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Tom Friedman, in Praising China's 'One-Party Autocracy,' Just Doesn't Get It

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You've probably heard the axiom that Democracy is the worst form of government -- except for all the others. Well, in New York Times' columnist Tom Friedman's world, the only thing worse than Chinese communism is American Democracy.

Specifically, on Thursday's "Morning Joe," he reiterated a point he has made before. In a discussion of Chinese President Hu Jintao's visit to Washington, he said: "There's only one thing worse, in my view, than one-party autocracy -- the Chinese system -- and that's one-party Democracy. Okay? See, one-party autocracy, at least if it has some vision of the future, can actually order the right things . . . collective action from the top down. But when you have one-party Democracy, that is, you have one party trying to do things and the other sticking a spoke in its wheels constantly, you can't get anything big done. And that to me seems to be our real dilemma today."

A few thoughts . . .

First, I don't think he meant "sticking a spoke in its wheel," but having done enough TV to know we all mess up, I get what he meant.

More important (regarding his choice of words) is his notion that having one political party stymie a second political party equates to "one-party Democracy." Quite the contrary -- one-party Democracy would be when one political party can do whatever it wants, and where the minority can do nothing to stop it. Friedman's concern is actually with a two-party Democracy -- which essentially means he prefers authoritarian rule to Democracy.

As I've written before, this is indicative of many on the left who truly do not like the American system -- especially when Democracy means one party is "sticking a spoke in its wheels" when liberals are in power. Again, Friedman is not alone here. This has become a common lament among liberals.

Of course, it is worth noting that our Founding Fathers intentionally created a "messy," adversarial system of checks and balances. It was their intent to slow things down. This, I might add, has served us quite well for more than two centuries.

Last, Friedman's apparent wish for a "benign" dictator is utopian, inasmuch as it ignores Lord Acton's warning that "absolute power corrupts absolutely." Saying a "good" dictator wouldn't be so bad is like saying a non-calorie Big Mac wouldn't be bad -- it is in the nature of autocrats to be authoritarian. Besides, who decides what is "good" or "bad," if the people have no say?
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Mr. Lewis, you're overlooking one critical aspect of our political system that eludes many: America's government was not plotted with political parties in mind. In the eyes of Franklin and Washington, political parties were invitations for mob rule, and knowing that brutality from the majority is the ugliest democracy, placed rules and laws intended to protect the minority. Sadly, we didn't even make two decades before federalists and democrats started to draw lines in the sand. There are no checks or balances for political ideology. Indeed, if party ideology consumes all branches of government, then checks and balances become far weaker than our founders intended. We saw it from the right for six years and from the left for two. But going back to one-party, I would say that in America we have a one-party mindset. Being in a very conservative state, I can only give you a republican example. My state, like many, suffers from a critical lack of revenue... to the tune of nearly three billion. Does the newly elected governor of my state say "We're going to raise half that in taxes and cut half in savings"? No. Somehow he believes that my state can painlessly trim three billion from the budget. Not a word about reforming our tax code. No, simply repeating the republican mantra of cutting taxes. A one-party view cannot see outside it's own ideology. A pragmatist accept a solution that leaves everyone satisfied but no one happy.

January 21 2011 at 1:24 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

You're right. Friedman's premise is self-contradictory.

January 20 2011 at 8:44 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

I agree Tom Friedman is out to lunch.

However, I would take issue with saying our current government is the way the founders intended.

The idea that one senator can place a "hold" on any nominee and piece of legislation is simply too much power for any one person to have. Checks and balances should not mean the government is forced to do everything by half measure in attempt to appease Joe Lieberman.

January 20 2011 at 1:19 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Alex's comment

What you are talking about are Senate rules, nothing to do with the Founding Fathers. The worst example of what you describe is Obama's use of Executive Orders.

January 20 2011 at 8:01 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply

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