If you relied on one signpost for where not to go, it might be the columns of New York Times star Thomas L. Friedman: If he's pointing in one direction, like some humorless Cheshire Cat, it's usually a safe bet that you should go the other way.
Sure, he's not always wrong. Sometimes, he does recognize the obvious. I suppose the world has gotten "flatter."
But Friedman has been grievously wrong many other times at great cost to America and the world -- and his newest election scheme of pushing a "centrist" alternative for President could be just his latest catastrophic idea. It's also not the first time he helped mess up the selection of a new President.
In December 2000, Friedman praised Republican suppression of vote-counting in Florida because he put George W. Bush's fragile "legitimacy," as a popular-vote loser being made President, above determining the actual will of the voters. Then, in 2003, Friedman waved the United States into the unprovoked invasion of Iraq. It was time, he said, to "give war a chance." As the ill-fated war dragged on, he kept insisting that the nation wait intervals of "six months" before judging the bloody mission to be a failure.
More recently, Friedman helped create the crisis with Iran by disparaging a Brazilian-Turkish breakthrough in 2010 that would have had Tehran swap much of its low-enriched uranium for medical isotopes, a plan that is finally back on the table after two years of escalating tensions and higher-than-necessary gas prices.
Indeed, it's hard sometimes to comprehend the conscienceless egotism of Friedman who can be so wrong so often -- leaving hundreds of thousands dead and wasting trillions of dollars -- but who still pontificates about what Americans should do next.
Friedman's latest reckless scheme is to have some third-party candidate (his choice is New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg) compete in this fall's presidential election as a way to "give our two-party system the shock it needs."
By taking this stance, Friedman gets to position himself as champion of the trendy disdain for the two major parties. But Friedman's idea is really just another dodge to avoid making the tough assessment about the truly serious political threat facing the nation, the reality of today's Republican extremism.
The "Liberal" Label
You see the key thing for Friedman -- and other "centrist" journalists -- is to avoid ever being pigeonholed as "liberal." For Friedman, his status as an "independent" thinker is also crucial to his lucrative career as a best-selling author. To maintain this valuable financial perch in the middle, Friedman and other "centrists" routinely make "smart plays" for themselves even if they end up aiding and abetting many right-wing positions.
It was "smart" for Friedman to embrace Bush's "legitimacy" in 2000, cheer the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and posture as a tough-guy on Iran now. And, it's the "smart play" to take this stance on Election 2012, issuing a "plague on both your houses" jeremiad without having to confront the rabid elephant in the room, quite literally.
If Friedman had written a column about how the American voters must break the back of GOP extremism before any of the country's pressing issues can be seriously addressed, he would have been denounced by the powerful right-wing attack machine as a Democratic "partisan," not good for his next book tour.
So, instead of taking on right-wing extremism, which has taken over the Republican Party, Friedman pretends that the U.S. political crisis is just the lack of a reasonable person in the middle willing to debate the nation's complex problems.
Thus, Friedman wants to see Mike Bloomberg starring in the presidential debates and raising the "hard choices." Except that this scheme more likely would mean splitting the "responsible" vote, undercutting President Barack Obama and clearing the way for a victory by Republican Mitt Romney -- and the right-wing forces most opposed to what Friedman purports to want.
Losing Cellphone Service
Friedman starts off his Wednesday column complaining about the collapsing American infrastructure -- the "roller-coaster" asphalt around Washington's Union Station and the shortcomings of Amtrak's rail service to New York, even as he rode the more expensive, faster Acela train.