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Shadow wonk

"Shadow wonk" Continued...

Issue: "Schock factor," Jan. 31, 2009

Friedman also shows why the Russian bear is able to throw around its hefty weight: "In an energy-hungry world, Russia's energy exports are like heroin. It addicts countries once they start using it." Predictions are perilous, though, because actions large and small always have unanticipated consequences. For example, the United States in the 1950s started building an Interstate Highway System for purposes of national defense, but fast roads to downtown led to a burgeoning of distant suburbs.

The further out Friedman goes, the more speculative his forecasts become. He argues that Mexico, Turkey, and Poland-Poland?-will become great powers. He predicts economic turns that seem inherently unpredictable: "The years around 2040 will be a flush time in the United States." He speaks of rising Japanese power and has fun with science fiction in an amusing section about U.S. space-based weapons facing a sneak attack from Japanese missiles hidden on the backside of the moon.

But why not? Hari Selden made predictions and so can Friedman, if his belief in the limits of leadership is true. He writes about decisions made by Franklin Roosevelt or Ronald Reagan, "Reality dictated this evolution." But can't leaders disregard reality, and don't we often act irrationally? In fiction Hari Selden could anticipate that certain crises would produce wise leaders; therefore, individuals did not have to abstain from action because it might be that action on which a psychohistorical projection depends. But in life, can leaders be both trapped and godlike?

Friedman is a political conservative unfazed by the election of Barack Obama over John McCain, because he predicted that outcomes in Iraq and other key areas would be the same no matter the winner: "The patterns are too powerful, too deeply rooted in fundamental forces." Friedman acknowledges that an Obama administration will be a good test of his theory (although, of course, we'll never know what a McCain administration might have done).

And that theory implicitly brings questions about the purpose of politics and even the purpose of life. Why work hard for a candidate (who's probably a windbag) if all that effort is merely a striving after the wind, as Ecclesiastes contends? Why develop new concepts, if ideas have little effect on history? Why do anything in life?

Friedman's motives are not easy to peg. He's a patriot, loyal to the country that has sheltered him. He's also a pragmatist who argues that we all live on a slippery slope between total immorality and the perfect impotence of perfect morality, so what matters to him is not a moral stance but the ability to act decisively. (He praises Winston Churchill for defeating one monster, Adolf Hitler, by allying with another, Josef Stalin, and then working to defeat Stalin.)

Yet Friedman, coming from a secular Jewish background, is perhaps most an existentialist. Desiring to set an example of bold living, he praises the honesty to "believe what you see, even when you're laughed at," and to "profoundly and deeply not care what people think of you." That's good-it distinguishes him from the herd of television pundits-but I like to think he is seeking even more.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.


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