The Low Post and All Things Cruel

After reading Matt Taibbi’s amazing dissection of all things Boris Yeltsin, I decided to do some follow-up and see what else he had written. And I think I may have found the greatest piece of criticism for my Thomas Friedman hating existence — a scorching review of Friedman’s The World is Flat:

So I tried not to think about it. But when I heard the book was actually coming out, I started to worry. Among other things, I knew I would be asked to write the review. The usual ratio of Friedman criticism is 2:1, i.e., two human words to make sense of each single word of Friedmanese. Friedman is such a genius of literary incompetence that even his most innocent passages invite feature-length essays. I’ll give you an example, drawn at random from The World Is Flat. On page 174, Friedman is describing a flight he took on Southwest Airlines from Baltimore to Hartford, Connecticut. (Friedman never forgets to name the company or the brand name; if he had written The Metamorphosis, Gregor Samsa would have awoken from uneasy dreams in a Sealy Posturepedic.) Here’s what he says:

I stomped off, went through security, bought a Cinnabon, and glumly sat at the back of the B line, waiting to be herded on board so that I could hunt for space in the overhead bins.

Forget the Cinnabon. Name me a herd animal that hunts. Name me one.

And it only gets better:

On an ideological level, Friedman’s new book is the worst, most boring kind of middlebrow horseshit. If its literary peculiarities could somehow be removed from the equation, The World Is Flat would appear as no more than an unusually long pamphlet replete with the kind of plug-filled, free-trader leg-humping that passes for thought in this country. It is a tale of a man who walks 10 feet in front of his house armed with a late-model Blackberry and comes back home five minutes later to gush to his wife that hospitals now use the internet to outsource the reading of CAT scans. Man flies on planes, observes the wonders of capitalism, says we’re not in Kansas anymore. (He actually says we’re not in Kansas anymore.) That’s the whole plot right there. If the underlying message is all that interests you, read no further, because that’s all there is.

It’s impossible to divorce The World Is Flat from its rhetorical approach. It’s not for nothing that Thomas Friedman is called “the most important columnist in America today.” That it’s Friedman’s own colleague at the New York Times (Walter Russell Mead) calling him this, on the back of Friedman’s own book, is immaterial. Friedman is an important American. He is the perfect symbol of our culture of emboldened stupidity. Like George Bush, he’s in the reality-making business. In the new flat world, argument is no longer a two-way street for people like the president and the country’s most important columnist. You no longer have to worry about actually convincing anyone; the process ends when you make the case.

Finally, a thoughtful and venomous articulation of why I hate Thomas Friedman. America is literally brimming with self-aggrandizing idiots with columns, and god I want to be one! But for now, petty hate will have to serve my thinly-veiled envy. Now, onto Taibbi’s destruction of all Americans middle-ground who are the real culprits in our delicious Iraqi quagmire:

Look, there’s nothing mysterious about any of this. It’s pretty obvious what’s going on. We saw this same kind of cultural shift in 1968, after the Tet offensive (an analogy so obvious that even Tom Friedman saw it recently), when the American political establishment soured on the Vietnam War. Despite the conservative propaganda that for decades has insisted that it was the media that lost the war for us in Vietnam, in fact the media didn’t turn on the Vietnam war effort until the war was already lost. And the reason the media soured on that war had nothing to do with it being wrong; it had to do with the post-Tet realization that the war was expensive, unwinnable, and politically costly. America is reaching the same conclusion now about Iraq, and so, like Dave Letterman, a whole host of people who just a few years ago thought we “had to do something” are now backing off and repositioning themselves in an antiwar stance….

It doesn’t take much courage to book the Dixie Chicks when George Bush is sitting at 39% in the polls and carrying 3000 American bodies on his back every time he goes outside. It doesn’t take much courage for MSNBC’s Countdown to do a segment ripping the “Swiftboating of Al Gore” in May of 2006, or much gumption from Newsweek’s Eleanor Clift to say that many people in the media “regret” the way Gore was attacked and ridiculed in 2000. We needed those people to act in the moment, not years later, when it’s politically expedient. We needed TV news to reject “swift-boating” during the actual Swift Boat controversy, not two years later; we needed ABC and NBC to stand up to Clear Channel when that whole idiotic Dixie Chicks thing was happening, not years later; we needed the networks and the major dailies to actually cover the half-million-strong protests in Washington and New York before the war, instead of burying them in inside pages or describing the numbers as “thousands” or “at least 30,000,” as many news outlets did at the time; and we needed David Letterman to have his war epiphany back when taking on Bill O’Reilly might actually have cost him real market share.

Take a look again at Letterman’s comment last week:

So, while it didn’t exactly make as much sense to go in to Iraq as it did perhaps to go into Afghanistan, I like everybody else felt like, yes, we need to do something.

Well, that’s putting it pretty fucking mildly, wouldn’t you say? It’s not that Iraq didn’t make “as much sense” as Afghanistan — it didn’t make any sense, and anyone with half a brain could have seen that. And Letterman’s subsequent reasoning — that seeing one death turn into dozens and then hundreds and thousands made him reconsider the whole thing — all that tells you is that this is a person who makes life-and-death decisions without considering the consequences. If the Iraq war was not ever going to be worth 3,000 American lives (and countless more Iraqi lives), then why the hell did we go in in the first place? If you make a decision to fight, you had better not be scared of blood. And if you’re suddenly changing your mind about things after you lose a few teenage lives, you’re a hundred times more guilty than the guys like Bush who are actually sticking to their guns about this war.

Because Bush and the rest of that crew sent young men to die for something they believed in, fucked-up as their reasoning might be and have been. But these shitheads in the political middle who are flip-flopping right now sentenced teenagers to death for the cause of expediency and careerism. There are young men coming home now without arms and legs because the Wolf Blitzers of the world were too afraid to lose their jobs or piss off advertisers bucking the war hysteria of the times. Remember, CNN and the rest of the networks did great business in the run-up to the war. They had artists cooking up fancy new “America’s New War” graphics and they were selling lawn fertilizer and soda and male-enhancement drugs by the metric ton right up to the time when the Saddam statue came down. But the war isn’t selling anymore; the war is a bummer. And so these guys are changing their minds.

Aside from destroying all I hate, Taibbi also started Buffalo Beast who I’m a regular fan of and wrote ‘THE 52 FUNNIEST THINGS ABOUT THE UPCOMING DEATH OF THE POPE‘ (for more background information on Taibbi, check out his wiki page). And, finally, I bet you’re wondering, where the hell is the link of the day? Well, it’s right here, the archives for Taibbi’s weekly column at Rolling Stone.

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