What Passes for Worldly Objectivity in Bent Space

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Mr. Carpenter holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of Illinois and is a syndicated columnist. Please consider contacting your local newspaper to carry his column.

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By all accounts Thomas Friedman has become the leading anti-ideology scribe of centrist reason, purportedly the brand of journalism most Americans favor. The New York Times columnist so firmly straddles the fence separating left and right he must have blisters on his butt. To be fair, though, he’s usually fair. A little boring maybe … but fair. And because he’s so centrist as well as gosh-darn fair, it could be said that Friedman is Middle America writ large.

Yet on the continuing Iraq debate, Friedman is aiming left of target. Assuming one accepts the above analogy, millions of Americans must likewise be aiming wide and to -- or rather at -- the left. In one of his attempted fairest of columns -- “Our New Baby,” meaning Iraq, of May 4 -- Friedman’s aim mostly hit liberals, whom the columnist insisted on confusing with Democrats, for reasons unknown. But that is altogether another story.

As a standard-bearer for centrist America’s disdain for hyperthyroid partisanship, Friedman cast superior scorn on both Republicans and Democrats for not “looking clearly and honestly at what is evolving in Iraq.” The right, he wrote, is too ready with an overly simplistic party line of a “liberated” Iraq, which it’s using as a political sledgehammer on liberals’ heads so that “the Bush team can drive its radical right agenda at home.” Operation “liberation” is not some simple task largely completed, he pointed out, and Republicans should start fessing up to that.

Of course anyone familiar with the right’s gymnastic party-line past knows it never fesses up to anything. Modern conservatives do reverse intellectual handsprings depending on political exigencies, all the while strutting along and acting as though everything is going precisely according to plan. Incredibly, it works. But that too is another story.

Having dutifully spanked conservatives, the pen of Middle America then turned to liberals (known in another life as Democrats) clearly with more disgust. And that’s fine. If nothing else it’s nice to see Tom get worked up and snuff all that muddled, irresolute centrism. And that day he didn’t like liberals. He didn’t like them at all.

His chief reason bespoke a gross distortion: already it’s a hackneyed tune yodeled endlessly by conservatives ever since Iraq’s very former Ba’ath Party sort of imploded. “Liberals,” Friedman reckoned in tune with the right, “so detest Mr. Bush that they refuse to acknowledge the simple good that has come from ending Saddam’s tyranny.”

Dear Mr. Friedman, it is true that liberals detest Mr. Bush. Those on the left tend to detest any politician who puts the needs of the pampered few above the needs of the desperate many. It’s a quirky thing with liberals, something they just can’t seem to shake no matter how unfashionable it may be these days.

That aside, perplexity arises at where the fair columnist got the idea that liberals, en masse or individually, have snubbed “the simple good” of Saddam’s demise. For in fact the state of affairs is hugely, prodigiously, indisputably quite the contrary. Every single solitary liberal scoring a little press space or electronic-media time has prefaced his or her remarks with thunderous clarity: “Before I begin let me say I couldn’t be more delighted that Saddam and his fascist pals are gone, gone ….”

Liberals’ anti-Saddam disclaimers became uniform to the point of monotony. In this age of rabid and even violent patriotism I understood why they felt compelled to justify their Americanism. Still, their public anxiety in this land of presumed freedom saddened me.

The left’s repeated acknowledgements of the good of tyranny’s destruction flew right by Tom Friedman’s radar. Ignoring that which was real, he opined instead that he “senses” the left’s stubbornness on this matter. That’s as spooky as George W. reading souls.

What truly frightens, however, is the more substantiated “sense” that the Vast Middle-Wing Conspiracy believes just as Tom does. Those strange and defiant liberals just won’t play ball the American way. They are stuck up, removed from common working folks with their always-hard-earned tax dollars and bundled in a haughty elitism that irritates the popular sensibility.

Yet, perhaps little fault should extend to middle Americans. Given the ceaseless pounding of the right’s message-machine, what else might fence-straddling citizens think? The right owns the presidency, Congress and Supreme Court. The right likely owns the medium you watch, the medium you listen to and the print you read. The modern right never rests; the Demon Liberal hates America and must be vanquished. The Demon Liberal is anti-family, anti-God, anti-flag, anti-education, anti-employment and anti-values. He is pro-pornography, pro-child molestation, pro-gay, pro-feminism, pro-taxes, pro-spending, pro-communism, pro-foreigners and pro-enemies.

The mountainous intellectual rubbish unloaded daily on Americans buries the casual political observer. Rarely does he hear from the “clean” world, the compassionate world, the unselfish world or the ethical world. And when he does, he “senses” subterfuge. He is primed to do so.

Blame Middle America? That’s a dicey proposition. After all, even the New York Times’ foremost objective columnist has been partially aborted by the right’s message-machine. So what chance of honest intellectual survival did the average Joe ever have?

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More Comments:

Richard Kurdlion - 5/16/2003

Teague, MacIntyre and, I am afraid, even the stalwart Carpenter himself, continue to fall into the trap perpetuated by this website itself: that a "left-right" spectrum is a meaningful device for historical or even contemporary interpretation. Friedman, to his credit, is generally original enough to avoid the knee-jerkism all too common in today's journalism. The key problem with Friedman, and most politicians in Washington, for that matter, is not their supposed trajectory towards some evil "left" or "right" extreme, or their stagnation in some insipid "middle", it is their hypocrisy.

Before the recent war, Friedman was passionately arguing that we needed allies, not to win the war, but to secure the peace afterwards. Now that his advice has been utterly ignored and America has stumbled into Baghdad with only its British lapdog by its side, Friedman pretends that this was inevitable and now we have to make the best of it somehow. Maybe he thinks the attention spans of his readers are so short that they won't remember what he was writing three months ago. 1984 was nearly two decades ago but Orwellianism thrives, even amongst those who ought to know better.

F. Teague - 5/13/2003

I think that's what the title implies. What "passes" for centrism these days is pathetic. We have moved that far to the right, most of the middle public would think Friedman is in the middle with them. At least that's the way I read it.

Steve MacIntyre - 5/13/2003

If Dr. Carpenter truly believes that Thomas Friedman is "anti-ideology" and "centrist", then Dr. Carpenter is not a careful or frequent reader of Mr. Friedman. Under the thinnest veneer of high-school-class-vice-president apparent moderation, Friedman piles mountains of neo-con apologia. The column Dr. Carpenter cites is classic Friedman, who spins the same dross twice a week, week after week after week. From the very beginning, Friedman beat the drum relentlessly for war with Iraq, and his parade of justifications was always as thin, self-contradictory as ever-changing as that dished-up by the administration itself. And since France voted against the war, Friedman, nominally the urbane internationalist columnist for the Times, wrote on April 13 "(French foreign minister) de Villepin has become my moral compass: whatever he is for, I am against. And whatever he is against, I am for." Rush Limbaugh could hardly do better. Friedman centrist? Not on your life.

Wesley Smart - 5/12/2003

Should we really think that the influence of the NYT and of Thomas Friedman is all that important when the circulation of the NYT declined by more than 5% last year?