I’ve been thinking about this a lot today and I think I finally understand why Tom Friedman is so popular. He’s very simplistic. Dysfunction in Washington? Install a benevolent hedge fund manager/dictator. Trouble in the Balkans? Bomb the Serbians back to 1389. Terrorist attacks from extremist Saudi and Yemeni Muslims? Tell some other group of Muslims to suck on this.
A lot of people think this way sometimes. It’s easy to think “voters are stupid, let’s just cut them out of the equation”. It’s easy to think “this entire group of people sucks, let’s bomb them all”. Most adults don’t say these things publicly, but Friedman will, and that’s a feature not a bug.
Simplicity is a virtue in the political arena. Conservatives do well because, even though people don’t agree with them, their arguments are easy to understand, e.g. “we (white Christian job creators) are right, they (non-white atheist/Muslim moochers and looters) are wrong”. Liberal arguments are likely to rely on some amount of nuance, e.g. “we don’t like terrorism either, but that doesn’t mean we should invade countries wily nily”. Of course, libertarians do the worst of all this way, because, even though the underlying philosophy is simple, their argument is often that you need to read Hayek to understand the issue.
There’s never any nuance with Friedman. His positions are a grab bag, ideologically — pro-carbon tax, radically pro-open borders and free trade, generally pro-war — but they are always simple. There are never any CBO estimates or concerns about secondary effects.
Friedman offers faux high-brow reductionism. There’s always going to be a market for that. People like to read stuff that they think is intellectual and they also like to be able to understand it. Friedman writes about exotic locales and complex issues, but any ten year-old can understand what he’s trying to say.