Tom Junod, at Esquire‘s Politics Blog, picks on “Tom Friedman and the Fattening of the American Center“:
… So why is the idea of the center so seductive, when the actuality of the center is so negligible? Well, it’s simple: There is status in the center. There is the opportunity to look down at people of both political extremes, while having one’s own smarts — one’s own reasonability, which has become the calling card of the new center — affirmed. Friedman, in particular, makes use of class insecurities to make his sale; he is a skilled politician, in that he knows how to make people feel better about themselves, and he is at the same time a skilled motivational speaker, in that he knows how to make them feel worse… which is to say that he knows how to make them worry about China. […] __
But then, that’s one of the attractions of attending a Friedman lecture. It’s
not that he reads from his books, so that you don’t have to; it’s that he doesn’t read from his books, because his books aren’t meant to be read. I was going to say that the books are lectures, rather than books, but that’s not quite right; they’re PowerPoint presentations, rather than lectures. Their arguments are numbered and bullet-pointed, in the manner of the instructions and exhortations typically found in books about how to respond to one’s cheese being moved or how to avoid eating too much of it. Friedman’s book even sounds like a diet book; tinker with the pronoun, and That Used to Be Us becomes That Used to Be Me, and can be used to sell grapefruit, tomato juice, and colonic irrigation. It’s billed as an optimistic book about national renewal — and it’s supposed to be pretty good — but really it’s a diet book for the national soul, and, as in all such books, it’s underlying message is that we had better worry about getting fat.
“When I got out of college, I was able to find a job,” Friedman said in his lecture. “Now I’d have to invent one.” That was his “optimistic” message: that what he calls the “flattening” of the world due to globalization means that nothing is safe, that everything is in play, and that no one can be comfortable with where they are or what they’ve got. We can’t just go to to work anymore; we have to be able to create our work. He repeated this bromide, pretty much word for word, in his column on Sunday: a promise of economic slavery, done up in the trappings of personal — or technological — freedom, to the point where he actually seems to be rooting for the robot. Now, this message should have sent audiences and readers rushing to join their nearest labor union; Friedman is guaranteeing roughly 80 percent unemployment, after all. But labor unions aren’t part of the American center that Friedman and his ilk are promoting; they’re part of the past, and they’re beholden to party as much as party is beholden to them. No, the American center that Friedman conjures likes to think that it is self-sufficient, intellectually and otherwise, and so the people who listen to his lectures and read his columns like to think that they’ll be the ones who will be able to invent their jobs. They don’t like to think of themselves as the working stiffs who will inevitably get left behind — as the fatties whom Friedman’s fad diet is really addressing.
In that column, Friedman quotes the owner of Freelancer.com: “Barrie says he describes this rising global army of freelancers the way he describes his own team: ‘They all have Ph.D.’s. They are poor, hungry and driven: P.H.D.’” And yet the prevalence of well-educated, debt-burdened people at Occupy Wall Street is treated as a marvel or an anomaly by the media courtiers…