Payne: Friedman vs. freedom

Posted by hpayne on May 31, 2012

Mackinac Island – Mackinac Policy Conference keynote speaker and liberal icon, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, told an overflow crowd at the Grand Hotel Thursday that the world is turning away from the United Sates and looking to China as the model for the 21st century.

America’s most notable new émigré, Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng, might beg to differ.

Writing in Friedman’s paper on Wednesday, Chen condemned China as a lawless nation. His home country “inflicted (punishment) on me and my family over the past seven years,” writes Chen. “The fundamental question the Chinese government must face is lawlessness.”

Indeed, China is less a model for the 21st century than a relic of the 20th, a century that saw the American model of democratic capitalism triumph over both German fascism and Russian communism. Today, China is a hybrid totalitarian-fascist state – a government with one boot on the industrial accelerator and the other planted firmly on its people’s necks. And as last century, 21st century Chinese like Chen wish it were more like America.

Friedman, however, envies the Chinese model – infamously titling a chapter of “Hot, Flat, and Crowded,” his 2008 book, “China for a Day” in which he dreams of an American dictatorship that can impose Friedman’s vision of a green, post-carbon economy to prevent global warming.

“Watching (the) climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today,” he wrote in a 2009 Times column. “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.”

Disturbing stuff from a man whose own opinions are protected by the Bill of Rights – an alien concept in his Utopian China. But what Friedman fails to grasp is that the same totalitarian government with the power to ban things he doesn’t like (“Bam! Just like that – 1.3 billion people, theoretically, will stop using thin plastic bags,” he thrills in “Crowded” about China damning plastic bags), can also ban things he likes. Like Chen’s speech.

Friedman never mentioned Chen in his Mackinac talk.

Chen would have inconveniently forced Friedman to admit that liberty is what makes America the envy of the world. Instead, Freidman ludicrously claims that what made America a superpower is a five-part “formula” (a formula the Obama Administration has enthusiastically embraced with ruinous effect on the nation’s economic recovery):

1) Education

2)The best infrastructure

3)The most open immigration policies

4)The best rules and institutions

5)Most government-funded research

Well, he got #4 right. But to suggest that millions of immigrants like Chen flock to the U.S. because of our “infrastructure” is laughable. They come for freedom. The freedom to realize the fruits of their hard work. To own their own property. To start their own business. To speech.

In short, the freedom from Big Government, the historical enemy of liberty.

But here is where it gets really weird. Deep down, Friedman knows this. Responding to a question from moderator Devin Skillian, Friedman said we are beating China. Say what? “I would start to fear China when they are stealing our sauce,” said the columnist who has spent the last 30 minutes explaining how China had stolen our sauce. ” Without a Bill of Rights, he said, China can never be a rich nation. “When you steal those, I’ll worry.”

Huh? You can envy Chinese totalitarianism. Or you can envy the American Bill of Rights. But you can’t do both.

It is this utter confusion that betrays Friedman as today’s most overrated thinker. A brilliant reporter when on the ground (his must-read Middle East reports, for example) columnist Friedman is incoherent when organizing his facts into a cohesive philosophy.

The Times man’s appearance at Mackinac was breathlessly anticipated by Detroit’s establishment. But his failure to grasp what makes America the greatest nation in the history of humankind simply takes your breath away.

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