Duck and cover, fellows, Thomas Friedman’s back in India, and the mysterious subcontinent is exercising its usual sorcery on the wandering pundit, eliciting paragraphs of ecstatic drivel, as it has from so many Times-men.
My favorite remains a post-Christmas dispatch, published on December 27, 2002, by the New York Times‘s resident correspondent in India at the time, Keith Bradsher. It was a devotional text about neoliberalism’s apex poster boy at the time, N. Chandrababu Naidu, chief minister of the state of Andhra Pradesh, Time‘s “South Asian of the Year.”
After composing a worshipful résumé of Naidu’s supposed achievements, Bradsher selected for particular mention a secret weapon that the canny reporter deemed vital to Naidu’s political grip on Andhra Pradesh. “Naidu and his allies,” Bradsher disclosed to NYT readers, “speak Telugu, a language spoken only in this state and by a few people in two adjacent states.” What Bradsher was saying was that Naidu spoke the same language as the 75 million other inhabitants of Andhra Pradesh. It was as though someone ascribed Tony Blair’s political successes in Britain to his command of English.
Apart from Naidu’s wondrous fluency in his native tongue, Bradsher fixed upon other achievements likely to excite an American business readership: “Mr. Naidu,” he confided, “has succeeded in raising electricity prices here by 70 percent” and “has enacted a law requiring union leaders to be workers from the factory or office they represent…. Andhra Pradesh has also relaxed some of the restrictions on laying off workers.” In May 2004 the poster-boy pal of Bill Gates, Bill Clinton and the World Bank’s then chief, James Wolfensohn, endured the verdict at the polling booth of his fellow Telugu speakers. The verdict was harsh. He and his coalition were ignominiously tossed from office.
I remembered Bradsher’s excited commendation of Naidu’s hikes in the price of electricity and his anti-union rampages when I read the reports filed by US correspondents and pundits from Paris after the French Non! in May to the EU’s proposed Constitution. It was striking how many of them started lecturing the French in the tones of nineteenth-century Masters of Capital.
The Non, they howled, disclosed the cosseted and selfish laziness of French workers. This turned out to mean that French workers have laws protecting their pensions, health benefits, leisure time and kindred buttresses of a tolerable existence. No one was more outraged than Friedman, a man who, we can safely surmise, does have health benefits and enjoys confidence about his retirement along with a robust six-figure income.