I am not a regular Thomas Friedman reader. I think the prominent New York Times columnist is good at capturing a certain sort of zeitgeist, however, of transmitting the ideas of a certain business-investor-entrepreneur class. It’s an elite class but not the typical power elite.
So I read with great interest his last column, called Third Party Rising:
Barring a transformation of the Democratic and Republican Parties, there is going to be a serious third party candidate in 2012, with a serious political movement behind him or her — one definitely big enough to impact the election’s outcome.
There is a revolution brewing in the country, and it is not just on the right wing but in the radical center. I know of at least two serious groups, one on the East Coast and one on the West Coast, developing “third parties” to challenge our stagnating two-party duopoly that has been presiding over our nation’s steady incremental decline.
If you browse Friedman’s most recent columns, I say he has found his voice in the past weeks. That might sound funny about such a celebrated guy, but if you go back through his columns for months they are a kind of wandering mishmash of topics. Then he went to China and suddenly he has this clear message – America is in decline, people want change, and they aren’t getting it.
And here is what this has to do with Daddyland – there will never be any significant changes under the current political structure. For the same reasons that the U.S. is not building better infrastructure or cutting oil consumption – the system just isn’t working. I got my absentee ballot yesterday for New York State, and I’m sitting there staring at the names, and I just don’t see it.
I’ve met Chuck Schumer, the New York senator, and I’ve written about him. He gets taken down a lot in newsrooms in the state for being too corny and fake and too quick with the cheesy press release, but this is an impressive guy, at least for a big time politician. And he is a powerful guy too. But is he going to fight for paid parental leave? Nope. Is he going to risk alienating upstate voters with a gas tax for real? Nope.
The Swedish government is a mess now too – the racist, ex-Nazi party holds the balance of power in the new parliament – but there is an inherent competence to the political life here that is lacking in the US and that goes down to the people who do not shout about Tea Parties, taxes and guns while collecting government benefits. No, the people here collect benefit after benefit, but they all know where those benefits come from and the sacrifices those benefits entail (some Swedes might argue this point, but, believe me, compared to Americans, it is true).
So bring on a legitimate centrist third party. I don’t even have to agree with it – I can almost guarantee that I won’t – but I’m searching for a little competence here, a sign that the US could move forward, whether with the right tax cuts or by adding strands to the safety net.