Thomas Friedman's lazy, cringe-inducing reference to "A Few Good Men" last week ("You want the truth about [the Middle East]? You can’t handle the truth.") got me thinking. The New York Times columnist is a legendarily bad writer with what Matt Taibbi described as "an anti-ear" that is "absolutely infallible." What other movie quotes have been Friedman-ized?
The answer, it turns out, is quite a few. A quick check of the American Film Institute's top 100 movie quotes shows that Friedman has already worked his way through more than 10% of them (often drawing on the same quote more than once). As it turns out, the world's dictators apparently like to invoke terrible movie clichés during their secret imagined dialogues. Here are my favorite selections from the list (movie references/quotes in bold):
"As I left Mr. Lozano's office, I went to close his door and it was so heavy with bullet-proof glass and steel I could barely move it. No Toto, this isn't Kansas." (3/12/95)
"You have to build a real politics of Integrationist-Social-Safety-Nettism -- a politics that can show people the power and potential of global integration, while taking seriously their needs for safety nets to protect them along the way. Build it and they will come." (11/13/97)
"Hafez: Slobo, you mistook the world's tolerance for your war in Bosnia for a green light to ethnically cleanse Kosovo. You're both fighting as though the Soviet Union were going to resupply us all again. It's not. The Russians want cash now. All Primakov ever says to me is 'Show me the money.'" (5/7/99)
"Chavez: [The West is] just depending on the Saudis to increase production. The fools don't understand the Saudis' real situation. The Saudis are $140 billion in debt, with a huge public payroll and an electricity grid so in need of upgrading they had blackouts this summer. They need cash too. Show me the money, baby!"
"Which approach Mr. Bush adopts depends in part on how he understands North Korea's past behavior. But if he doesn't understand that, or he hasn't applied himself to understanding it, or he is so wedded to his own Star Wars missile shield he doesn't want anything to get in the way, or he is so worried about being accused by Republican hard-liners, as his father was, of being a 'wimp' that he'll never take yes for an answer from the North -- then, Houston, we have a problem." (3/9/01)
"The Bush team thinks being the world's only superpower means never having to say you're sorry." (7/31/01)
"Houston, we have a problem here. And the problem can best be framed as: How much of President Bush's pre-Sept.-11 foreign policy agenda is he ready to abandon in order to advance his post-Sept.-11 agenda?" (11/30/01)
"So I step off the plane in London and the British customs guy sees on my form that I'm a journalist and asks, 'Is it true there are more police to protect your president in London than there are in Baghdad?' Then I pick up The Independent to read in the taxi and I see that London's left-wing mayor, Ken Livingstone, has denounced President Bush as 'the greatest threat to life on this planet that we've most probably ever seen.' Then I check out The Guardian...
"No, Dorothy, we're definitely not in Kansas anymore." (11/20/03)
"Message from the Syrian regime to Washington, Paris and Lebanon's opposition: 'You want to play here, you'd better be ready to play by Hama Rules -- and Hama Rules are no rules at all... we blow up prime ministers here. We shoot journalists. We fire on the Red Cross. We leveled one of our own cities. You want to play by Hama Rules, let's see what you've got. Otherwise, hasta la vista, baby.'" (2/17/05)
"Beyond those two limited objectives, there's no storybook ending for Israel in Lebanon, and it shouldn't throw more good lives after some elusive knockout blow. It's just not that kind of neighborhood. As they say in the movies, 'Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown.'" (8/11/06)
"To all those Europeans, Canadians, Japanese, Russians, Iranians, Chinese, Indians, Africans and Latin Americans who are e-mailing their American friends about their joy at having 'America back,' now that Obama is in, I just have one thing to say: 'Show me the money!'
"Don't just show me the love. Don't just give me the smiles. Your love is fickle and, as I said, it will last about as long as the first Obama airstrike against an Al Qaeda position in Pakistan. No, no, no, show me the money. Show me that you are ready to be Obama stakeholders, not free-riders -- stakeholders in what will be expensive and difficult initiatives by the Obama administration to keep the world stable and free at a time when we have fewer resources." (11/9/08)
"If you want to know where we are [economically] right now, rent the movie 'Jaws.' We're at that moment when Roy Scheider first sets eyes on the Great White Shark and comes back and says to the skipper, with eyes wide with fear: 'You're gonna need a bigger boat.'" (11/16/08)
"I hope my fears are exaggerated. But ask yourself this: Why couldn't former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson solve this problem? And why does it seem as though his successor, Tim Geithner, won't even look us in the eye and spell out his strategy? Is it because they don't get it? No. It is because they know -- like Roy Scheider in the movie 'Jaws,' when he first saw the great white shark -- that 'we're gonna need a bigger boat,' and they're too afraid to tell us just how big." (3/4/09)
"America must nurture this virtuous cycle: more money to train credible Palestinian troops, more encouragement for Israel's risk-taking in eliminating checkpoints, more Palestinian economic growth and quicker negotiations on the contours of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Hamas and Gaza can join later. Don't wait for them. If we build it, they will come." (8/9/09)
Beyond Friedman's infelicity with the English language, the structural problem here is that columnists almost never leave their positions and eventually run out of things to say, leading to a reliance on shtick and catchphrases.