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Published on March 8th, 2010 | by Ali Gharib

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NRO: Tom Friedman’s Logic is “Possum Scat”

Tom Friedman has got his head stuffed so far up his own derriere that even his erstwhile sometime-allies, the neoconservatives, are calling him out. On National Review Online, self-loathing neocon — or neocon denier, depending how you look at it — Jonah Goldberg comes through with his take down of Friedman. Goldberg, who, needless to say, is not my favorite columnist, lays mostly into Friedman’s green crusade and China-hugging, failing to mention his bumbling appraisals of the Middle East, which have worked rather in the neocons’ favor. But he is gracious enough to note the work of the left, paying homage where any good Friedman watcher must: at the feet of Matt Taibbi.

Attacking Friedman’s writing style is something of a bipartisan pastime. The gold standard of the genre is Matt Taibbi’s 2005 New York Press disembowelment, “Flathead.

Forget that he doesn’t give mention to Taibbi’s excellent 2009 NY Press follow-up, “Flat N All That,” chronicling the horrors of Friedman’s Hot, Flat and Crowded. Goldberg hits many of the right notes that any good critic of the most influential columnist in Washington should. Take, for example, Friedman’s nonsense mixed metaphors:

Consider this classic line from his book The World Is Flat: “The walls had fallen down and the Windows had opened, making the world much flatter than it had ever been — but the age of seamless global communication had not yet dawned.” (Just for the record, the capitalized “Windows” is a reference to the operating system. That makes it crystal clear, right?) Or consider this sentence from his latest epic, Hot, Flat, and Crowded: “The demise of the Soviet Union and its iron curtain was like the elimination of a huge physical and political roadblock on the global economic playing field.”

Playing fields do not have roadblocks; windows in fallen walls, even when opened, do not reveal much. Of course, the reader understands what he is reading, just as the diner might grasp that he is eating possum scat — but that doesn’t really excuse the cook.

Ha! I have to admit that perhaps I’m not Goldberg’s intellectual equal — I sometimes can’t follow Friedman’s literary gymnastics (more like freak-show contortionist stuff). But Goldberg’s own metaphor is plain as day: Tom Friedman’s logic is “possum scat.”

From there, the piece descends to a few places you might expect, with some classic, if recycled, digs along the way:

Which brings us to his jihad for a “green revolution” (a revolution he will watch from the comfort of his mammoth compound in Bethesda, Md.).

Friedman the Jihadi — now there’s an imaginative metaphor.

Goldberg conflates Friedman’s corporo-green agenda with Obama’s — which might, sadly, be accurate — and drops more metaphors of his own (“Like Indiana Jones leaping just in time from one cave-in beneath his feet to the next…”).

Friedman’s mind-boggling affinity for that old neocon foil, totalitarian China, is ridiculed. Citing a chapter in The World Is Flat called “China For a Day (But Not For Two),” Goldberg actually does a little fact-checking of his own:

If he’d written a chapter called “Nazis for a Day,” this point would be more obvious to more people. But instead of contrition we get scores more columns gushing about how great China is for being able to get all of the policies right.

For instance, Friedman particularly loves the fact that China’s State Council banned plastic bags. “Bam! Just like that — 1.3 billion people, theoretically, will stop using thin plastic bags,” he writes in Hot, Flat, and Crowded. “Millions of barrels of petroleum will be saved, and mountains of garbage avoided.” It’s as if Madison, Hamilton, and Jefferson had been morons for not decreeing an annual Tyranny Day when all the work can get done. Regardless, as usual, “theoretically” means “not in reality.” China never did any such thing. It simply required that stores charge customers for bags. They do the same thing at my local Safeway, yet plastic bags continue to lurk, threatening all we hold dear.

Oh, how nice to be reminded that all enemies of neocons are not only Chinese, but Nazis, and aren’t they the same thing anyway? Like Osama and Saddam?

I digress. These are only minor quibbles. I have to give props to Goldberg for taking on his sometime ideological ally, as easy as the task may be. And that “possum scat” bit was priceless. Hats off to you, Jonah!

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One Response to NRO: Tom Friedman’s Logic is “Possum Scat”

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  1. avatar Jon Harrison says:

    Did you read Friedman’s column today (March 14)?


About the Author

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Ali Gharib is a New York-based journalist on U.S. foreign policy with a focus on the Middle East and Central Asia. His work has appeared at Inter Press Service, where he was the Deputy Washington Bureau Chief; the Buffalo Beast; Huffington Post; Mondoweiss; Right Web; and Alternet. He holds a Master's degree in Philosophy and Public Policy from the London School of Economics and Political Science. A proud Iranian-American and fluent Farsi speaker, Ali was born in California and raised in D.C.



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