Happy Labor Day.
Mike Lofgren has been working for 28 years as a congressional aide, on the Republican side, earning more than $100,000 a year every year since at least 2001. He worked as Repub staff on both the House and Senate Budget Committees. He is a serious insider who knows how things work and where the bodies are buried.
He recently retired and has decided to say what he has learned about the two parties and it’s amazing. His confession, titled “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult,” was published over the weekend by Truthout, which is a lefty aggregator of pieces that express a lefty perspective. And Lofgren has developed an attitude toward his own party that is nastier than most lefties would write. So, with warnings that it’s a long piece, I recommend reading the whole thing. But here are some exceprts:
“It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.”
“The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a high functioning” institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.
Far from being a rarity, virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war minus the shooting, something one could have observed 80 years ago in the Reichstag of the Weimar Republic. As Hannah Arendt observed, a disciplined minority of totalitarians can use the instruments of democratic government to undermine democracy itself.”
“A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that ‘they are all crooks,’ and that ‘government is no good,’ further leading them to think, ‘a plague on both your houses’ and ‘the parties are like two kids in a school yard.’ This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (‘Government is the problem,’ declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable ‘hard news’ segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the ‘respectable’ media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the ‘centrist cop-out.’ ‘I joked long ago,’ he says, ‘that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'””
“[Today’s conservatives] prefer to rail against those government programs that actually help people. And when a program is too popular to attack directly, like Medicare or Social Security, they prefer to undermine it by feigning an agonized concern about the deficit. That concern, as we shall see, is largely fictitious.”
“Republicans are among the most shrill in self-righteously lecturing other countries about the wonders of democracy; exporting democracy (albeit at the barrel of a gun) to the Middle East was a signature policy of the Bush administration. But domestically, they don’t want those people voting.
You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base.”
“You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. ‘Entitlement’ has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is ‘entitled’ selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them ‘earned benefits,’ which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the ‘estate tax,’ it is the ‘death tax.’ Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.”
“The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. The party has built a whole catechism on the protection and further enrichment of America’s plutocracy. Their caterwauling about deficit and debt is so much eyewash to con the public. Whatever else President Obama has accomplished (and many of his purported accomplishments are highly suspect), his $4-trillion deficit reduction package did perform the useful service of smoking out Republican hypocrisy. The GOP refused, because it could not abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses. Republicans finally settled on a deal that had far less deficit reduction – and even less spending reduction! – than Obama’s offer, because of their iron resolution to protect at all costs our society’s overclass.”