Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tom Friedman's constitutional inability to connect the dots

Sandy Levinson

Tom Friedman has another column in today's Times lamenting (altogether correctly) the decadent state of contemporary politics in the United States. It begins, "There is something crazy about what is going on in our country today." He, like any sane individual, certainly doesn't believe that the country is "going in the right direction." His nostrum, though, is a third-party candidate for the presidency who will presumably be truly serious in a way that, according to Friedman, is beyond the capacity of the institutional Democratic or Republican parties and their respective leaders, President Obama in one case and God knows whom in the other. Yet, once more, Friedman is incapable of even suggesting that our malaise might have something to do with a dysfunctional Constitution drafted almost 2-1/4 centuries ago in a remarkably different world, both materially and conceptually (i.e., the disdain for the very idea of political parties and the ultimate reliance on the political virtue of national political elites). The one and only mainstream pundit who is capable (or, more to the point perhaps, willing) to connect the odts is Fareed Zakaria, who had a superb commentary on CNN on Sunday, taking off from Iceland's totally admirable efforts to revise its 1945 constitution.

It's also worth mentionng a piece by former Oklahoma Representative Mickey Edwards (who used ot be thought of as a moderately conservative Republican) in the current Atlantic, "How to Turn Republicans and Democrats into Americans," a screed against hyperpartisanship. He has some interesting ideas, but, needless to say (alas), there is no suggestion that we might actually think of constitutional reform in light of the fact that political parties are not (and should not) go away.

I see no particular point in eliciting comments on this posting, since, to put it mildly, it doesn't raise any new points that I haven't offered repeatedly. But there are always new examples of Friedman's obtuseness, even as he deserves great credit for trying, in his own way, to play Paul Revere in warning us of the genuine problems facing the country that the political system seems incapable of confronting in any serious way.

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