Thomas Friedman, the White House will return your calls

As regular readers know, it’s been frustrating for much of the year to watch Thomas Friedman develop a very bad habit. Every month or so, the New York Times columnist will complain that President Obama is failing to take a certain action, apparently unaware that the president has already taken that action.

This morning’s column offers an especially egregious example.

Here we are in America again on the eve of a major budgetary decision by yet another bipartisan “supercommittee,” and does anyone know what President Obama’s preferred outcome is? Exactly which taxes does he want raised, and which spending does he want cut? The president’s politics on this issue seems to be a bowl of poll-tested mush.

I don’t know why Friedman doesn’t just pick up the phone and call the White House to get more information if he’s confused.

In this case, “does anyone know what President Obama’s preferred outcome is”? Actually, everyone with access to the Internet can find out exactly what the president’s preferred outcome is. The administration published a detailed, 80-page report (pdf), outlining exactly what the White House supports. If Friedman didn’t want to read the fairly comprehensive document, the administration even prepared fact sheets and summaries for more casual readers. If one didn’t want to read anything, both the president and members of his team have given speeches about it.

For that matter, as Matt Yglesias noted this morning, “My guess is that if Friedman phones up the OMB press office someone there would be happy to walk him through it.”

What seems especially important, though, is not just Friedman’s mistake today. Even Pulitzer Prize winners occasionally slip and make lazy claims without checking Google. The larger problem is that Friedman does this all the time.

In August, Thomas Friedman presented a policy platform he believes is absent from America’s political discourse, but neglected to mention that it was practically word-for-word the same platform President Obama already supports. In September, Friedman did it again. And in early October, the NYT columnist did it once more.

Friedman went on “The Daily Show” and mentioned the “formula for success” he’d like to see the nation embrace. The columnist argued that policymakers have “gotten away from” this formula, without mentioning that Obama already agrees with all of it.

Over the weekend, Friedman appeared on CBS to complain that the president isn’t presenting an economic plan that focuses on stimulus in the short-term and debt-reduction over the long-term — despite the fact that the president has already presented an economic plan that focuses on stimulus in the short-term and debt-reduction over the long-term.

I’m left with the impression that Thomas Friedman is complaining about President Obama (a) just for the sake of complaining; and (b) without any meaningful understanding of the policies the president is already pursuing.

If Friedman disapproves of Obama’s (and his own) vision, that’s fine; he can make the case against it and offer an alternative. If he wants policymakers to act on the president’s forward-thinking agenda, that’d make a good column, too.

But the columnist has an increasingly-bizarre habit of challenging the White House to take his advice, and then ignoring the fact that the White House already has.

And why does Friedman do this? Greg Sargent’s explanation sounds about right to me: “Self-styled ‘centrist’ columnists have a perennial problem on their hands. They have built reputations by calling for middle-of-the-road solutions to our problems. Yet they can’t acknowledge that Obama and Democrats are the ones who are offering solutions that are genuinely centrist, because that would constitute ‘taking sides.’ This would imperil their ‘brand,’ which rests heavily on transcending partisanship, and on their ongoing insistence that the future depends on following a middle ground between the parties.”