Friedman Is Right (But Not In The Way That He Means)

Thomas Friedman pushes for the establishment of a third party. He is essentially right about the problem:

But there is another angle on the last two years: a president who won a sweeping political mandate, propelled by an energized youth movement and with control of both the House and the Senate — about as much power as any president could ever hope to muster in peacetime — was only able to pass an expansion of health care that is a suboptimal amalgam of tortured compromises that no one is certain will work or that we can afford (and doesn’t deal with the cost or quality problems), a limited stimulus that has not relieved unemployment or fixed our infrastructure, and a financial regulation bill that still needs to be interpreted by regulators because no one could agree on crucial provisions. Plus, Obama had to abandon an energy-climate bill altogether, and if the G.O.P. takes back the House, we may not have an energy bill until 2013.

Obama probably did the best he could do, and that’s the point. The best our current two parties can produce today — in the wake of the worst existential crisis in our economy and environment in a century — is suboptimal, even when one party had a huge majority. Suboptimal is O.K. for ordinary times, but these are not ordinary times. We need to stop waiting for Superman and start building a superconsensus to do the superhard stuff we must do now. Pretty good is not even close to good enough today.

His solution is to have a serious third party challenge the current major parties:

We have to rip open this two-party duopoly and have it challenged by a serious third party that will talk about education reform, without worrying about offending unions; financial reform, without worrying about losing donations from Wall Street; corporate tax reductions to stimulate jobs, without worrying about offending the far left; energy and climate reform, without worrying about offending the far right and coal-state Democrats; and proper health care reform, without worrying about offending insurers and drug companies.

It is not surprising that this column has led to a lot of opposition in the blogosphere. Steven Taylor doesn’t necessarily object to a third party but outlines some of the reasons why it is unlikely to succeed. Steve Benen objects, pointing out how close the agenda he proposes for a third party is to Obama’s agenda:

And what would be better than “pretty good”? A more ambitious health care policy that conservatives blocked; a more ambitious stimulus that conservatives opposed; a comprehensive energy/climate package that conservatives killed; more crack downs on Wall Street that conservatives have vowed to fight; and an education reform agenda that the president has already launched.

In other words, Friedman has effectively endorsed the entirety of President Obama’s agenda, most of which has passed, can’t pass, or has to be severely watered down because of unprecedented Senate obstructionism. But instead of calling for reforming the legislative process, or calling on Republicans to start playing a constructive role in policymaking, or calling on voters to elect more candidates who agree with the agenda the columnist espouses, Friedman says what we really need is an amorphous third party that will think the way he does.

There is no reason to believe a third party would have any more success in pursuing the policies which Obama wasn’t able to complete than the Democrats have. The problem isn’t necessariy the two party system but the two parties we now have in a system where Senators representing a minority of the country from a minority party  can so easily block legislation.

As the Founding Fathers realized, often it is a good thing to have a high bar to passing legislation. As Friedman would undoubtably counter, there are times, such as the present, when we are faced with problems which do require government action.

The problem is that the Republicans have a philosophy based upon opposing virtually any government action (unless it involves invading other countries, torture, redistrubing wealth to their supporters, or imposing the social agenda of the religious right upon others). They are also engaged in political tactics based upon blocking solutions to problems so they can blame Democrats when they are not fixed.

This is not to say that Democrats necessarily have the best solutions and that they are not influenced by special interests (as the Republicans also are). At present the Democrats are the only party which is acting like it is run by grown ups and which is making any serious attempt to solve problems. We should have a conservative opposition which forces a Democratic majority to prove the merits of their spending proposals. Unfortunately the Republicans fail to provide a serious opposition when they have a knee jerk opposition to virtually everything and, by their own admission, would prefer to see Obama fail. A political party which spends its time questioning whether Obama is an American citizen, or which outright opposes modern science in the 21st century, is of no value. The tea party movement serves to make the Republicans even more extreme and out of touch with reality.

We do need a new political party–one to replace the irresponsible Republicans. We need a rational center or even conservative party to serve as a serious opposition party rather than a bat-shit crazy party of  No.

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  1. 2
    Anne Freeman says:

    RT @RonChusid: Friedman Is Right re needing new political party (But Not In The Way That He Means) #p2 #p21 #topprog

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