New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has returned from another of his periodic sojourns into the cloudcuckooland of his own imagination, and brings us word of this dream he had, which he hopes to implant. The basic plot is this: In an alternate universe, our American lawmakers buck their traditional bases to come up with a plan -- it's a revision of an old plan, actually -- that singlehandedly eliminates the need for the Sad Guys On Trading Floors blog forever. I know that description doesn't make much sense, but fret not: soon it will make even less.
Here's the architecture of Friedman's dream, which he sets up as a fake "news article," with a Washington, D.C., dateline. It's the East Room of the White House, circa 2011. Your dramatis personae include President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, with Nancy Pelosi, Mitch McConnell and Harry Reid on hand to dress the set. The latter three won't say anything, and thank God for that, because Friedman has stuffed Boehner and Obama with such thick and winding monologues that by the end, nary a word can be spoken, lest the room be emptied of oxygen.
In this imagining, John Boehner gets to speak first and, most notably, he now seems to speak with Friedman's own vocabulary and trademark prolixity. He tells the gathered reporters that the GOP remains convinced that America's problem is that there's "too much debt" and too much government, and that "taxes and regulations are choking our dynamism." (Yes, it seems that in this alternate reality, we just accept the premise that the collapse of the financial sector came about because it was too over-regulated.) Boehner goes on to say that his party is "not innocent" because they "contributed to this debt burden and spending binge."
"Therefore, we have informed the president that our legislators are ready to reopen negotiations immediately on a 'Grand Bargain' to address all these debt issues once and for all and that everything will be on the table from our side -- including tax reform that closes loopholes and eliminates wasteful subsidies, and, if need be, tax increases."
So Boehner is not just talking like an anthropomorphic Friedman book, he's also talking like a guy who doesn't want to get re-elected anytime soon. The Speaker goes on to say, "I know that the Tea Party activists are true patriots and they will work with us as well." Which is weird, because Friedman was, only weeks ago, begging for the rise of a "radical center." Maybe Friedman, knowing that he can only go so far in giving any member of Congress a moment of clarity, felt the need to add a dose of self-delusion for the sake of verisimilitude.
Finally, Boehner ends his oration, and after a brief moment where he and Obama have each other off for the cameras, the President steps forward to speak. He has a simple idea that will change everything.
His big announcement is that he's going to take the Simpson-Bowles Committee -- which was the super committee before the Congress decided to go full-on "Romper Room" and actually call a committee the "super committee" -- and give it an awesome new name: "The National Commission for American Renewal." See, the old Simpson-Bowles committee is now serious because it has the word "renewal" in it. He goes on to say that he's adding Boehner, Pelosi, McConnell and Reid to the committee.
The actual Bowles-Simpson committee, if you'll recall, famously got bogged down in predictably partisan obstinance and failed to approve anything on which Congress could vote. So you can see right away how adding these four lawmakers would totally surmount all of the previous logjams!
Obama goes on: "But the most important thing that will be on the table will not just be a plan to make our country solvent. It will be a plan to make America great and guarantee that another generation will enjoy the American dream."
You see? This new committee won't just be tackling the practical problems of revenue and spending -- they will be tasked with making America "great!" The new Super Erskine-Bowles-Boehner-Pelosi-Pony Committee will unleash the pure power of sentimentality. Everyone who spent the past two years calling Obama's stimulus attempts a socialist redistribution plot will be forced to admit they were wrong, and Obama will himself admit that he's done a "poor job" of explaining his plans, and Capitol Hill will become suffused with the golden light of love and understanding.
If I could recommend a revision to Tom, I'd say, if you're going to wade waist-deep into the swamp of sentimentality, why not write a role for Representative Gabrielle Giffords to play? She could be added to the committee, make a stirring speech, cast a deciding vote ... you mustn't be afraid to dream a little bigger, darling!
Anyway, the deal is struck and hands are shaken, and our players quit the stage. That's when Friedman's dream for America is realized:
It was exactly 9:29 a.m. One minute later, the New York Stock Exchange opened. The Dow was up 1,223 points at the open -- an all-time record.
Yes, in the furthest-reaching hopes that Friedman has for the "renewal" of America, the story ends with the stock portfolios of a few wealthy people dramatically expanding in value. Take heart, unemployed, foreclosed-upon, jailed-for-indebtedness America, because the system works!
Actually, the most vulgar part of this isn't that it ends with the Dow -- magically freed from market realities and now powered exclusively by schmaltz -- enjoying a record-setting day. The most vulgar part is the preamble that's attached to this column, in which Friedman literally (and I mean, "not figuratively") asserts that all hopes hang on you reading his fake "news article" (emphasis added):
This is a scary economic moment. The response we need is not easy, but it is totally obvious. We need a Grand Bargain between America's two parties -- and we need it right now. Until you read the following news article, we'll be stuck in a world of hurt.
So there you have it. Thomas Friedman now believes that he can perform inception.
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