Angry New Yorker

Wednesday, September 30, 2009
What next? Stalin's Birthday?

Has the moral decay set in this deeply? We would have thought it impossible, but alas we are often chagrined at our naivite when it comes to the depths. From National Review Online:

A sickening light in the New York sky, By Jay Nordlinger

Several readers have asked me to comment on what the Empire State Building is doing: The people in charge are lighting up the building red and yellow, in honor of Communist China. The PRC is marking its 60th anniversary. This regime, of course, is responsible for the physical destruction of tens of millions of people. This is a country with a gulag, called laogai. It is a country that deprives people of rights that we in the Free World take for granted. It is a country against which very, very credible charges of organ harvesting have been made. Etc. I thought of calling up some friends of mine in the Chinese democracy movement, to see what they think of what the Empire State Building is doing. I decided not to: I know what they think. And this sort of thing simply torments them. It is disgusting. And, to them, bewildering: Why would people in
a free country honor a police state?

You can drop a comment to the people owning/running the Empire State Building here -

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Wednesday, September 09, 2009
We should be ruled like China. At least according to Tom Friedman. I get royally tired of beating the Tom Friedman piniata but the guy demonstrates cultural and historical blind spots the size of a red giant star. I'd be embarrassed to showcase such blinding ignorance. Yet, he no doubt considers himself rational, reasoned and supremely educated. He is none of these, and is in fact, wait for it, a "liberal fascist" who deserves no audience for his fervid mutterings larger than that of his own wide-eyed visage in the bathroom mirror each morning. I've said it before, but I have to remind myself of it constantly:
Be extremely wary of those who want to "save" something, or do putatively "good" things for one group or another unless they either have a direct and immediate dog in the fight or are following their well-understood & established religious tenets because otherwise there is always a hidden agenda at work. But in some cases there is no longer even an attempt to hide the subcurrent agenda.
To whit today's firestorm regarding Friedman's column, One-Party Democracy, in today's NY Times here:

While our current system is substantially broken (repealing the 17th Amendment and getting rid of partisan gerrymandering would go a long way toward fixing our federal systemic woes), no less a luminary than
founder and 4th president James Madison, often called "the father of the Constitution", wrote in Federalist 10: “Liberty is to faction what air is to fire, an aliment without which it instantly expires. But it could not be less folly to abolish liberty, which is essential to political life, because it nourishes faction, than it would be to wish the annihilation of air, which is essential to animal life, because it imparts to fire its destructive agency.” Or, in more up-to-date terms ala Churchill, "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the other ones that have been tried."

Friedman's column yearns for snuffing out of "factions" - that is interest groups - in the interest of furthering his goals. But if tried it would, as Madison noted, extinguish liberty. We should all be very wary of Tom Friedman and like-minded minions.

The Firm Hand of the Benign Strongman [Mark Steyn]

The New York Times's Thomas Friedman finally gets to where he's been wanting to go all these years. Everything would be so much better if we could just submit to the benign rule of an enlightened elite:

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.

Thomas Friedman is a Liberal Fascist [Jonah Goldberg]

Mark beat me to it, but I must put in my two cents. Thomas Friedman writes:

Watching both the health care and 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.

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. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Our one-party democracy is worse....

So there you have it. If only America could drop its inefficient and antiquated system, designed in the age before globalization and modernity and, most damning of all, before the lantern of Thomas Friedman's intellect illuminated the land. If only enlightened experts could do the hard and necessary things that the new age requires, if only we could rely on these planners to set the ship of state right. Now, of course, there are "drawbacks" to such a system: crushing of dissidents with tanks, state control of reproduction, government control of the press and the internet. Omelets and broken eggs, as they say. More to the point, Friedman insists, these "drawbacks" pale in comparison to the system we have today here in America.

I cannot begin to tell you how this is exactly the argument that was made by American fans of Mussolini in the 1920s. It is exactly the argument that was made in defense of Stalin and Lenin before him (it's the argument that idiotic, dictator-envying leftists make in defense of Castro and Chavez today). It was the argument made by George Bernard Shaw who yearned for a strong progressive autocracy under a Mussolini, a Hitler or a Stalin (he wasn't picky in this regard). This is the argument for an "economic dictatorship" pushed by Stuart Chase and the New Dealers. It's the dream of Herbert Croly and a great many of the Progressives.

I have no idea why I still have the capacity to be shocked by such things. A few years ago, during the worst part of the Iraq war, I wrote a column saying that Iraq needed a Pinochet type to bring order to Iraq and help develop democratic and liberal institutions. To this day, I get vicious hate mail from liberal and leftist readers for my "pro-dictator" stance. Meanwhile, Thomas Friedman, golden boy of the NYT op-ed page, is writing love-letters to dictatorships because they have the foresight to invest in electric batteries and waterless toilets or something. It looks like there's reason to hope I was wrong about Iraq (I certainly hope I was). But at least I favored a dictatorship of sorts — for another country! — because I thought it would lead to a liberal democracy. Here, Friedman lives in a liberal democracy but has his nose pressed up against the candy store window of a cruel, undemocratic, regime and all he can do is drool over the prospect of having the same power here. It's disgusting.

Update: A friend IM's:

great post ; you know whoe specially hates the argument Friedman makes? Indians. They hear that argument all the time — from Indian communists; but smart indians I talk to want to stab your eyes out when they hear you say this argument since they know democracy — as messy as it is — is a huge strength for them. You would think Bangalore Tom might understand this.

More on Friedman's Enlightened Despots [Jonah Goldberg]

Dan Blumenthal at the EB:

Just in the past few months Tom Friedman’s “reasonably enlightened group” of Chinese dictators has jailed blogger Wu Baoqun for posting information that the government forced Chinese peasants to sell their land at extremely low prices, so that the Communist Party could auction that land off for a hefty profit.

But complaining about government expropriations from peasants is not all the CCP has been up to. Let’s take one of Mr. Friedman’s pet issues, the environment. His favorite enlightened despots have sent Sun Xiaodi , a Gansu environmental activist and recipient of the 2006 Nuclear-Free Future Award and his daughter Sun Haiyan, to re-education-through-labor camps for exposing official corruption and nuclear waste pollution in Gansu Province. Likewise, the CCP has sent activists Wu Lihong and Tang Zhirong to jail for for complaining about industrial pollution.

It appears that for the enlightened dictatorship that rules China, one is free to build electric cars and solar panels, particularly if these products can make a hefty profit for the CCP and businessmen connected to the Party. An added bonus for Chinese producers of alternative energy is positive press in the New York Times. But if you are just an ordinary Joe (or Zhou) seeking some recourse against industrial pollution and hazardous waste, jail time is the most likely outcome.

This reminds me. I'm not a great student of what's going on in China, and I don't have its enlightened rulers on speed dial the way Friedman does. But I just find the idea that China is a great environmental steward absurd beyond ken (or barbie). China chokes the planet with more industrial smog than we do. Whole cities exist in perpetual dusk. China's factories are constantly sneaking lead and other poisons into their — and our — food and toys. The country is turning into a desert at a terrifying pace because of their land and water policies. Lord knows what horrors the Chinese are keeping off the books. I simply do not believe Tom Friedman et al when they say that China is beating us on the environment. No totalitarian regime has ever been a better steward of the environment than an advanced industrialized democratic regime. I have a hard time believing the Chinese are an exception to that rule.

Update: Kenneth Anderson via calls Friedman's column "monstrous". (h/t NRO)

Kenneth Anderson at Volokh:

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 preferences 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?

Update: More from Will Collier.

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