Thomas L. Friedman: Nation-Building at Home Just as Crucial a Slogan Now as it Was 14 Columns Ago


Today's Thomas L. Friedman column is a familiar if distasteful brew of what-Americans-want ventriloquism and public policy by bumper sticker. Sample:

We need to raise gasoline and carbon taxes to discourage their use and drive the creation of a new clean energy industry, while we cut payroll and corporate taxes to encourage employment and domestic investment. We need to cut Medicare and Social Security entitlements at the same time as we make new investments in infrastructure, schools and government-financed research programs that will spawn the next Google and Intel. We need to finish our work in Iraq, which still has the potential to be a long-term game-changer in the Arab-Muslim world, but we need to get out of Afghanistan — even if it entails risks — because we can't afford to spend $190 million a day to bring its corrupt warlords from the 15th to the 19th century.

And so on.

But as a lifelong Prince fan, my eyes were drawn to the sheer dogged repetition of Friedman's trademark sloganeering. The phrase "nation-building at home" makes two appearances, "nation-building in America" makes two more, and there's a fifth "nation-building" in there, presumably for collectors. Since we've been down this road with the Flat-Worlder before, I thought it might be a public service of sorts to trace how long he's been flogging this Molly. Turns out for 29 months at minimum (bolds are mine, italics his):

Thomas L. Friedman, June 29, 2008:

I do not believe nation-building in Iraq is going to be the issue come November — whether things get better there or worse. If they get better, we'll ignore Iraq more; if they get worse, the next president will be under pressure to get out quicker. I think nation-building in America is going to be the issue. […]

We are the ones who need a better-functioning democracy — more than the Iraqis and Afghans. We are the ones in need of nation-building. It is our political system that is not working. […]

We need nation-building at home, and we cannot wait another year to get started.

Thomas L. Friedman, August 27, 2008:

When you see how much modern infrastructure has been built in China since 2001, under the banner of the Olympics, and you see how much infrastructure has been postponed in America since 2001, under the banner of the war on terrorism, it's clear that the next seven years need to be devoted to nation-building in America.

We need to finish our business in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible, which is why it is a travesty that the Iraqi Parliament has gone on vacation while 130,000 U.S. troops are standing guard. We can no longer afford to postpone our nation-building while Iraqis squabble over whether to do theirs. […]

Obama got this far because many voters projected onto him that he could be the leader of an American renewal. They know we need nation-building at home now — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Georgia, but in America. Obama cannot lose that theme. […]

[I]t is our time to get back to work on the only home we have, our time for nation-building in America.

Thomas L. Friedman, September 9, 2008:

I have long felt that what propelled Obama early was the fact that many Americans understand in their guts that we need a change, but the change we need is to focus on nation-building at home. We're in decline. We need to get back to work on our country. And that is going to require strong, smart government.

Thomas L. Friedman, September 23, 2008:

I argue in [Hot, Flat, and Crowded] that the best way out of this mess is an American commitment to what I call "nation-building at home," centered on innovation in clean energy. The crisis on Wall Street makes clear that America really does have a problem and that we really do need to commit to "nation-building at home," and fast. As the government asks all of us as citizens to assume responsibility for the financial crisis, what should we be asking of it in terms of "nation-building at home"? What should we be calling for on top of greater regulation of the financial markets if we are going to get our country back on the right track?

Thomas L. Friedman, November 4, 2008:

[W]e need to get back to fixing our country — we need a president who can unify us for nation-building at home.

Thomas L. Friedman, September 29, 2009:

[H]ack away at [Obama's] policies and even his character all you want. I know politics is a tough business. But if we destroy the legitimacy of another president to lead or to pull the country together for what most Americans want most right now — nation-building at home — we are in serious trouble.

Thomas L. Friedman, October 27, 2009:

[W]e desperately need nation-building at home.

Thomas L. Friedman, October 31, 2009:

[Obama] has not tied all his programs into a single narrative that shows the links between his health care, banking, economic, climate, energy, education and foreign policies. Such a narrative would enable each issue and each constituency to reinforce the other and evoke the kind of popular excitement that got him elected. […]

What is that project? What is that narrative? Quite simply it is nation-building at home. It is nation-building in America. […]

[W]hat people want most from Washington today is nation-building at home. […]

I am convinced that this kind of nation-building at home is exactly what Mr. Obama is trying to deliver […]

People have to have a gut feel for why this nation-building project, with all its varied strands, is so important — why it's worth the sacrifice.

Thomas L. Friedman, November 21, 2009:

People had hoped that [Obama's] unique story, personality and speaking skills could bring the country together, overcome paralysis and deliver nation-building at home. A lot of the disappointment settling in among Obama voters today is prompted by their dawning realization that maybe, like Arnold, he can't.

Thomas L. Friedman, December 1, 2009:

Given our need for nation-building at home right now, I am ready to live with a little less security and a little-less-perfect Afghanistan. […]

To now make Afghanistan part of the "war on terrorism" — i.e., another nation-building project — is not crazy. It is just too expensive, when balanced against our needs for nation-building in America, so that we will have the strength to play our broader global role. Hence, my desire to keep our presence in Afghanistan limited. That is what I believe. That is why I believe it.

Thomas L. Friedman, February 20, 2010:

Mr. Obama won the election because he was able to "rent" a significant number of independent voters — including Republican business types who had never voted for a Democrat in their lives — because they knew in their guts that the country was on the wrong track and was desperately in need of nation-building at home […]

Alas, though, instead of making nation-building in America his overarching narrative and then fitting health care, energy, educational reform, infrastructure, competitiveness and deficit reduction under that rubric, the president has pursued each separately. This made each initiative appear to be just some stand-alone liberal obsession to pay off a Democratic constituency — not an essential ingredient of a nation-building strategy — and, therefore, they have proved to be easily obstructed, picked off or delegitimized by opponents and lobbyists.

Thomas L. Friedman, March 23, 2010:

If the Democrats now lose seats in the midterm elections, we're headed for even worse gridlock, even though we still have so much more nation-building for America to do — from education to energy to environment to innovation to tax policy. […]

Obama won the presidency by tapping the center—centrist Democrats, independents and Republicans who wanted to see nation-building at home

Thomas L. Friedman, April 21, 2010:

the most important foreign policy issue America faces today is its ability to successfully engage in nation buildingnation building at home.

And finally today's episode:

I think what is driving people's pessimism today are two intersecting concerns. The long-term concern is that people intuitively understand that what we need most now is nation-building in America. They understand it by just looking around at our crumbling infrastructure, our sputtering job-creation engines and the latest international education test results that show our peers out-educating us, which means they will eventually out-compete us. Many people understand that we are slipping as a country and what they saw in Barack Obama, or what they projected onto him, was that he had both the vision and capability to pull America together behind a plan for nation-building at home.

But I think they understand something else: that we are facing a really serious moment. We have to get this plan for nation-building right because we are driving without a spare tire or a bumper. […]

[T]he reason [Obama] hasn't gotten [credit for stabilizing the economy and reviving the auto industry] is not just because those nasty Republicans say all those nasty things about him. After all, he owns the biggest bully pulpit in the world. It's because the 40 percent of Americans in the middle who have determined our last two elections don't see an integrated plan for nation-building at home that includes not only more spending but hard choices. […]

The president could say that he doesn't agree with every cut [that the Bowles-Simpson fiscal commission] propose[s] and wants to add his own investments in our future. But their hybrid approach, he could explain, is the only workable course for the country right now — one he intends to use as the basis for his plan for nation-building in America

That's 14 New York Times columns and 34 deployments of the phrase "nation-building," for those keeping track. Approximately zero of which grapple with the great unmentionable buzz-harsher of National Greatness dreamers and infrastructure-cancellation lamenters everywhere: Just about everything government provides has gotten too damned expensive, because government is a definitionally corruptible monopoly, and as a result there is precious little money left over to pay for whatever shiny new government-monopoly gewgaw you brainfarted this morning on the links.

Reason on Thomas L. Friedman here.