Look, I’d love to tell you that I’m not a Friedman hater. I really would. Among other reasons, it might make my subsequent critique of this piece of his a little more trustworthy. The problem, as I see it, is that the aforementioned critique is partly based on having spent a few years reading parts of Friedman’s books, hearing people quote Friedman approvingly, and seeing two successive presidential administrations, of both parties, hew pretty close to Friedman’s macho bullshit when determining their foreign policy.
In other words, if you haven’t read Friedman much, this piece would look pretty good to you. Hell, it looks pretty good to me, and I’ve been reading him for a while. I think that’s exactly why Friedman is such an irritating commentator, almost as if he were the Times’ version of Joe Klein. They’re both writers who can offer some pretty decent insight into the current political scene, and then, inevitably, cock it up in some form or another. This Friedman piece is no different.
I’ll show you what I mean. Let’s look at the second and third paragraphs of his article.
These were not slips of the tongue. These are the authentic voices of an ever-more-assertive far-right Republican base that is intent on using uncompromising positions on abortion to not only unseat more centrist Republicans — Mourdock defeated the moderate Republican Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana in the primary — but to overturn the mainstream consensus in America on this issue. That consensus says that those who choose to oppose abortion in their own lives for reasons of faith or philosophy should be respected, but those women who want to make a different personal choice over what happens with their own bodies should be respected, and have the legal protection to do so, as well.
But judging from the unscientific — borderline crazy — statements opposing abortion that we’re hearing lately, there is reason to believe that this delicate balance could be threatened if Mitt Romney and Representative Paul Ryan, and their even more extreme allies, get elected. So to those who want to protect a woman’s right to control what happens with her own body, let me offer just one piece of advice: to name something is to own it. If you can name an issue, you can own the issue. And we must stop letting Republicans name themselves “pro-life” and Democrats as “pro-choice.” It is a huge distortion.
There are people out there who have published stronger condemnations of the allegedly “pro-life” community, but for Friedman, this is actually pretty awesome. The parts I emphasized bear this out. He isn’t pretending that all the bullshit is coming from “a few bad apples” on the far right of the Republican Party, like the majority of people who aren’t participating in peddling said bullshit are doing. He doesn’t separate this “ever-more-assertive far-right Republican base” from Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan, despite both of their efforts to paint themselves as moderates on the abortion issue during their debates and, again, the fact that “moderate Republicans” are so far pretending that Romney has not campaigned, nor has Ryan legislated, as a pro-life extremist would. Sure, he says that it’s Romney and Ryan’s “allies” we need to watch out for, but the “even more extreme” makes it clear he’s not leaving them out. Finally, the fact that he’s willing to call out the term “pro-life” as what it is – patent, absolute, 100% USDA-prime bullshit – is especially nice.
Then he sort of stumbles by saying this:
In my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and be against common-sense gun control — like banning public access to the kind of semiautomatic assault rifle, designed for warfare, that was used recently in a Colorado theater. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and want to shut down the Environmental Protection Agency, which ensures clean air and clean water, prevents childhood asthma, preserves biodiversity and combats climate change that could disrupt every life on the planet. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and oppose programs like Head Start that provide basic education, health and nutrition for the most disadvantaged children. You can call yourself a “pro-conception-to-birth, indifferent-to-life conservative.” I will never refer to someone who pickets Planned Parenthood but lobbies against common-sense gun laws as “pro-life.”
I have one major problem with the above paragraph, and I’m sad to say that it’s an ad hominem problem.
You see, in my world, you don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and cheer on the deaths of thousands of Iraqi civilians with a “Suck on this.” You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and keep telling the public that trusts you that victory in the Middle East was just another six months away. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and keep pimping the People’s Republic of China, with its forced abortions and its lack of worker protections, as a preferable alternative to American democracy simply because they can squeeze more out of every member of their labor force. You don’t get to call yourself “pro-life” and repeatedly suggest that what we really need in this country is an ideal of “shared sacrifice” that, somehow, always ends up being borne by the middle and working classes of America. You can call yourself a “pro-authoritarian-economic-leadership, indifferent-to-lives-of-the-rest-of-the-world moderate.” I will never refer to someone who praises the fraudulent invasion of Iraq but lobbies against worker protections “pro-life.”
Now, some of you will argue, probably fairly and perhaps even compellingly, that I’m being unfair to Friedman here. He deserves a chance at rehabilitation, as do we all. Let’s assume that today, October 28, 2012, Thomas Friedman, in his heart of hearts, has honestly repented for supporting the Iraq War, believes in labor protections for American workers, no longer thinks that the PRC is the bee’s knees, and perhaps even thinks that the wealthy in this country should bear an increased economic burden in exchange for the massive gutting of the regulatory state that happened during his lifetime.
Even if we assume all of that, this last paragraph shits the bed on so many levels that it reminds me why I hate Friedman in the first place.
Respect for life has to include respect for how that life is lived, enhanced and protected — not only at the moment of conception but afterward, in the course of that life. That’s why, for me, the most “pro-life” politician in America is New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. While he supports a woman’s right to choose, he has also used his position to promote a whole set of policies that enhance everyone’s quality of life — from his ban on smoking in bars and city parks to reduce cancer, to his ban on the sale in New York City of giant sugary drinks to combat obesity and diabetes, to his requirement for posting calorie counts on menus in chain restaurants, to his push to reinstate the expired federal ban on assault weapons and other forms of common-sense gun control, to his support for early childhood education, to his support for mitigating disruptive climate change.
How do I hate this paragraph? Let me count the ways:
- He chose to end a piece on why he’s pro-life by pimping Bloomberg – his dream Americans Elect candidate who has repeatedly said he’s going nowhere near the White House. This is damn near pathological with Friedman. Reminds me of someone I know who can’t stop bringing up “Obamacare” whenever the subject of health care, medicine, or doctors is brought up in his vicinity.
- He chose Mike Bloomberg as his “most ‘pro-life’ politician in America.” I’m not completely down on Bloomberg, because I think he’s about the last remotely sane and electable-as-is Republican left in the States, but it’s worth pointing out that the man is, at the very least, an anal-retentive control freak. I have no doubt that his attempts to ban various substances do stem from his concern for other people’s health, but I also remember reading – in the Times, no less – that he himself doesn’t obey most of his dictates, and I seem to remember that he attempted to have a ban on salt in restaurant cooking passed through the Council. We’re not talking about banning foie gras (about which, by the way, California seems to have shut the hell up), we’re talking about banning sodium chloride. He couldn’t even let someone else do the Spanish evacuation instructions for Hurricane Irene.
- A bone I’ve always had to pick with NYC mayors: respect for life also has to include respect for everyone who lives it, and Mike Bloomberg’s NYPD seems to be doing anything but that. Perhaps it isn’t the NYPD of broom sodomy and altar-boy murders, but there are still disturbing trends that remind you of Giuliani’s days at the helm. Comparing Bloomberg and Giuliani isn’t totally fair – Rudy Giuliani, in any sane country, would be barred from ever holding elected office again – but they resemble one another in some of the worst ways.
Like I said, this is why Friedman is so infuriating. This is why Matt Taibbi’s takedowns of The World is Flat and Hot, Flat and Crowded are such good reads. This is why he gets nicknames like “The Moustache of Understanding” and “Tommy Boy.” He’s a commentator with a huge audience of people who want to be told they’re very smart and hip for reading him, and he uses that platform to advocate for a soft liberalism, or neoliberalism, that is fine with things like gay marriage and abortion but is also fine with systematically stripping entire sectors of American society of the political and economic power necessary to advocate for themselves and bombing the shit out of countries because cathartic violence is a good and necessary thing.
Even if he is right on this point – which, make no mistake, he’s far righter than the back-patters who pretend they’re pro-gay because they aren’t members of the Westboro Baptist Church, or people who are supposedly pro-choice and pro-gay but vote Republican because they put economic issues before social ones, without recognizing that the two go hand-in-hand – Friedman’s mustache has a long way to go in rehab. I’m not declaring him cured yet.