Thomas Friedman’s Michael Bloomberg Fetish

Thomas Friedman is fantasizing about Michael Bloomberg again.

New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman had a bad day the other day and brought his temper tantrum to the Op-Ed pages of nation’s paper of record:

I had to catch a train in Washington last week. The paved street in the traffic circle around Union Station was in such poor condition that I felt as though I was on a roller coaster. I traveled on the Amtrak Acela, our sorry excuse for a fast train, on which I had so many dropped calls on my cellphone that you’d have thought I was on a remote desert island, not traveling from Washington to New York City. When I got back to Union Station, the escalator in the parking garage was broken. Maybe you’ve gotten used to all this and have stopped noticing. I haven’t. Our country needs a renewal.

And that is why I still hope Michael Bloomberg will reconsider running for president as an independent candidate, if only to participate in the presidential debates and give our two-party system the shock it needs.

So let me see if I’ve got this right. Thomas Friedman books a seat on the Acela (average round trip business class fare about $200), didn’t like the condition of the street in front of Union Station, had a couple dropped cell phone calls (cell phone coverage, by the way, not even being something that Amtrak or the government has control over), and then has to use the stairs to get to his car when he gets back to D.C., so now he concludes that the Republic will perish unless the rather unimpressive billionaire Mayor of New York runs for President. It is probably worth pointing out that one of the inconvenience that troubled Friedman’s journey so much was, as David Weigel points out, directly related to a multi-million dollar repair and renovation project currently taking place at Union Station? I thought Tom Friedman was in favor of infrastructure projects. Perhaps that needs to be modified to Tom Friedman is in favor of infrastructure projects that don’t inconvenience him too much.

But, wait, there’s more. Friedman argues that Bloomberg’s greatness is such that he doesn’t even need to win the election:

Bloomberg doesn’t have to win to succeed — or even stay in the race to the very end. Simply by running, participating in the debates and doing respectably in the polls — 15 to 20 percent — he could change the dynamic of the election and, most importantly, the course of the next administration, no matter who heads it. By running on important issues and offering sensible programs for addressing them — and showing that he had the support of the growing number of Americans who describe themselves as independents — he would compel the two candidates to gravitate toward some of his positions as Election Day neared. And, by taking part in the televised debates, he could impose a dose of reality on the election that would otherwise be missing. Congress would have to take note.

It’s ironic that this column should appear today, because it was just yesterday that Atrios, celebrating the 10th anniversary of his blog Eschaton, named Thomas Friedman Wanker of the Decade:

Friedman possesses all of the qualities that make a pundit truly wankerific. He fetishizes a false “centrism” which is basically whatever Tom Friedman likes, imagining the Friedman agenda is both incredibly popular in the country and lacking any support from our current politicians, when in fact the opposite is usually true. Washington worships at the altar of the agenda of false centrism, and people often hate it. Problems abroad, even ones which really have nothing to do with us, should be solved by war, and problems at home should be solved by increasing the suffering of poor and middle class people. Even though one political party is pretty much implementing, or trying to implement, 99.999999% of the Friedman agenda, what we really need is a third party catering precisely to this silent majority of Friedmanites.

Nothing sums this aspect of Friedman’s special brand of “Wankerishness” than his bizarre fascination with the idea that people outside of the New York Times newsroom and the Acela corridor actually think that Michael Bloomberg would make a good President, or that he would garner anything near the 15-20 percent of the vote that Friedman fantasizes about here. This isn’t Perot circa 1992 and 1996 and there’s no reason to believe that the American people have a great longing for a short, sometimes grumpy, billionaire from New York City whose tenure has been characterized largely by things like banning trans-fat from city restaurants. More likely than not, there are large numbers of people who have never really heard of him to begin with, or at least don’t know much of anything about his record. As I’ve made not of before, he may be the Mayor of America’s largest city, but he has a far lower public profile that Ed Koch or Rudy Giuliani did during their time in office.

The more important question is where exactly Bloomberg would be popular enough to have an impact on the election. Does anyone actually think that even the New Yorkers who voted for him three times are going to pick him over Barack Obama> Of course they aren’t. Unless you’re going to create a nation of 300 million Thomas Friedmans (and how annoying would that be?), there’s simply no reason to believe that this idea of an all-knowning East Coast Technocrat in the White House is going to appeal to anyone, even compared to Mitt Romney and Barack Obama.

Expect more of this nonsense from Friedman and his ilk as we get closer to the election. By September, I expect him to be writing columns bemoaning how much better the race would be if we’d just listened to him and if Saint Bloomberg had run. But Bloomberg isn’t going to run and, even if he did, he’d never get anywhere near the level of support that Friedman fantasizes about. So at this point I suggest that Mr. Friedman just plan on writing in his own name in November, because it’s pretty clear that the only person that Thomas Friedman thinks belongs in the White House is Thomas Friedman.

Authors Note: There have been a few stylistic changes made to this post since it was originally published, none of which changed the content.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Paul L. says:

    I would support Michael Bloomberg running for president as an independent candidate.
    He would push Gun Control to the forefront and Obama would have to follow his lead to please his base.

  2. MBunge says:

    “Nothing sums this aspect of Friedman’s special brand of “Wankerishness””

    I must strongly disagree. In my view, nothing embodies the wanktastic nature of Friedman than the fact that Barack Obama actually supports and has promoted most of the ideas and policies that Friedman claims to believe in. For Friedman to acknowledge that, however, would deny him his desired role as “smartest guy in the room”.


  3. Jay Dubbs says:

    Bloomberg might be enough to tip the election to Romney by taking away Obama voters in PA, NH, and FL. (Possibly OH or OR, too.)

    But his entry would have the opposite effect than TF posits. Having a third candidiate that might pull moderates who supported Obama in 08, but are now on the fence, would force Romnety to campaign more to his base. Instead of trying to woo the swing voters, Romney would focus on the base and their concerns.

    And last time I checked, the base of the GOP is pretty much against almost everything that TF dreams should occur in America.

  4. @Jay Dubbs:

    There is absolutely no evidence that Bloomberg would pull enough support to put states like PA, FL, or OH into Romney’s column

  5. Franklin says:

    I think you underestimate the power of money if you don’t think a billionaire could generate some significant support.

  6. Ben Wolf says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Agreed: Bloomberg is simply not a viable candidate, nor has he been a particularly good mayor unless you count turning New York City into a quasi-police state hostile to the poor and people objecting to Michael Bloomberg.

    Friedman himself has set stratospheric records in being wrong about virtually everything, as a professional ass-kisser shmoozing with the powerful and as an jerk. Yet he’ll continue to be taken seriously by the elites which rule the country because in America, the powerful and well-connected aren’t allowed to fail. Ever.

  7. DC Loser says:

    Friedman aside, the fact is our transportation infrastructure sucks and is on its way to becoming Third Worldish if nothing is done to modernize it. Acela is an expensive joke compared to what’s available in every other developed country and even some developing countries. Our mobile phone service also sucks compared to other countries. There’s just no getting around those facts.

  8. Gustopher says:

    Perhaps this column was Friedman’s deliberate, tongue-in-cheek way of celebrating being named Wanker Of The Decade. It’s a little hard to believe that Atrios would be so completely spot on with his criticisms and so very timely.

    And, Atrios does love trains. His fondness and longing for high speed rail is a common theme. It’s a little too perfect that Friedman would take this moment to pause from his praise of Bloomberg to criticize our rail system.

    Could the mustache be hiding a smirk?

  9. legion says:

    Bloomberg in NYC is a big fish in a medium-sized pond. Coming onto the GOP ticket, even as a billionaire, would suddenly make him a medium-sized fish in a very big pond – I don’t think he’d last much longer than Palin did before he started self-destructing in public…

  10. PD Shaw says:

    Vote for Thomas Friedman — the trains will run on time and no pothole will be too small.

  11. legion says:

    @Gustopher: No, Friedman really is that big an idiot. He, like pretty much 100% of the higher tier of Professional Opinions, simply assumes that any thought that comes into his head is pure, unadulterated TRUTH, and he then writes a column full of things he’s found that support his preconceived notions, regardless of how painfully obvious it may be that he’s just wrong. Like the blind squirrel, he’s found just enough acorns over the years to keep certain people convinced he’s not a total moron, but he’s really just an undirected gasbag.

  12. JKB says:

    Yes, we need Mr. gun control in the race, Mr. nanny state and Mr. failed government services (or has everyone forgotten, Bloomberg couldn’t get the streets plowed).

    And he can highlight the NYPD’s stop and harass policy for poor minorities and the hunger game that minorities play walking down the street when the cops need to get their drug busts up before review. Really, what’s a little planted evidence and destroyed lives when the alternative is being put back in uniform.

    Oh, and let’s not forget, NYC can’t even fill the hole left by the 9/11 attack some 10 years later.

    But he should run, his rabid gun control actions (while enjoying taxpayer provided heavily armed security) would be enough to get Fast and Furious into the MSM just in time for the election.

  13. WR says:

    What’s especially typical of Friedman is that his hook for supporting Bloomberg is that he thinks we need a candidate who will bring up important topics like repairing America’s infrastructure. But, as with all of the important topics Friedman wants discussed, Obama and the congressional Democrats have been pushing infrastructure bills for a couple of years now, only to see each one blocked by fanatical, anti-spending Republicans. And Friedman’s solution is, as always, to find a third party that will espouse everything Obama wants, but won’t be Obama or a Democrat.

  14. Jay Dubbs says:

    @Doug Mataconis: Bloomberg could play the role of Nader is some close races. Here in Florida he would also have some Jewish New Yorker appeal, which might also play in the suburbs of Philly and Cleveland. If he could get 5% he might be able to swing the state. Those areas should otherwise be solid for Obama.

    Of course, the real question is why TF insists on a thrid party over the party that actually supports his positions.

  15. @Paul L.:

    He would push Gun Control to the forefront and Obama would have to follow his lead to please his base.

    There’s a reason no prominent democrats talk about gun control anymore. They know that, at the national level, it’s a losing issue for them.

  16. WR says:

    @Jay Dubbs: “Of course, the real question is why TF insists on a thrid party over the party that actually supports his positions.”

    Because the Democratic Party won’t rename itself the Thomas Friedman party.

  17. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The real irony here is that Friedman is not even the most airheaded and fatuous columnist for the NYT Co. Maureen Dowd and Frank Rich both make Friedman look like a cross between Edward R. Murrow and Harry S Truman.

  18. Y’know, Doug, you often take criticism for being too eager to play the “both sides are equally to blame!” card, but this is a fine takedown of Mr. Both Sides Are to Blame. Nice work.

    No one with an empirical bent reads op-ed writers, with rare exceptions, out of a desire to learn new insight and perspectives. We do it out of sociological curiosity, to see what farce elite opinionmakers are about to inflict on us.

    Part of the “centrist” pose of folks like Friedman and Joe Klein is slagging unions, particularly on the issue of firing teachers. But the issue of lifetime tenure for pundits has been much more catastrophic for America than lifetime tenure for teachers. What negative consequences whatsoever has anyone, like Friedman, Keller, Cohen, Krauthammer, et al, suffered for their falsehood-ridden, egregiously unwise columns urging us to occupy Iraq? Incentives matter. So what’s to stop the brain trust from unleashing yet more catastrophes on the American public?

  19. M. Bouffant says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:

    Frank Rich hasn’t typed for The Times since March 2011. The Tsar is as well informed as ever.

  20. Anderson says:

    But who *likes* Friedman? Who buys his books? That’s what’s scary.

  21. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @M. Bouffant: I think you just unwittingly and ironically augmented my point.

  22. WR says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Yes, by pointing out you have no idea what you’re talking about, he made the point that you try to make in every comment — that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

  23. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @WR: Are you his caddy, Chief? Why are you so presumptuous to believe M. Bouffant can’t argue for himself? In any event, FYI, I’ve made a living off of not having any idea what I’m talking about but talking nonetheless. That’s what being a lawyer is all about. They don’t pay us $400-$500 per hour for our good looks and our charming personalities. 😉

  24. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tsar Nicholas: Ahh, the old “I make money therefore I’m a genius” argument. And people wonder why the country is going to hell.

  25. Tillman says:

    In any event, FYI, I’ve made a living off of not having any idea what I’m talking about but talking nonetheless.

    Ah, the best living one could ever make.

    @Ben Wolf: He was arguing that?

  26. Ben Wolf says:

    @Tillman: That was his attempt at sarcasm. If you spend time here you’ll find Czar of all the Romulans is a certified expert on everything.

  27. An Interested Party says:

    The Tsar is as well informed as ever.

    Considering how many people he claims to not be aware of, it’s amazing that he even knows the names Thomas Freidman, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich…

    In any event, FYI, I’ve made a living off of not having any idea what I’m talking about but talking nonetheless. That’s what being a lawyer is all about. They don’t pay us $400-$500 per hour for our good looks and our charming personalities.

    Your mother is very generous in the amounts of money she gives you while you are living in her basement…

  28. Poor Tom needs to reinvent his brand.

  29. Rob in CT says:

    Tom Friedman is a morally bankrupt moron.

  30. matthew says:

    @Jay Dubbs: Speaking as an Oregonian who lives in New York, I can promise you Bloomberg would attract approximately zero percent of the vote from the liberal half of the state.

  31. Barry says:

    @Gustopher: “And, Atrios does love trains. His fondness and longing for high speed rail is a common theme. It’s a little too perfect that Friedman would take this moment to pause from his praise of Bloomberg to criticize our rail system.”

    And one party likes infrastructure, and one party hates it. It’s clear which one is which, unless one is The Mustache of Wankerdom.