Another week, another Tom Friedman piece trying to create the Democratic Party as though it didn’t exist:

As for America, we’ve thrived in recent decades with a credit-consumption-led economy, whereby we maintained a middle class by using more steroids (easy credit, subprime mortgages and construction work) and less muscle-building (education, skill-building and innovation). It’s put us in a deep hole, and the only way to dig out now is a new, hybrid politics that mixes spending cuts, tax increases, tax reform and investments in infrastructure, education, research and production. But that mix is not the agenda of either party. Either our two parties find a way to collaborate in the center around this new hybrid politics, or a third party is going to emerge — or we’re stuck and the pain will just get worse.

When the world is experiencing so many wrenching changes at once — with already high unemployment and weak economies — the need for America, the most important pillar of all, to be rock solid is greater than ever. If we don’t get our act together — which will require collective action normally reserved for wartime — we are not going to just be prolonging an American crisis, but feeding a global one. [Emphasis added by myself]

Steve Benen rightly points out: “Let’s see, a combination of long-term cuts, combined with additional revenue, with an emphasis on boosting investments in infrastructure, education, research, and production. Why does this sound familiar? Because it’s President Obama’s agenda.” Which is true, of course. One almost wonders if there’s an official NY Times rule never to single out one party for criticism, which would explain quite a bit actually. Only I know there isn’t because they haven’t fired Paul Krugman yet.

But it’s worth noting that the premise here isn’t even correct. It’s true that, during WWII, a lot of Republicans set aside their differences and joined with FDR to beat Germany and Japan. I am not well-versed enough on American History to declare this for certain on every war, but from what I’ve read, that’s far more the exception than the rule. Civil War Democrats were absolutely horrible to Abraham Lincoln, opportunistic and double-dealing from the start. According to McPherson’s book, virtually all war- and slavery-related legislation passed on strict party lines, and Democrats frequently resorted to outright racist attacks on Lincoln and his policies to some effect. In addition, Lincoln had to suffer through the indignity of the Congressional Joint Committee On The Conduct Of The War, led by hardcore antislavery Republicans who pushed for a far more aggressive warfare strategy. This occurred in 1861, by the way, which was only the first year of Lincoln’s term. Just imagine if the Democrats had created a special Congressional Committee in 2009 merely to chew out Barack Obama and the people executing his strategy, and you sort of get the idea. Ultimately, the Civil War was not especially a time of unity, even in the North. There’s a reason Lincoln always gets that #1 rating out of all the presidents, after all.

Friedman’s argument also omits Vietnam, the most obvious example of partisan disunity during wartime. The conflict was integral, in fact, in destroying the system so cherished by Friedman and his forbears, in which both parties had liberal, moderate and conservative wings. The Democratic Party’s messy, public turn against the war–and the Republican Party’s harsh turn against those who opposed it–led to a reordering of the political system in which the Northeast and the West Coast went from being generally Republican to being generally Democratic, and the South, Interior West and Southwest all went the other way. Of the actual debates of the time enough has been said already, Rick Perlstein’s books document it all well enough. Additionally, it’s widely known that Richard Nixon went so far as to play partisan games with the war’s outcome by sabotaging Lyndon Johnson’s attempt to get a peace deal in advance of the 1968 election. So much for patriotism and standing behind the president. The Vietnam era is well known as a low point in national unity, and rightly so.

There are other examples as well–one could cite Dwight Eisenhower’s promise to go to Korea in 1952 as a partisan ploy (though one with an ultimately positive outcome), there were the bad faith negotiations of Henry Cabot Lodge with Woodrow Wilson over the League of Nations (and Wilson’s civil liberties-demolishing actions during the War, mainly directed at his left-wing critics), or the near-treasonous antics of several pre-Civil War Democratic Presidents (Pierce, mostly, though also Buchanan) that hurt the country deeply to advance slavery and their own party’s fortunes. Put simply, WWII is an outlier in American History. Far more often, wars are declared in a bipartisan fashion, and then after some time are deployed by the out party to attack the party in power. And here’s the kicker: that in and of itself is not wrong. There’s no particular reason why the out-of-power party ought not to mount criticisms on the handling of a war. I’ve never found the “not supporting the troops” argument persuasive. Much of the time, politicians blunder into wars without much of a plan to win them, and if not pressured they more often than not will devolve into quagmires where we can’t leave because that would mean that lives were wasted. (No, I’m not thinking of any one in particular, why do you ask?) But the notion that wars breed unity is oversimplified. Sure, maybe for a little while at first. Maybe if it looks like we’re winning. But the simple fact is that wars encourage exclusionary, nationalistic sentiments that don’t stop at the battlefield, usually the dynamic fractures the relations between countries that go to war, then it fractures the countries themselves. I can’t even think of a single exception to this dynamic–the only times it’s avoided is with really quick wars, like the Mexican-American or Spanish-American Wars for example. I really, really think the war at home is closely related to the wars we fight elsewhere, and there is certainly a correlation between the times when we fight wars and the times when we can’t act together as a people. If Barack Obama really wants to let the country heal, he’d ignore the generals and get us out of Iraq and Afghanistan yesterday. And if history is any guide, that would be about fifty times more effective than rhetorical gestures (and infinitely more so than bipartisan trade deals). Finally, as always, Tom Friedman is an ill-reasoned pompous ass who ought to be writing nothing bigger than a PTA newsletter.

Also, there’s no way I am not posting this:


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