I’m not sure why I’ve been so Friedman-focused lately, but…

So Tom Friedman’s column yesterday was fine but mostly pedestrian — it’s about climate change — until he gets to the end:

Would you rather cut Social Security and Medicare or pay a little more per gallon of gas and make the country stronger, safer and healthier? It still amazes me that our politicians have the courage to send our citizens to war but not to ask the public that question.

What could he possibly mean by that?

Let’s see…Barack Obama, of course, backed cap-and-trade. Which, Friedman also said earlier, was fine by him; in this column at least, he’s equally happy with either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade scheme. So it can’t be Obama he’s talking about. After all, he was so courageous that he advocated cap-and-trade even without a bogus connection to Social Security!

House Democrats? They passed cap-and-trade. Clearly not them, either.

Senate liberals? Nope.

What about Rick Perry, who Friedman calls out in the column, and other Republicans who disagree with Friedman about climate? Surely their problem isn’t courage, is it? At least not on this issue. Perhaps Friedman thinks they’re nuts, or corrupt, or foolish, but it’s hard to see how courage figures in to it.

That leaves two groups who Friedman might be talking about: moderate Democrats and Republicans who actually believe that climate change is a real and important problem, but oppose doing anything about it because they fear electoral consequences. And you know what? If Friedman wrote a column saying that those groups lack courage and should be willing to stand up for what they believe even at the possible cost of their electoral careers, I’d probably just stay quiet (I’m not sure I would agree, but it’s a very legitimate argument). Or if wrote a column just about conservative deniers and how they poison the debate at the expense of their constituents. Or if he wrote a column about Republican indifference to most of domestic policy including climate, or a column about how the choice is very clear for those who believe that government should act on these issues.

Oh, but wait! Friedman seems to have missed the part where Obama and Congressional liberals supported cap-and-trade. He does realize that Republicans blocked it, but he claims that Obama “has chosen not to push for a price signal for political reasons.” Hey, Tom Friedman: if Republicans blocked something, doesn’t that imply that someone was pushing for it?

You know what? What set me off this time wasn’t really Friedman (once again) apparently having no idea what the President of the United States has done during his time in office. No, it was what he thinks that president — and all other politicians — really need to do. Pass the policies Friedman wants? Nope. Read that quotation above again: what he really thinks they need to do is to ask a question.


[Cross-posted at A plain blog about politics]

Jonathan Bernstein

Jonathan Bernstein is a political scientist who writes about American politics, especially the presidency, Congress, parties, and elections.