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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Watching Tom Friedman argue with himself about the “false equivalency” between Dems and the GOP and the need for a third party is like watching Gollum and Smegal arguing in “Lord of the Rings.” I’m not kidding, just listen to him. It’s spooky.

Just 8 days ago TDS happily applauded what appeared to be Tom Friedman’s decisive break with the “false equivalency” notion that he had previously been peddling – the idea that Democrats and Republicans are equally at fault for political paralysis and that a centrist third party is therefore needed.
Now, however, just barely a week later, in his latest NYT column Friedman has completely reversed himself once again and now repeats exactly the same fallacies he so energetically rejected the week before.
If you lay the two columns side by side the effect is more than a little creepy. It’s like watching Gollum/Smegal, the tormented creature with the dual personality in Lord of the Rings, as it huddles down all alone and shifts from one voice to another as first one and then the other personality takes control of its body.
Start by listening to the first of Friedman’s two voices — let’s call it Freidman/Gollum – as it argues that the two parties are both equidistant extremes of left and right:
“If [the Republican] candidate is Rick Santorum, I think there is a good chance a Third Party will try to fill the space between the really “severely conservative” Santorum (or even Mitt Romney) and the left-of-center Barack Obama. “

But then here’s Friedman’s other self Friedman/Smegal – replying to him that the fundamental problem is the extremism of the Republicans and not both parties equally.
“When I look at America’s three greatest challenges today, I don’t see the Republican candidates offering realistic answers to any of them…when all the Republican candidates last year said they would not accept a deal with Democrats that involved even $1 in tax increases in return for $10 in spending cuts, the G.O.P. cut itself off from reality. It became a radical party, not a conservative one
We need to hear conservative fiscal policies, energy policies, immigration policies and public-private partnership concepts – not radical ones. Would somebody please restore our second party? The country is starved for a grown-up debate.”

But then Friedman/Gollum replies by completely ignoring Friedman/Smegal’s point and criticizes the Dems as if they had made no attempts at compromise and should have been able to achieve a “centrist” compromise without any Republican cooperation:

The Democrats…”are still in denial about the need to renegotiate our social insurance contract… [Obama] is not talking about the fundamental reforms in Medicare and Medicaid that we need, and he is not ready to touch Social Security…[he] talks about tax reform, but it is not comprehensive

Friedman/Smegal then responds to Friedman/Gollum by insisting again that the real problem are the Republicans, that they are simply not willing to seriously negotiate, making even the massive concessions Obama offered last spring useless because the Republicans simply move the goal posts rather than negotiate:
“What we definitely and urgently need is a second party – a coherent Republican opposition that is offering constructive conservative proposals on the key issues and is ready for strategic compromises to advance its interests and those of the country. Without that, the best of the Democrats – who have been willing to compromise – have no partners and the worst have a free pass for their own magical thinking.”

Friedman-Gollum ignores his alter-ego and simply repeats the “false equivalency” mantra:
“After months of nutty, gravity-free Republican primary debates, how great would it be to have presidential debates in which a smart independent…was in the middle to challenge both sides and offer sensible solutions”?

Friedman/Smegal rejects this:
“Since a transformed Republican Party is highly unlikely, maybe the best thing would be for it to get crushed in this election and forced into a fundamental rethink – something the Democrats had to go through when they lost three in a row between 1980 and 1988. We need a “Different Kind of Republican” the way Bill Clinton gave us a “Different Kind of Democrat.”

Let’s face it; eavesdropping on this bizarre internal dialog really is spooky. We hear two utterly different voices coming out of the same body. It’s just like watching the dramatic climaxes in all the great multiple personality movies – “Sybil”, “The Three Faces of Eve”, “Marnie” and “Psycho.”
But what could cause a man like Friedman to develop a case of political multiple personality disorder that is so strikingly reminiscent of cinema clichés?
If we look to those same movies for guidance, the apparent answer is that it is always a traumatic event that precipitates the psychic dissociation. Under the shock of a trauma the protagonist cannot face, his or her mind fragments into separate personalities.
In Friedman’s case (as with other third-party centrists) the trauma they seem unable to face is the fact that the Republican Party is very clearly and rapidly evolving toward becoming an American version of the post-war French national Front, back in the decades when it was headed by Jean Marie Le Pen. For commentators and others who are deeply nostalgic for the stability and judicious elite conservatism of the post World War II American “establishment” (an establishment that included distinguished “wise men” from both political parties), the implications of the Republican Party’s undeniable extremism are so disturbing that today’s third party centrists are unwilling to fully accept it. One can almost hear them saying “No, no, it can’t really be that bad. Any minute now the GOP will come back to its senses. There must still be “adults” in the Republican Party who will get back in charge and stop all this nonsense. Meanwhile we should all just carry on as if nothing is wrong and that we still have two traditional political parties.”
Well O.K. I suppose one can sympathize just a little bit. It’s always hard to let go of the past. But let’s face it, life isn’t always easy and the bottom line is this: Sybil simply couldn’t face the fact that her mother was completely nuts. Anthony Perkins couldn’t accept the fact that his mother was dead.
And Tom Friedman simply can’t accept the reality that the “old” GOP is as moribund as Anthony Perkins long-dead mother, her bones clattering up and down in her rocking chair, and that the “new” GOP is rapidly becoming every bit as batty as Sybil’s completely psychotic, wacko mom. That’s why he’s wandering around in circles talking to himself like his own personal performance of Gollum and Smegal in “Lord of the Rings.”

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