On his PBS show, Charlie Rose usually begins with a snappy soundbite of the long interview to come. With New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on Thursday night, there was this stunning clip at the show's top:
You know, Charlie, for 60 years you could say being a political leader was on balance about giving things away to people. That's what you did most of your time. I think we're entering an era -- how long it will last I dare not predict -- where being in politics is going to be more than anything else about taking things away from people. And that shift from leaders giving things away to leaders taking things away, I don't think we know what that looks like over time.
Put aside for a moment that governments (half-solvent ones, at least) take away as much as they give. Friedman and Rose were discussing the recent British election, where the candidates all talked about the "pain" of government living within its means.
CHARLIE ROSE: That's what I mean by the test of leadership. Do they have the capacity to say it`s no longer about what we can give you, in the words of John Kennedy, it's not what you can do for your government, it`s what -- not what the government can do for you, but what you can do for your government, and are you prepared to make sacrifice that may very well be necessary? And can political leadership around the globe sell that idea?
FRIEDMAN: I think that's the real challenge. You know, if you think about it, Charlie, really, George W. Bush took the Reagan revolution to its extreme and beyond, to its logical conclusion and beyond if you say that revolution was about deregulation and tax cutting.
Barack Obama has now taken the Democratic New Deal, FDR's, you know, iconic program to its conclusion by producing national health care. So you can say both the Democrats and Republicans have kind of completed their 20th century agendas -- the Democrats, the New Deal, and Republicans, the Reagan -- you know, deregulation, tax-cutting revolution.
The question now going forward is who can build that bridge to the future? Who's got an idea what it looks like, that really complex thing of how we grow but in a more sustainable way and a fiscally responsible way so we don't unleash the furies of both the market and Mother Nature on ourselves and on our kids? That's really going to be the challenge for the next generation of political leaders.
If you've listened to Tom Friedman on any of these shows, what he means is he really wants America to be more like China and impose the autocracy of wise technocrats -- who sound a lot like Tom Friedman -- for a greener future, a future in which someone wiser and less "autistic" than nature or the free market manages people and tells them what they should want. Friedman can't even hide his lust to tell people what to do:
What I argued in "Hot, Flat, and Crowded" basically is that I really believe that what happened in 2008 in terms of the economic crisis -- it wasn't just an economic crisis. It was also an environmental crisis.
It was really both the market and Mother Nature saying to us "You are growing in an unsustainable way. You are growing in a way we cannot pass on to our children."
How are we growing? We're building more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made in more and more Chinese factories powered by more and more coal, to earn China more and more dollars to buy more and more T-bills to be re-circulated back to America to build more and more stores to sell more and more stuff made by more and more Chinese factories, to earn more and more dollars to buy more and more T-bills to be re-circulated back to America -- I could do this all night. That was the loop we were in.
And I'm not smart enough to figure this out, but somehow we do have to find a different way to grow.
Obviously, you're not going to be able to, even if you wanted to, to tell everyone, "Stop, you can't want that, you can't want that." We've got to do this in a sensible way.
But we do have to have that conversation. But I think that conversation will be very much affected by our ability to at least move aggressively and with a focus down the path of more renewable energy, because telling people, you know, they can't grow in this way or that, that's not easy.
So let's before we have that conversation -- what I always like to say to people, Charlie. If I say to you, Charlie, "You cannot drive a car anymore, you can't have personal mobility," you would say "that would change my life." But if I said "You cannot drive a car, Charlie, that doesn't get 50 miles a gallon and isn't operated by an electric or hybrid" you would say "That won't change my life."
So then why don't we at least try that before we go to the point of telling people they can't drive at all? And what bothers me is we're not even doing that. We're not even doing the smart thing, OK? And in not doing the smart thing, Charlie, we`re courting disaster.
My friend Rob Watson, a great environmentalist, always likes to say "Mother Nature, she's just chemistry, biology, and physics, that's all she is. You can't sweet talk her, you can't talk her up or down. You can't say, Mother Nature, I`ve got to grow a little more this year. Give me a break, we just had a recession."
No, she's going to do whatever chemistry, biology, and physics dictate. And Mother Nature, she always bats last and she always bats 1000.
It's the same with the market. The market is just greed and fear, greed and fear, greed and fear at any moment around a stock, a bond, a commodity, or a piece of real estate. And the market is going to do whatever the market is going to do.
If we don't approach both the market and Mother Nature, Charlie, with more sustainable values, they`re going to do whatever they`re going to do, and it is not going to be pretty.
The oldest "most sustainable value" is an arrogant autocrat telling the masses what they will sacrifice. Apparently, Friedman's not a fan of the newer values, of government by consent of the governed. He doesn't have the patience for the masses and their strange ideas about the limiting the government so that Tom Friedman can't be "dictator for a day." He summed up:
We are putting our kids' future in the hands of the two most autistic forces on the planet -- autistic in the sense of feeling no emotion whatsoever -- the market and Mother Nature.
My whole argument is that if that's the case, we can't control them, but we can moderate and affect their behavior by approaching them with sustainable behaviors rather than just whatever feels good right now.