Alterman latches onto a Friedman column that denounces both Obama and Speaker Boehner for "walking away" from negotiations and not taking their respective cases to the people so they can pressure their representatives into bargaining. For Alterman that's a meaningless demand; Friedman may as well try to "make" Republicans compromise. He seems to miss Friedman's point, or his desire, which is to have someone decisively discredit the GOP/Tea Party position, as Obama is failing to do. He also seems to prove Friedman's point about Democrats when he dismisses the idea of placing Medicare and Social Security cuts on the table. Doing so, Alterman protests, would "give away his party's political advantages" and force "a much tougher election fight" on Democrats. How can Alterman say that Obama is already offering the "Grand Bargain" in one paragraph and say that he shouldn't in the next?
The obvious answer is that Alterman doesn't believe in the Grand Bargain or any bargain, but in total victory for the Democratic party. What Alterman objects to is Friedman's existence that the two-party system, rather than the Republican party alone, is responsible for the present political impasse. He accuses Friedman of sharing the President's own fantasy of "bipartisan harmony," while dismissing Friedman's tripartisan (for starters) option as a "magical solution." For Alterman, Friedman's third-party advocacy somehow defeats the his purpose of "calling on voters to elect more candidates who agree with the agenda the columnist espouses." It's obvious enough to Alterman, of course, that the easiest way to that goal is to go all in for the Democratic party. The only thing needful in his mind is to attack and defeat Republicans. Then all will be right with the United States. Tell that to the occupiers who enjoyed the blessings of sensitive, egalitarian Democratic rule in Atlanta and Oakland last week.
Friedman's own view, right or wrong, is that Obama has reacted to Republican intransigence by moving, however slowly, in an irresponsibly leftist direction away from the kind of Grand Bargain that Friedman readily affirms that the President had advocated. Friedman doesn't see politics as the Republican party vs. the Forces of Good. Instead, he suspects that Bipolarchy guarantees that Republican intransigence will be answered by Democratic intransigence. Writing on October 4, Friedman made fairly clear what he hopes a "radical center" challenge to Bipolarchy can accomplish. His wildest hope is that a strong independent campaign would actually pull both major parties toward the center.
[I]nstead of a race between the Democratic left and the Republican right — in which the whole country would lose because the winner would not have had a mandate for the real change we need — we would have ... a race between the Democratic center, independents and the Republican center. Then the whole country would win. Because whoever captured the presidency would have a mandate to actually implement some version of the Grand Bargain needed to get growth going again — and growth is the only sustainable cure for unemployment, the deficit and inequality.
As long as we assume that Friedman really means "moderation" and not split-the-difference "centrism," this seems like a better option than placing all our chips on the Democrats as Alterman wants. But third-partyism on the "left" would still be a better option than the stand-pat Bipolarchy stance Alterman insists upon. He actually expresses disappointment with Democrats pretty often, but his ultimate attitude is reactionary complacency. His is the world of perpetual enmity between Democrats and Republicans, without even the thought of ultimate victory -- for then what would hold the Democrats together? His world is the one we live in now, and his attitude as a Democratic propagandist against Thomas Friedman is hardly different from the attitude of Democratic hacks across the country toward the Occupy movement, or to anyone who dares suggest that another world is possible.