OPINION: Tom Friedman Wants to Raise Your Taxes


There are basically two views of the American people.

In one, we’re the patriots ready to do whatever it takes for our country.  If a crisis requires sacrifices, we won’t flinch when our leaders summon us to make them.  We’re the people FDR asked not only to fight and die for freedom, but also to pay higher taxes on profits, “to forgo higher wages” and “spending money for things that we want… which are not absolutely essential.” We rise to the challenge and ask what we can do for our country.

In the other, we cry bloody murder when anyone tries to take anything away from us.  We’re entitled to benefits, but we’re outraged by costs.  We’re the mob pointing fingers at everyone but ourselves, the sheep that demagogues herd toward outrage, the puppets that political candidates spend hundreds of millions of dollars to con with outrageous attacks on their opponents and preposterous promises of their own.

For 40 years, the arena where these schizoid embodiments of our nature have battled most ferociously has been energy policy.

In the 1970s, President Carter declared that America’s “intolerable dependence on foreign oil threatens… the very security of our nation,” and that “every act of energy conservation… is an act of patriotism.”  In the last year of his presidency, he advocated a course of “pain” and “discipline” including a fee on imported oil that would raise gasoline taxes 10 cents a gallon.  The reaction?  A hundred thousand copies of the Boston Globe hit the street the next morning containing an editorial about the speech under the headline “More Mush From the Wimp” before the prank was discovered and the title changed to “All Must Share the Burden.”  Take your pick:  Sacrifice is for wimps; sacrifice is for patriots.

At the start of the next century, Dick Cheney dismissed conservation as “a sign of personal virtue,” and in the days after 9/11, George Bush told America to go shopping.  In the decade since then, New York Times columnist and best-selling author Tom Friedman has pounded on the failure of that administration to use 9/11 to summon Americans to sacrifice and greatness. 

Bush blew a priceless opportunity to slam the brakes on America’s dependence on foreign oil and to stop financing terrorism with American petrodollars.  What he should have done, ” target=”_hplink”>he said at the end of 2008, “is Obama’s 9/11.”  Now the BP disaster has given Friedman a new peg for ” target=”_hplink”>columnists who also have signed on to that solution: David Brooks, Nicholas Kristof and Bob Herbert.

But so far, Obama hasn’t done that.  In a ” target=”_hplink”>interpreted as an endorsement of the alternative, complex-to-explain “cap-and-trade” system in the energy bill passed by the House last year.  The reason he won’t step up to a carbon tax, says Friedman, is political cowardice. 

Channeling Malia Obama, ” target=”_hplink”>Norman Lear Center at the martyk@jewishjournal.com.