Among many, many smart replies, The Washington Monthly’s Steve Benen wrote:
I didn’t care for this column the first hundred times it’s been published over the years, and it’s not improving with age Friedman has effectively endorsed the entirety of President Obama’s agenda, most of which has passed, can’t pass, or has to be severely watered down because of unprecedented Senate obstructionism. But instead of calling for reforming the legislative process, or calling on Republicans to start playing a constructive role in policymaking, or calling on voters to elect more candidates who agree with the agenda the columnist espouses, Friedman says what we really need is an amorphous third party that will think the way he does.
Ezra Klein also noted the misguided focus on the presidency:
If the legislative system is broken—if the best we can do is not good enough—you need to change the legislative system. Friedman laments Obama’s “limited stimulus” and decision to “abandon an energy-climate bill altogether,” but he doesn’t mention the one thing that would’ve allowed for a larger stimulus and a fighting chance on an energy and climate bill: eliminating the filibuster.
And Brendan Nyhan recalled the fate of an independent executive who actually managed to get elected:
The best precedent in contemporary politics is Jesse Ventura, who was elected governor in Minnesota as an independent candidate and tried to govern without the support of either major party. Needless to say, it did not go well.
Meanwhile, Jamelle Bouie argued that rule by Davos Man is perhaps not in keeping with America’s democratic tradition:
Friedman’s pining for a third party—like David Broder’s frequent pining for anti-political “independents”—is strikingly undemocratic. It’s not just that he wants to enact his preferred agenda though an elite-driven party with no constituency, no activists, and no ties to local communities but that he is clearly uncomfortable living in the world as it is, where voters matter, interests are heard, and political disagreement is important.
And Jonathan Bernstein went even deeper into the realm of democratic theory:
From Madison and Federalist 10 on, the United States has always been a gamble that democracy from difference can be an enormous strength, despite the evident and frequently frightening dangers involved. And there have always been those who don’t get that, and think there’s an obvious consensus that would be reached if only politics or partisanship or nefarious special interests didn’t get in the way If you don’t like what’s happening in a democracy, the solution is to persuade others to adopt your ideas, or mobilize people who already share your ideas, or form a coalition with others whose ideas or interests you can live with… but not, never, to assume that your ideas are the obvious and only correct ones that everyone would adopt if only… whatever.
* “Make Way for the Radical Center,” July 23, 2011.
Collectively, the replies to Friedman’s October column presented a two-pronged complaint: first, there’s no way for the president to govern from the “radical center” alongside an empowered, polarized legislature. And second, participatory democracy in the United States means competition among (and, at times, cooperation between) rival political parties, not finding some way to impose elite opinion by transcending politics.
So naturally, Friedman’s latest is a paean to Americans Elect, a Web-oriented effort “financed with some serious hedge fund money” that is trying to find a presidential candidate who can “reach across the divide of politics.”
You can almost sense the Internet throwing up its hands in resignation. But Slate’s Dave Weigel delivered the requisite snark, asking of Friedman’s “glib claptrap”:
[H]ow can a sophisticated political analyst buy into this? How do you look at the way Washington is actually organized, with multiple legislative veto points that can cripple or kill legislation, and say “we could fix this if a third party won the presidency”?