Long-time Republican leaves “apocalyptic cult”

Michael S. Lofgren was a respected Republican congressional staff member for 28 years.  He worked for Rep. John Kasich from 1983 to 1994, and then was a Republican staff member for the House and Senate budget committees until he resigned in June, saying the Republican Party had devolved into an “apocalyptic cult.”

He gave his reasons for quitting in an eloquent statement that is making the rounds of the Internet.  I think he sums up the current American political situation well.

I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them.

Michael Lofgren

And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest.  Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too.  Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers.  Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.

If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshiping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté.  They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.

During the week that this piece was written, the debt ceiling fiasco reached its conclusion.  The economy was already weak, but the GOP’s disgraceful game of chicken roiled the markets even further.  Foreigners could hardly believe it: Americans’ own crazy political actions were destabilizing the safe-haven status of the dollar.  Accordingly, during that same week, over one trillion dollars worth of assets evaporated on financial markets.  Russia and China have stepped up their advocating that the dollar be replaced as the global reserve currency – a move as consequential and disastrous for US interests as any that can be imagined.

If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America’s status as the world’s leading power.

via Truthout.

That’s strong language, but I don’t think it is exaggerated.

When I was a college undergraduate in the 1950s, I was taught that the superiority of the American political system to the French political system lay in our ability to compromise and put the national interest ahead of partisan interest.

The French government was constantly deadlocked, or so I was taught, by ideological parties who made everything a matter of principle on which they were unwilling to compromise, and especially by the French Communist Party, the largest party in those days, who were opposed the whole political system and obstructed everything.

In contrast, the United States had two big-tent political parties—the Republican range including isolationist Wisconsin farmers and internationalist Wall Street bankers, the Democratic range including Texas oilmen, Detroit assembly line workers, racist white Mississippians and poor black people in Harlem.  The Republicans were tilted toward business and the Democrats toward labor unions, but the differences within the two big parties were greater than the differences between them.  The dynamic in both parties was to blur distinctions and strive for the greatest appeal for the greatest number.

I saw the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 as something new—the transformation of the Republican Party into an ideological right-wing party, with a program based on clear principles.  At the time, I thought this was a good thing.  I thought the result would be the transformation of the Democratic Party into an ideological right-wing party, with the result that American political discourse would become more intelligent and American voters would be offered clear choices.

But this did not happen.  As Lofgren said:

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.

In his “Manual of Parliamentary Practice,” Thomas Jefferson wrote that it is less important that every rule and custom of a legislature be absolutely justifiable in a theoretical sense, than that they should be generally acknowledged and honored by all parties.  These include unwritten rules, customs and courtesies that lubricate the legislative machinery and keep governance a relatively civilized procedure.  The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.

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.

via Truthout.

I don’t like comparisons of American political parties with fascists or Bolsheviks, and yet I can’t think of any other historical comparison for the current tactics of the Republicans in Congress.  The Southern congressional fire-eaters in the years leading up to the Civil War?  The Irish nationalists in the British House of Commons in the late 19th century, who vowed to obstruct everything until Ireland was given Home Rule?  The congressional Republicans seem to have no goal more specific than to discredit President Obama.

Lofgren wrote about how in Wisconsin, the Republican legislature mandated that voters have photo ID, then are closed Department of Motor Vehicles offices in Democratic areas and extended DMV hours in Republican areas.  If this isn’t politics as war, I don’t know what is.

Not that the Democrats offer much of an alternative.

What do the Democrats offer these people?  Essentially nothing.  Democratic Leadership Council-style “centrist” Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China.  At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work.  To be sure, the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe.  But the faux-populist wing of the party, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations’ bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let’s build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it).  Instead of predatory bankers, it’s evil Muslims.  Or evil gays.  Or evil abortionists. ……

It was not always thus.  It would have been hard to find an uneducated farmer during the depression of the 1890s who did not have a very accurate idea about exactly which economic interests were shafting him.  An unemployed worker in a breadline in 1932 would have felt little gratitude to the Rockefellers or the Mellons. 

But that is not the case in the present economic crisis.  After a riot of unbridled greed such as the world has not seen since the conquistadors’ looting expeditions and after an unprecedented broad and rapid transfer of wealth upward by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed, at least as depicted in the media?  At “Washington spending” – which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade’s corporate saturnalia.  Or the popular rage is harmlessly diverted against pseudo-issues: death panels, birtherism, gay marriage, abortion, and so on, none of which stands to dent the corporate bottom line in the slightest.

via Truthout.

I’m not sure what choices this leaves me as a liberal Democrat.  To support President Obama as the only alternative to something worse?  To hold out for something better even if it means something worse in the short run?

A commenter on the Obsidian Wings web log said that eventually the Republican Party will self-destruct as the Federalist Party did 200 years ago, after which the Democratic Party will split into conservative and liberal wings and we will have a normal politics again.   That could happen.  Or perhaps a third-party movement will force one or both of the two parties to change its ways, as the Progressive and Populist parties did before World War One.

Click on Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult for Lofgren’s full rant—well worth reading in its entirety.

Click on Borrowing and Spending the GOP Way for an article about the deficit and debt ceiling crisis by Lofgren in the Los Angeles Times.

Hat tip to Obsidian Wings.

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