The Open Left and Tom Friedman

I gave my first public speech yesterday at the Personal Democracy Forum, following Dana Boyd.  The speaker before Dana was Tom Friedman.  The topic of my speech was the origin of the open left, and you can find the text here. I hope they put the video online, because the text of the speech is different from what I actually said.  The basic narrative is that the story of the open left is the story of betrayal.

My speaking technique is as follows.  It all has to start with an amusing or interesting anecdote that illustrates a basic point, so I write and rewrite a bunch of different thoughts, anecdotes, and quotes that I want to highlight.  Then I work on writing out a speech, using the anecdote as narrative anchor.  I rewrite it.  Then I rewrite it again.  And then I give the speech to myself, and as I'm giving it I'm also rewriting it.  If I use slides, I always try to use pictures that illustrate a point and not bullet points of text, which only distract from the speaking piece.  And then I give the speech a few more times, rewriting so it gets smoother every time.  As I'm practicing the speech, I'm internalizing the different points, so that I can begin to riff and keep the timing tight and coherent.  My weakness is that I often wander when speaking or writing, which is an outgrowth of inadequate preparation.

Finally, I print out a full copy of the speech in a big font, and use that as a guide to how I'm going to talk.  During the speech itself, I try to start with a literal reading of the intro so that I'm confident at the start (which sets a tone), and then I tend to riff off of the ideas in the speech.  I usually throw out a large part of the speech as I'm talking, because there's still a lot of extraneous stuff in there.

Anyway, my weakness, and this is a function of my blogging and a lack of commitment to anecdote in my writing, is that I don't have enough crisp anecdotes and examples that illustrate my points.  I have to work on this, so expect more anecdotes in my blogging.  If I'm confident in my preparation, the speech should go well.  If I'm not, it's boring or awkward.  All speaking engagements - TV, radio, in person - operate the same way.  I recently screwed up an appearance on radio riffing on the Republican debate because I didn't have a lot of insight and hadn't prepared adequately.  That's not going to happen again, because I've learned that you either know what you're talking about or you don't, and making it up when you're there does not work.

Yesterday, I did reasonably.  What frustrated me is that I wanted to go after Tom Friedman aggressively, but I did not.  He said in his speech that the biggest competitive challenge in the future will be between you and your imagination, and so I wanted to make a joke about him sounding like an Epcot ride.  I sort of flubbed it.  What I should have said is that Friedman holds a special place in my development.  I took a class from him at college on 'globalization', and read most of his books.  In 2002, he and Ken Pollack were the two people that I relied on for guidance with regards to Iraq.  I trusted him.  I believed in him.  And he got it one hundred percent wrong.  And while honest people tend to admit their mistakes, and when the mistake is particularly soaked in blood, do a lot of soul-searching and apologizing, he never has.  My mistake in looking at the Iraq war still pains me, and though I was a 24 year old kid with no experience in foreign policy or politics, my gullibility and the betrayal from my former guides still colors my thinking.  For someone like Friedman, who should know better and occupies the most valuable opinion space in the world, it's stunningly immoral to pretend to having no responsibility in this quagmire.  All of us are responsible, and the first step is to admit error.  Maybe if I said this he finally would have understood where we come from, though I doubt it.  But I didn't say it.

I was really tired because I had been up since 3:30 in the morning working on my speech, and so I didn't have the composure to say what I should have said with him in the audience.  I hadn't prepared for it, and my preparation takes a lot of time and effort.  But I wish I had figured it out anyway.  I guess what I'm saying is that I am not a shy person, and I tend to be a no-bullshit type.  I don't mind criticizing powerful people, in person, to their face.  I've done it before, to Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Mark Halperin, and John Cornyn, though I've learned to be respectful about it or else they know to ignore you.  But I didn't seize this opportunity when I could have.  People make mistakes.  I know I do.  And I'm pretty hard on other when they err.  But know that I believe that criticism, including self-criticism, is actually a spur to achievement and not destructive.  And so that's the spirit in which I hope all of us can learn to debate, with an open mind, a civil tone, a tolerance for error, but a withering contempt for bad faith.

Tags: Personal Democracy Forum, tom friedman (all tags)




You'll get him next time - the way things work, he's not going away anytime soon.

by Ugluks Flea 2007-05-19 07:30AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

Getting up at 3:30 to work on your speech probably left you a little slow on your feet. It seems to me that you would have been better off working less and sleeping later. It's better to be quick on your feet than rewriting your speech another 2 times.

You may be too damn young to have enough good anecdotes to use the way you intend. If you don't have the material, don't try to force that speaking technique on it. Don't put the vehicle ahead of substance.

by FishOutofWater 2007-05-19 07:36AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

Perfecting one's speaking approach takes time & various experiences to reflect on. Its just great to have you out there punching away. I don't think you would have had an impact on Friedman (he's so full of himself & his opinions on globalizaation are so shallow as to be meaningless. Ditto Iraq. His popularity is due to his writing well, in his simple/down to earth style, rather than having  meaningful things to say).

BTW, what school did you take courses with him?

by carter1 2007-05-19 08:04AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

'...they know to ignore you...'

Yeah, that about sums up the level of discourse we see from the folks you listed and many, many other members of the 'Democrat Party'. 'Folks' whom from my more distant perspective seem to think they are entitled to their positions and that, no matter what, they will always be in office. Disgust with their business as usual approach to what the ReThugs have done in their long term in power is rampant in the netroots. Who can blame them for this feeling as with most of the nation is still asleep as far as the necessity for real change is concerned 'The Money Party' continues to have it's way.

I would submit that something is going to give in the next year as the current course we are on in Iraq and elsewhere is not sustainable.

by Pericles 2007-05-19 08:39AM | 0 recs
Backhanded compliment

Actually, your backhanded complement of Freidman was one of the better parts of the speech.  

Listening to Friedman interview Schmidt and then drone on as he read from his book was the nadir of the conference, and I don't know anyone who thought Freidman added anything to the day's events.

It might have been sharper, and you could have riffed on it more, but overall it was deserved on his part and well received by the audience, I think.

by Mike Connery 2007-05-19 09:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman
I'd say, if you were a student of Tom Friedman, and you gave that speech, and he was in the room,
then you did say the things that you wished you had said-- you did it in a subtler way, but subtle can be stronger sometimes.
 We were betrayed. The movement has come alive to repudiate the betrayers and we are already powerful.
by syolles 2007-05-19 10:01AM | 0 recs
Re: The Speech writing part
What about if you wrote as if you were writing a post on mydd --with all of the strength and self confidence and intellectual clarity that are in you daily writing -- then added an anecdote if you want for the beginning and/or end?
Speaking is aweful, bu the self-consiousness is the only barrier, I suppose.
by syolles 2007-05-19 10:21AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

What about if you wrote as if you were writing a post on mydd --with all of the strength and self confidence and intellectual clarity that are in you daily writing -- then added an anecdote if you want for the beginning and/or end?
Speaking is aweful, bu the self-consiousness is the only barrier, I suppose.

Sounds like the stuff of a great radio essay. I've been advocating that you and Chris try your hand at writing some essays for NPR. Every evening I turn on NPR Here and Now to hear yet another radio essay from some right wing think thank. The latest was from some guy who said the the only thing Wolfowitz was guilty of was good intentions, and not anticipating that the bad old liberals would stoop to anything to get him, etc...

by johnalive 2007-05-19 10:47AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

And while honest people tend to admit their mistakes, and when the mistake is particularly soaked in blood, do a lot of soul-searching and apologizing, he never has.

He's much worse than that. Not only has he not searched his soul and apologized, he is incredibly resentful that anyone might suggest he needs to do either. Thinkprogress had that extraordinary video of his petulant, sarcastic pseudo-apology for being a "bad liberal", because he dared to advocate freedom for the Iraqi people. I don't think he sank to the point of accusing anti-war people of being racist, but he came damn close.

It was really an extraordinary display of arrogance ivory-towerism.

by BlueinColorado 2007-05-19 11:13AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

It's worse than I remembered. I gave him too much credit. dman-liberals/

Look, I understand people who opposed the war. Some opposed it for military reasons, because they're against war, some opposed it because they hate George Bush, some opposed it because they didn't believe Arabs are capable of democracy. I wasn't in that group. I really believed that finding a different kind of politics in collaboration with people in that region was a really important project.

ASHBROOK: And do you really believe -

FRIEDMAN: I'm really sorry. Next time -- Next time Ishwar [caller], I promise, I really promise, I'll be a better liberal. I'll not in any way support any effort to bring democracy to a country ruled by an oil-backed tyranny. I promise I will never do that again. I promise I'll be a better liberal. I will view the prospect of Arabs forging a democracy as utterly impossible. They're incapable of democracy. I agree with you on that now.

ASHBROOK: You're going to sarcasm. We can feel you've taken your licks on this.

They took the video down, but the audio is bad enough. I think this really is an insight into his warped perspective.

by BlueinColorado 2007-05-19 11:20AM | 0 recs
Please, no shoehorned anecdotes!

You have a great style, clear and unmannered, for the topics and audience you write about and for: I can't see anecdotes (as opposed to examples, a different animal altogether) being any improvement.

Some of us feel that our medicine needs a spoonful of sugar to make it palatable - and tricksify it accordingly.

Not something you need worry about, say I.

by skeptic06 2007-05-19 11:26AM | 0 recs
no shoehorned anecdotes! Keep your own style

A forced anecdote usually leads to a very trite talk. I have heard dozens of pinheaded politicians and putrid preachers use stupid stories and awful anecdotes. It's not a style to emulate.

by FishOutofWater 2007-05-19 01:51PM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

Make your case against Friedman here where you have the time to think it through.  I'd have to go back and reread some of the columns but my memory of what he was saying (his opinion, not mine) was that it was always a huge and risky gamble but that you could make a case for the invasion on humanitarian grounds and as a way to try to get at the root cause of terrorism by providing hope for young Arabs in a reasonably democratic society.  He always ripped Bush for his weak diplomacy and failure to plan for the post invasion.  He always thought that the WMD issue was baloney and was used only to make the war easier to sell here.  His basic argument was that what is the alternative to combatting the cause of terrorism (doing nothing?) and therefore might be worth the cost and risk.  I think he has done some mea culpa by saying that he was probably overly optimistic that democracy could take hold there.    

The issue of combatting terrorism and the causes of terrorism are going to be huge in 2008 because the Republican candidate is going to shove that issue down our candidate's throat.  We are not talking about it now because our candidiates are basically all on the same page.  

I would like to hear your case against Friedman but you need to bring more than a couple of one liners to take on a three time Pulitzer Prize winner and member of the NYT murderers row.  His writings are interesting and creative and I'm glad he's on our side. I am not saying you can't make an argument against him but going after Friedman is big game country.  

by mboehm 2007-05-19 12:17PM | 0 recs
Tom Friedman is vulnerable on Iraq

We had a fundamental conflict of interest in Iraq. Friedman argued democracy and humanitarian relief, but the reality was we wanted the oil. Friedman was either:

1. Naive as Hell about American interests when he wrote about our interest in Democracy. Or:

2. Bullshitting us when he knew damn well our first priority was the oil.

If Friedman wants to save people, send our troops to Darfur.

by FishOutofWater 2007-05-19 01:56PM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

I'm with mboehm. I'd be interested in hearing the "case against Friedman", because I actually think his columns stand up incredibly well. If you were led astray by reading them, you simply weren't reading them well. Some excepts below, all immediately before and after the war began:

Friedman on Sep 1, 2002

As I think about President Bush's plans to take out Saddam Hussein and rebuild Iraq into a democracy, one question gnaws at me: Is Iraq the way it is today because Saddam Hussein is the way he is? Or is Saddam Hussein the way he is because Iraq is the way it is?

I mean, is Iraq a totalitarian dictatorship under a cruel, iron-fisted man because the country is actually an Arab Yugoslavia -- a highly tribalized, artificial state, drawn up by the British, consisting of Shiites in the south, Kurds in the north and Sunnis in the center -- whose historical ethnic rivalries can be managed only by a Saddam-like figure? ...

This is not a reason for not taking Saddam out. It is a reason for preparing the U.S. public for a potentially long, costly nation-building operation and for enlisting as many allies as possible to share the burden...

What's worrying about the Bushies is that they seem much more adept at breaking things than building things. To do nation-building you need to be something of a naïve optimist. I worry that the Bushies are way too cynical for nation-building.

My most knowledgeable Iraqi friend tells me he is confident that the morning after any U.S. invasion, American troops would be welcomed by Iraqis, and the regime would fold quickly. It's the morning after the morning after that we have to be prepared for.

In the best case, a 'nice' strongman will emerge from the Iraqi Army to preside over a gradual transition to democracy, with America receding into a supporting role. In the worst case, we crack Iraq open and it falls apart in our hands, with all its historical internal tensions -- particularly between its long-ruling Sunni minority and its long-frustrated Shiite majority. In that case, George Bush will have to become Iraq's strongman -- the iron fist that holds the country together, gradually redistributes the oil wealth and supervises a much longer transition to democracy.

My Iraqi friend tells me that anyone who tells you he knows which scenario will unfold doesn't know Iraq.


Friedman on Feb 19, 2003

...I am also very troubled by the way Bush officials have tried to justify this war on the grounds that Saddam is allied with Osama bin Laden or will be soon. There is simply no proof of that, and every time I hear them repeat it I think of the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. You don't take the country to war on the wings of a lie.

Tell people the truth. Saddam does not threaten us today. He can be deterred. Taking him out is a war of choice -- but it's a legitimate choice. It's because he is undermining the U.N., it's because if left alone he will seek weapons that will threaten all his neighbors, it's because you believe the people of Iraq deserve to be liberated from his tyranny, and it's because you intend to help Iraqis create a progressive state that could stimulate reform in the Arab/Muslim world, so that this region won't keep churning out angry young people who are attracted to radical Islam and are the real weapons of mass destruction.

That's the case for war -- and it will require years of occupying Iraq and a simultaneous effort to defuse the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to create a regional context for success. If done right, such a war could shrink Al Qaeda's influence -- but Al Qaeda is a separate enemy that will have to be fought separately, and will remain a threat even if Saddam is ousted...


Friedman on March 5, 2003

...Indeed, our own Congress is being asked to suspend belief yet again and accept Mr. Bush's promises that this war, soaring oil prices and a weakening dollar won't bust the budget even more than his tax cuts already have. And when the respected U.S. Army chief of staff wisely cautioned that stabilizing Iraq could require some 200,000 troops, the Bush team told us to ignore him, too. Troubling.

But it's also probably too late. For Mr. Bush and for the U.S., the costs of leaving Saddam in place -- having made Washington blink and abandon its allies in the region -- would be enormous. I suspect that when the small group of war hawks persuaded Mr. Bush to begin a huge troop buildup in the gulf back in July -- without consulting Congress or the country -- they knew that it would create a situation where the U.S. could never back down without huge costs.

This reminds me of the joke about the man who gets lost and asks a cop for directions, and the first thing the cop says is, ''Well, you wouldn't start from here.'' No, I wouldn't have -- but here is where we've been put. So those who argue against the war have to admit that doing nothing now would mean perpetuating Saddam's tyranny and giving succor to all dictators. And those, like myself, who have argued that removing Saddam is the right thing to do have to admit that the risks of doing so are rising so high, and the number of allies we have for the long haul becoming so few, that it may be impossible to do it right.


Friedman on April 9, 2003

It's hard to smile when there's no water. It's hard to applaud when you're frightened. It's hard to say, ''Thank you for liberating me,'' when liberation has meant that looters have ransacked everything from the grain silos to the local school, where they even took away the blackboard...

This was a scene of humiliation, not liberation. We must do better....

America broke Iraq; now America owns Iraq, and it owns the primary responsibility for normalizing it. If the water doesn't flow, if the food doesn't arrive, if the rains don't come and if the sun doesn't shine, it's now America's fault. We'd better get used to it, we'd better make things right, we'd better do it soon, and we'd better get all the help we can get.


Friedman on June 18, 2003

... If I were President Bush, though, and my political life depended on Iraq being a success, I would already be worrying. I would have double the number of U.S. troops there and be throwing so much food and investment into Iraq that people there would think they've won the jackpot. Why the president is not doing that beats me, and it could end up beating him.

by gordonst 2007-05-21 12:44AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

"All of us are responsible ..." for Iraq ??

Well, crap. I marched against this war, wrote letters to the editor against it, called my representatives, put an "Attack Iraq? NO!" sticker on my car, etc.

I knew it was based on lies. I knew it was a mistake of epic proportions.

All the opposition was for naught. The media ignored us, most of our representatives ignored us, and people who should have known better, e.g. Thomas fricking Friedman, ignored us.

by Oregonian 2007-05-19 01:38PM | 0 recs
Anecdote for a speech

A woman, a donkey and a one-legged man walk into a bar in Tijuana...

by Dave Johnson and James Boyce 2007-05-19 01:43PM | 0 recs
Re: Anecdote for a speech

Oh crap, I was still logged in under our joint account.  Sorry.

by davej 2007-05-19 01:45PM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

Sorry I couldn't make it to this year's conference in person, but the prepared text is a nice speech.

In terms of performance, I would suggest rehearsal as being as imporant as preparing the right text. Just running all the way through something a few times, letting it sink into your body, finding out where your favorite moments are, can really take something to the next level when you get in front of an audience and the energy shoots through the roof.

Anyway, good words, and cheers to getting more accurate with your bomb-throwing.

by Josh Koenig 2007-05-19 04:58PM | 0 recs
by greensmile 2007-05-19 08:30PM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

To be frank: it's "stunningly immoral" for you to have had this opportunity to counter Friedman and then fail to do so.

I'm not interested in your excuses: "Oh I stayed up so late preparing/I didn't prepare."  That's a load of garbage.

Neither am I interested in your lengthy narration of your preparation.  If you gave a good talk, it will stand on its own - if not, not.

This is not rocket science here.

by hrh 2007-05-20 05:52AM | 0 recs
Re: The Open Left and Tom Friedman

Just wanted to add, Matt, that I appreciate your esprit de l escalier - it's refreshing to see someone openly question and assess their own performance  and present capabilities.  In your youthful pluck and earnestness you model wise behavior for us all.  Keep on keepin' on!


by Rob McC again 2007-05-20 09:27AM | 0 recs
Early liberal outlets

For me, it was the reporting in Salon about the impeachment and, during the 2000 campaign, I started every day at the Daily Howler. I'm pretty sure that's when some of my friends started to find my emails predictable, but when my husband's grandfather (in Cyprus) and I really gelled as buddies in political thought and outrage. :-)

I don't have enough time to read everything I want to now, but I still miss Media Whores.

by theresa 2007-05-20 03:46PM | 0 recs


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