Can You Spot the Missing Word?

by Jonah Goldberg

Tom Friedman loves China. He’s said many times and in many ways that their political system is superior to ours because it pursues better policies. He constantly insinuates that China is a more environmentally wise country because it “invests” in renewable fuels and bans plastic bags. 

So here he is writing a column on the Keystone pipeline:

I HOPE the president turns down the Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Who wants the U.S. to facilitate the dirtiest extraction of the dirtiest crude from tar sands in Canada’s far north?) But I don’t think he will. So I hope that Bill McKibben and his 350.org coalition go crazy. I’m talking chain-themselves-to-the-White-House-fence-stop-traffic-at-the-Capitol kind of crazy, because I think if we all make enough noise about this, we might be able to trade a lousy Keystone pipeline for some really good systemic responses to climate change. We don’t get such an opportunity often — namely, a second-term Democratic president who is under heavy pressure to approve a pipeline to create some jobs but who also has a green base that he can’t ignore. So cue up the protests, and pay no attention to people counseling rational and mature behavior. We need the president to be able to say to the G.O.P. oil lobby, “I’m going to approve this, but it will kill me with my base. Sasha and Malia won’t even be talking to me, so I’ve got to get something really big in return.”

Blah blah blah, you can write the rest of his column yourself (no, really). But he ends with this genuflection to the gods of moderate reasonableness:

So, sure, we need to be realistic about our near-term dependence on fossil fuels, or we will pay a big price. But we also need to be realistic about the need to keep building a bridge to a different energy future, or we will pay an even bigger price. Let’s make sure we don’t forget the latter in the Keystone debate.

But nowhere in his column does Friedman say that if the U.S. doesn’t “facilitate” the extraction of oil from the tar sands in Canada that China will. In fact, the word China never appears at all. He clearly knows the truth, given the wording of his little parenthetical statement.

In other words, the whole column’s moral preening and seemingly moderate reasonableness requires ignoring some pretty big facts. First, the oil would still be extracted, we’d just make a lot less money off of it. Second, it would be used and transported in ways that would be worse for the environment. And, last, the oil would go to the country he’s been drooling over as some sort of environmental and political role model for years. If China is so super-terrific and wicked smart, why are they doing this at all?

That Thomas Friedman, he’s so realistic.