Tom Friedman, Our One-Party Democracy, and the clean energy jobs message

Any first-time visitors from Tom Friedman’s column can go here for “An Introduction to Climate Progress.”

“China is going to eat our lunch and take our jobs on clean energy “” an industry that we largely invented “” and they are going to do it with a managed economy we don’t have and don’t want,” said Joe Romm, who writes the blog,

The only way for us to match them is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

This is from Friedman’s column, “Our One-Party Democracy,” which he previewed on Meet the Press Sunday.

The jobs argument is a core message for winning the public debate about the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill.

Friedman is a centrist who advances the argument because he knows it is true, because he understands climate science is real, and because he is a hard-core capitalist who sees the tough dynamic the U.S. is facing in the global economy.  If you’re not first, you’re probably last.

The importance of the clean energy jobs message is evidenced by the fact that the corporate polluters and their right-wing allies in the media will do anything to kill it, from publishing phony studies attacking clean energy jobs to pushing their vile assault on Van Jones, who has been a leading articulator of the message (see “Fox News blurts out its agenda: “Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through”¦. First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these groups trillions,” and then put “the whole corrupt ‘green jobs’ concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream”).

How else do we know the clean energy jobs message is crucial?  Obama also uses it at every opportunity, including his recent Labor Day speech.  In spite of the media’s strong desire to push the message that Obama has lost interest in the climate and clean energy bill, once again he said:

We have to build a new foundation for prosperity in America”¦.An America where energy reform creates green jobs that can never be outsourced and that finally frees America from the grip of foreign oil.

And here’s yet another way to frame the job message — from Obama again (4/22):

The choice we face is not between saving our environment and saving our economy. The choice we face is between prosperity and decline”¦  We can allow climate change to wreak unnatural havoc across the landscape, or we can create jobs working to prevent its worst effects”¦.  The nation that leads the world in creating new energy sources will be the nation that leads the 21st-century global economy.

And Obama again (3/19):

We can let the jobs of tomorrow be created abroad, or we can create those jobs right here in America and lay the foundation for our lasting prosperity.

Another way to frame the message that polls well is :

Opponents of bill – oil companies, special interests – fighting against energy reform
“¢ They’ve made America less secure, and more dependent on foreign oil.
“¢ They’ve protected corporations that pollute the air our children breathe and water they drink.
“¢ This bill protects the American people – by creating 1.7 million new jobs and reducing our dependence on foreign oil.

The international competitiveness argument works — but as it turns out, it works best if it is linked directly to the loss of American jobs. This paragraph tests very well in polling of swing voters:

China has a million workers in the clean energy economy. India is doubling their clean energy market in 4 years. Germany is creating nearly three hundred thousand clean energy jobs. If we do nothing, America will lose its competitive edge and American jobs will continue to go overseas

Of course, the jobs message isn’t the only one to use to push the clean air, clean water, clean energy jobs bill.  I’ll discuss those other core messages in future posts.

Let me end this post by excerpting the Friedman column:

Watching both the health care and climate/energy debates in Congress, it is hard not to draw the following conclusion: There is only one thing worse than one-party autocracy, and that is one-party democracy, which is what we have in America today.

One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages. That one party can just impose the politically difficult but critically important policies needed to move a society forward in the 21st century. It is not an accident that China is committed to overtaking us in electric cars, solar power, energy efficiency, batteries, nuclear power and wind power. China’s leaders understand that in a world of exploding populations and rising emerging-market middle classes, demand for clean power and energy efficiency is going to soar. Beijing wants to make sure that it owns that industry and is ordering the policies to do that, including boosting gasoline prices, from the top down.

Our one-party democracy is worse. The fact is, on both the energy/climate legislation and health care legislation, only the Democrats are really playing. With a few notable exceptions, the Republican Party is standing, arms folded and saying “no.” Many of them just want President Obama to fail. Such a waste. Mr. Obama is not a socialist; he’s a centrist. But if he’s forced to depend entirely on his own party to pass legislation, he will be whipsawed by its different factions.

Look at the climate/energy bill that came out of the House. Its sponsors had to work twice as hard to produce this breakthrough cap-and-trade legislation. Why? Because with basically no G.O.P. representatives willing to vote for any price on carbon that would stimulate investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, the sponsors had to rely entirely on Democrats….  Thank goodness, it is still a bill worth passing.  But it could have been much better

The only way for us to match them [China] is by legislating a rising carbon price along with efficiency and renewable standards that will stimulate massive private investment in clean-tech. Hard to do with a one-party democracy.

The G.O.P. used to be the party of business. Well, to compete and win in a globalized world, no one needs the burden of health insurance shifted from business to government more than American business. No one needs immigration reform “” so the world’s best brainpower can come here without restrictions “” more than American business. No one needs a push for clean-tech “” the world’s next great global manufacturing industry “” more than American business. Yet the G.O.P. today resists national health care, immigration reform and wants to just drill, baby, drill.

“Globalization has neutered the Republican Party, leaving it to represent not the have-nots of the recession but the have-nots of globalized America, the people who have been left behind either in reality or in their fears,” said Edward Goldberg, a global trade consultant who teaches at Baruch College. “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and the technology entrepreneur to reconsider what the Republican Party has to offer. In principle, they have left the party, leaving behind not a pragmatic coalition but a group of ideological naysayers.”

13 Responses to Tom Friedman, Our One-Party Democracy, and the clean energy jobs message

  1. Jeff Young says:

    “…when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today…”

    Hmmm. Let’s consult with a few Chinese political prisoners, pro-Democracy and environmental activists on that “reasonably enlightened” bit. Oh, right, we can’t because the reasonably enlightened leaders of the country don’t allow them freedom of speech. I understand Friedman’s desire to make nice-nice with China in this delicate phase of climate talks. (Heck, even Pelosi swallowed her criticism of China’s human rights record, and Hillary Clinton put such concerns on the far back burner.) But it does make one wonder just how much abuse of our fellow humans we are willing to overlook as we seek agreement in other important areas.

    [JR: I think he meant relatively — compared to, say, Mao, or, say, Putin. Or maybe W.]

  2. Jeff Huggins says:

    Schizophrenic New York Times — Do Your Job

    Bravo to Tom Friedman and Bravo to Paul Krugman, in most ways anyhow except a very big and apparently necessary one.

    The New York Times is NOT doing its job in terms of providing the news itself (in the news articles) in a way that genuinely lives up to serving the public good on the climate and energy problems.

    Any sane and thorough analysis of The New York Times over the last two years will prove the point.

    Given the stakes involved and the immense responsibility of the media (including The New York Times) to the public, and given that Tom and Paul are both on record (many times, thank goodness) showing that they both understand the vital gravity of the matter, at this point I ask this:

    Tom and Paul, you should (quite literally) march up to the top floor and talk some sense into Keller or the owners or whoever it takes: The paper needs to shift paradigms when it comes to how it covers the climate and energy matters, and fast. It needs to go from about a D- (or whatever you want to call a grade that, however it might feel, will ultimately fail to solidly serve the public interest) to at least an A, and there’s no good reason why the paper shouldn’t strive for an A+.

    My point involves ALL aspects of the matter, so I won’t detail them all here. (But let me know if you have questions.) For present purposes, I’ll just point to one of the most glaring problems: Any analysis of The Times over the last two years that compares the size and frequency and “content” of the messages that ExxonMobil has conveyed to the public IN The Times, often on the front page, and other times in double-page spreads, to the actual straightforward and illuminating coverage of ExxonMobil (the world’s most profitable company, whose products generate over a Trillion pounds of CO2 annually) that The Times has offered the public will show a dismal and depressing imbalance that would be impossible to justify with any combination of reasoning and ethics. Impossible. The imbalance is SO large. It is SO plain.

    And it is Highly Damaging.

    The New York Times is the “author” of its own credibility, and unlike the cases of many other sorts of companies, the evidence always exists in writing, daily, for all to see and for people in the future to analyze. In other words, The New York Times can’t fool people about what it wrote or didn’t write. And the record is plainly dismal at this point, relative to what these issues call for and relative to any sensible definition of serving the public interest responsibly.

    So Paul and Tom, please do something. March up the stairs together. When you do, please let us know that you’ve done so. I hope it works.

    Thanks for your columns.

    Be Well,


  3. Gail says:

    Here’s a delightful smackdown of our one-party system:

    And kudos to you JoeR!

  4. ecostew says:

    A smart growth guide for coastal and waterfront communities:

  5. Rockfish says:

    I gotta go with Jeff on this one – just because a brutal and inhumane autocracy has a climate policy does not in any way make them “enlightened.” Would Friedman say this about Iran if they put up a few solar panels?

    Unfortunately, it is myopia like this that provides endless ammunition for critics of progressives, environmentalists, etc.

    [JR: You can choose to read Friedman’s column that way if you want, but I don’t think it is quite fair. “One-party autocracy certainly has its drawbacks. But when it is led by a reasonably enlightened group of people, as China is today, it can also have great advantages.” Friedman is no apologist for what China is doing wrong.]

  6. Peter Sergienko says:

    Friedman could have substituted “pragmatic” or “rational” for the term “reasonably enlightened” or more carefully tied his description of China’s “reasonably enlightened” leadership to China’s industrial policies (as opposed to human rights or other policies), but this quibble shouldn’t distract us from his main points: China is aggressively pursuing industrial policies that attract foreign capital, provide relatively high quality employment for a significant proportion of its citizenry, and result in the manufacture of essential goods for the 21st century global economy. Interestingly, China can do this even though a significant proportion of its workers are employed in the fossil fuel industries.

    What’s our policy response? To the extent we’ve had an industrial policy prior to the Obama administration, it has favored the ownership class and the outsourcing of jobs to China and other countries where (ignoring externalities) labor and regulatory compliance are comparatively cheap. Joe has done an excellent job in recent months explaining how targeted stimulus spending, cap and trade legislation, and health care reform can help rebuild and reconfigure our manufacturing base to create good, sustainable jobs that will allow U.S. firms and U.S. products to compete effectively. Friedman sees this path, too, and asks if we have the political will to see it through or, instead, we proceed with politics as usual and cede this ground to China.

  7. paulm says:

    There is a lot of ‘wrong’ going on in the US also. Different societies have to evolve in different ways. In the overall scheme of things, it might be the right path for a nation of 1.3 billion diverse peoples.

    The GOP have lost the plot. Where is there leadership?

  8. Jeff Huggins says:

    As I’ve posted (in a bit more detail) in the more recent thread, I’d like to know if The New York Times will give suitably prominent coverage to Dr. Stern’s recent comment about 350 ppm AND to the important (and also newsworthy) fact that Dr. Pachauri came out in support of 350 ppm. Where’s the coverage, New York Times?

  9. David B. Benson says:

    Jeff Huggins (8) — You might obtain a desired response from TNYT by communicating with Andy Revkin, or even just posting such messages on his blog. Isuspect that, unfortunately, TNYT editors do not read comments here on Climate Progress.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    Hi David (Comment 9),

    Thanks for your comment.

    Yes, I comment frequently on Dot Earth, and I’ve shared these views with Andy. I’ve been asking The New York Times to improve its coverage for well over a year now, in as many fact-based ways I can think of.

    Because of my background, one of my most substantial focuses related to all this is the ExxonMobil problem and, more broadly, the oil matter. I’ve sent an information packet, including a DVD “presentation” of various analyses, regarding ExxonMobil to over 40 people in the media, relevant climate organizations, some media watch-dog organizations, and related folks. I sent four of them to The New York Times — one to Andy, one to Jad Mouawad (who sometimes covers ExxonMobil), one to Paul Krugman at Princeton, and one to Thomas Friedman.

    (If any of them didn’t receive theirs, they can contact me and I’ll send another.)

    Although the DVD is over two hours long, and not professionally produced, it is full of relevant information, analyses, “connecting of dots”, and relevant points. In other words, it should be well worthwhile for anyone to watch who genuinely wants to be able to shed light on ExxonMobil to the public.

    So, I’m hoping that somebody in the media — and ideally many people (as should be the case!) — will want to provide the public will excellent coverage and a full understanding of the matter.

    I’ll continue to ask Andy to cover the matter and to seek to have The New York Times cover the matter in the paper itself.

    Thanks David!

    Be Well,


  11. Jeff Huggins says:

    Addendum to My Comment 10

    By the way, I should add two things to my Comment 10, for clarity’s sake:

    When I say that the media should cover “the matter” much better, I’m talking about ExxonMobil, oil, and related matters as they relate to the climate and energy problems. I’m NOT talking about covering the DVD itself, or me, or anything like that . . . just to be clear, in case that wasn’t clear already.

    And, I’ve also sent the DVD to Joe (and a few other media organizations and climate cause organizations). So, one way or another, people should begin covering ExxonMobil thoroughly. There are many things to “see” and understand regarding ExxonMobil, and the problem (of course) is MUCH more current, substantial, real, and problematic than what is sometimes covered, which is that they may have funded such-and-such denialist organization two years ago. Indeed, the media’s fleeting excitement over things like that shows that the media aren’t doing basic homework well. One can see MUCH LARGER problems, and much more disturbing things, by simply reading their reports, understanding what the statistics say, comparing what they say to the public to what their statistics show, and so forth, and that’s just the beginning. So, we will see in coming weeks how much the media care about what the world’s most profitable company is up to, really, with respect to the major issue of our times.



  12. herman says:

    the only thing worse than a one-party press is a one-party press with pretensions. those who think the Times is doing a bad job are wrong. doing that “bad job” is their job. If Obama said we were to leave Iraq, Af-Pak etc. and hug a tree while we set up single-payer, he would have overwhelming public support for each. But it is his mission to deflect those desires, as it is the Times. That is what a “centrist” does.
    “America will lose its competitive edge”–this is the nonsense at the heart of the problem, the a priori of Friedman’s arguments. Capitalism first, therefore planetary well-being is somewhere down the list.

  13. herman says:

    “The need to compete in a globalized world has forced the meritocracy, the multinational corporate manager, the eastern financier and …”
    So they buy themselves a new team called Democrats. This is meaningless for the great unwashed and for planetary health. Its still the same zero-sum game and the planet loses.