Thursday, August 28, 2008

Tom Friedman: China Olympics Bring a Sea Change

By Bernie Quigley

- for The Hill at 8/28/08

Back during the Nixon presidency Norman Mailer caricatured the binary nature of American politics by referring to left and right as “Beatniks” and “Protestants.” In his book Of a Fire on the Moon he wrote that the Beatniks had let their guard down, and while they were out getting stoned, the Protestants had sent a rocket to the moon.

The country was due for a restoration and within a few years we would have one.

Today we have come full circle. And once again we have let our guard down. Today we have no big name novelists like Mailer. But perhaps the most influential public citizen’s voice in our time is Thomas Friedman’s of The New York Times. And yesterday, after returning from the stunning Olympics in China, he called for a sea change.

The Hill’s Kathy Kemper has been reporting on this all along while most of the other print press was either in denial or hoping to demonize China. Friedman writes: “ . . . as snapshots go, the one China presented through the Olympics was enormously powerful — and it’s one that Americans need to reflect upon this election season.”

Friedman’s voice is today as influential as that of the greatest journalist ever, Ida Tarbell, the Progressive Era muckraker, in her day. Her editor, S.S. McClure, once said that she was the best journalist because when she felt something, he knew that millions of other Americans were feeling the same thing. Where Ida Tarbell was to go, all of America would soon go and it would be very bad news for The Standard Oil Company.

He was a strong supporter of the invasion of Iraq. He even proposed that France be thrown off the UN Security Council and India be put on in its place, in hopes that India would support our invasion. But I knew the Bush/Cheney adventure was cooked early on when it started going badly and a California professor appeared on The Newshour with Jim Lehrer as a Bush apologist and brought to his point of view a swaggering endorsement of the failing mission by “his friend” Tom Friedman, hoping to add cache to his account. Next day Friedman came out against the war and that was the first and most important turning point. From there things would spiral downward.

Yesterday’s essay by Friedman is another such benchmark.

“As I sat in my seat at the Bird’s Nest, watching thousands of Chinese dancers, drummers, singers and acrobats on stilts perform their magic at the closing ceremony,” he writes, “I couldn’t help but reflect on how China and America have spent the last seven years: China has been preparing for the Olympics; we’ve been preparing for Al Qaeda. They’ve been building better stadiums, subways, airports, roads and parks. And we’ve been building better metal detectors, armored Humvees and pilotless drones.”

The difference is starting to show, he said. He compared arriving at La Guardia’s dumpy terminal in New York City and driving through the crumbling infrastructure into Manhattan with arriving at Shanghai’s sleek airport and taking the 220-mile-per-hour magnetic levitation train, which uses electromagnetic propulsion instead of steel wheels and tracks, to get to town in a blink.

“. . . ask yourself: Who is living in the third world country?”

Regarding the foreign adventures which both parties today support with varying degrees of subtlety and both with fully outmoded ideas (the Democrats from the late Carroll Quigley, Bill Clinton’s favorite professor at Georgetown who doubled as an erstwhile consultant to the Department of Defense, the Republicans from Robert Kagan) he cites the first rule of digging holes: “ . . . when you’re in one, stop digging.”

The business in Iraq, Afghanistan and the Middle East will continue. But what about Russia, Kosovo, Georgia, South Ossetia; all of the Middle East? All of the tiny Orthodox countries surrounding Russia? All of Islam? Isn’t China a potential enemy as well? Today we have basically alienated ourselves from almost all of the world’s people who watch soccer. I added them up one time and it came to over two billion potential enemy to our 300 slightly plus million. The two billion soccer watchers are the donut, the 300 million football watchers are the hole in the donut.

Time to change course.

Friedman calls for nation building and the nation which has to be built – some from scratch and some rebuilt – is America: “The rich parts of China, the modern parts of Beijing or Shanghai or Dalian, are now more state of the art than rich America. The buildings are architecturally more interesting, the wireless networks more sophisticated, the roads and trains more efficient and nicer. And, I repeat, they did not get all this by discovering oil. They got it by digging inside themselves.”
Rebuilding America’s inner state is what we have been hearing from Mark Warner, former governor of Virginia and Kathleen Sebelius, governor of Kansas, as well. And even Friedman’s conservative colleague, David Brooks, has complemented Barack Obama on his vision of focusing long-term economy on education for children and young people; rebuilding American economy from childhood - an idea which was piloted by Mark Warner in Virginia. As Brooks says, John McCain has no such programs. Nor do the other Republicans.

Both parties are guilty of playing politics with tax gimmicks and capitalist riddles and mantras to get rich quick while our cities and bridges have crumbled around us. Both parties have seen imperial gain in these adventures abroad and looked in the witch mirror to see Russia and Islam as enemies. It is the ugly side of human nature to do so.

There will be consequences. Crimes have clearly been committed in the execution of war. Terrors have been brought by our allies and ourselves equal those at Guernica. And torture as a tool of state has been introduced by Americans. Not by some itinerant nihilist assassin living in the shadow of Prague Castle, but by the most esteemed professors at Harvard and Berkeley and the most prominent editorial writers at The Washington Post and the LA Times. These are situations which remain unresolved and must be come to terms with if we are to remain a republic.

But when Tom Friedman says it’s time to move on, its time to move on.