a political corollary to Moore’s Law: The quality of political leadership declines with every 100 million new users of Facebook and Twitter.

When I read this I was so taken with how much fun Friedman was having making bold impromptu generalizations about the world by talking about microchips and Facebook and Twitter that I forgot to notice the passage didn’t really make any sense. One of my readers did notice, though, and sent in his own take. "They say a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush," he wrote. "I wonder if there isn't a corollary: Samsonite is the most popular and durable brand of business luggage."

Friedman's been taking a beating lately. It's gotten nuts. He was recently labeled “Wanker of the Decade” and has been savagely roasted in The Atlantic, the Huffington Post and (literally) dozens of other outlets. In one particularly brutal piece last year, Jonathan Chait in the New Republic published a Reader’s Digest-style condensed version of a Friedman column that chemically reduced a Friedman column to its root elements, i.e. nothing but its metaphors:

 A wake-up call’s mother is unfolding.  At the other end is a bell, which is telling us we have built a house at the foot of a volcano. The volcano is spewing lava, which says move your house. The road will be long and rocky, but it will trigger a shift before it kicks. We can capture some of it. If the Middle East was a collection of gas stations, Saudi Arabia would be a station…

It goes on and on. I can’t imagine Friedman himself hasn’t gotten wind of all of this.  Friedman analysis is to bloggers now what dick jokes are to standup comics -- which is probably unfair to him, but is becoming funny in itself precisely because it’s so unfair. Every time he writes something, anything, even a thing that makes sense, someone in the blogosphere winds up and belts him across the forehead.

Usually, it’s for self-plagiarism: Friedman wrote yet another column in which he divined the road to global economic progress after talking to a taxi driver on the way to the airport in Cairo! Gawker the other day headlined it like this: “Friedman writes his only column again.”

Other popular targets include his fetishistic use of New York Times column space as a kind of catch-all bourgeois-lifestyle complaint box (Friedman on cell reception on the our “sorry excuse for a fast train,” the Acela: “You'd have thought I was on a remote desert island”), his genius for conjuring sweepingly instant wisdom-isms out of thin air (in that “Moore’s Law” piece a few days ago he declared “Popularism,” a word he’d heard in London literally once the week before, to be the “uber-ideology of today”), and his relentless name-dropping, both of his upper-crust BFFs and his technological gizmos (“So I was turning on my web-enabled tablet accessory yesterday when the CEO of ImClone called and asked me: ‘Can Europe avert the hidden iceberg?’”).

But all of this piling on seems not to have slowed Friedman down at all, which is impressive as hell, when you think about it. This punditry business is no joke. It’s hard work. Not physically hard work, mind you, quite the opposite, but it’s taxing in other ways. Reality shows are popular because Americans love freaks – they love people who eat testicles or drop unexpected newborns in their sweatpants or get so awesomely obese they become fused to their chairs for years at a time, not even getting up to go to the bathroom. They love cable news shows for the same reason – the freak spectacle of an ostensibly college-educated person pretending to have a serious opinion about some news event he heard about eight seconds ago.

I guess where I'm going with this is that from the standpoint of the news commentary business, Friedman has eaten more testicles and squeezed out more unexpected babies into his mtaphorical sweatpants than all of the rest of us pundits combined. He’s a pro’s pro, an earner, and maybe it’s time the rest of us showed him some respect.

And why not? When he’s not marching us to war in Iraq, he’s just a guy with a mustache making Lebron James money writing some of the funniest stuff in the history of newspapers. When it comes right down to it, we're probably all just jealous. Incidentally, I had to look up that “armless weight loss” piece. I dare you to read this whole thing aloud without laughing:

 It’s because we’re leaving an era of some 50 years’ duration in which to be a president, a governor, a mayor or a college president was, on balance, to give things away to people; and we’re entering an era — no one knows for how long — in which to be a president, a governor, a mayor or a college president will be, on balance, to take things away from people. And if we don’t make this transition in a really smart way — by saying, “Here are the things that made us great, that spawned all these dynamic companies” — and make sure that we’re preserving as much of that as we can, this trend will not spread as it should. Maybe we could grow as a country without a plan. But we dare not cut without a plan. We can really do damage. I can lose weight quickly if I cut off both arms, but it will surely reduce my job prospects.

I know, I know – how did he cut off that second arm?

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