There are few columnists who can anger center-right and right-wing Americans as easily as Tom Friedman. Left or center-left arguments can be presented cogently; straw men can be lamented (and then debunked); even the ad hominem nonsense can be refuted. Friedman, however, is a special case, not only because he typifies the incapability of so many on the center-left to understand our view, but also because he gets his facts wrong with such consistency that one must wonder how on earth he still has a column.
Case in point is his latest peon to “a serious, thoughtful, credible 21st-century ‘conservative’ opposition to President Obama”. He probably wishes that Republicans would read it and wonder what ‘s wrong with their party. By contrast, I wonder what’s wrong with the New York Times copy editors.
Why do I want the Times‘ copy editors fired? Take a look at his discussion on taxes and the budget:
Imagine if the G.O.P.’s position on debt was set by Senator Tom Coburn, the Oklahoma Republican who has challenged the no-tax lunacy of Grover Norquist and served on the Simpson-Bowles commission and voted for its final plan (unlike Ryan). That plan included both increased tax revenues and spending cuts as the only way to fix our long-term fiscal imbalances. Give me a Republican Party that says we have to put real tax revenues and spending cuts on the table to solve this problem, and you’ll get a deal with Obama, who has already offered both, although not at the scale we need. True conservatives know that both Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush used both tax revenue and spending cuts to fix budget shortfalls.
For starters, the Simpson-Bowles plan actually failed to “fix our long-term fiscal imbalances.” As I’ve explained before, it projected a revenue stream that is much higher than the historical average (in fact, it’s a revenue stream that has never actually come to fruition in American history). In plain English, Simpson-Bowles would lead to deficits of over $900 billion, in perpetuity.
Then we get to the Bush the Elder and Reagan references, which sound quite reasonable. Except that neither Reagan nor Bush the Elder were ever able to get spending cuts out of their multiple budget agreements (1982, 1984, 1987, 1990), and the shortfalls were never “fixed.” In fact, the deficit rose in the aftermath of three of the four aforementioned deals, and the last one (1990) lead to a record-breaking deficit in Bush the Elder’s final budget year. Only one budget plan has ever actually balanced the budget (1997), and that had tax reductions, not increases. I’ve said it before, and I’m saying it again; tax increases do not balance budgets.
Now, the rest of my complaints with Friedman are genuine opinion differences. I don’t consider carbon emissions a “cost”; I think asking an Australian-born media mogul about immigration policy is folly when voters the land of his birth take a decidedly different view from him; I am dumbstruck by his pushing of Jeb Bush’s attempts at education reform after watching the entire center-left attack Jeb’s brother for trying the same thing. Those are unfortunate but usual disagreements.
The tax discussion, by contrast, is flat out incorrect, and somebody at the Times should know enough recent history to notice. That nobody did says all we need to know about Friedman, his editors, and his readers.
Cross-posted to Bearing Drift