Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult
Saturday 3 September 2011
by: Mike Lofgren, Truthout | News Analysis
Barbara Stanwyck: “We’re both rotten!”
Fred MacMurray: “Yeah – only you’re a little more rotten.” -“Double Indemnity” (1944)
Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America. Both parties are rotten – how could they not be, given the complete infestation of the political system by corporate money on a scale that now requires a presidential candidate to raise upwards of a billion dollars to be competitive in the general election? Both parties are captives to corporate loot. The main reason the Democrats’ health care bill will be a budget buster once it fully phases in is the Democrats’ rank capitulation to corporate interests – no single-payer system, in order to mollify the insurers; and no negotiation of drug prices, a craven surrender to Big Pharma.
But both parties are not rotten in quite the same way. The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP.
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.
The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel – how prudent is that? – in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.
Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might – the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was “bring it on!”
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.
Dear Mr. Lofgren,
So you are the brave truth-teller, “analyzing” the news for “Truthout” and for all the left-wing websites that have linked to your cri de coeur as an important document detailing the problems with the modern GOP. Let’s have some fun and begin to look more closely at this “remarkable web essay” (liberal columnist Andrew Sullivan’s words). Your first ‘argument’ is that both Democrats and Republicans are capitve to corporate interests and you adduce the health care bill passed under Obama (commonly known by us crazy conservatives as Obamacare) as your main evidence of this “fact”. Apparently it is just self-evident that otherwise the Democrats would have passed a “single-payer system”. Let’s stop here for a moment. Yes, it is true — the American insurance industry doesn’t want a single-payer system. But how can anyone who claims to understand the legislative process and who also claims to understand Washington and public policy wave away in one simple sentence the literally hundreds of different arguments against a single-payer system that have been written by folks besides the American insurance industry? Even some of our Western rivals that have universal health insurance don’t have a single payer system. Really, this is a simple test of intellectual honesty and you just got failed the test. Why should I believe anything you say after this one sentence if you can’t get something as basic as the idea that conservatives and Republicans have a variety of reasons for opposing a single-payer system.
So now that we have established that everything from this point on is just piling on, I’ll proceed to pile on. You also write that Obamacare contains a provision that prevents the “negotiation of drug prices” which is apparently “a craven surrender to Big Pharma”. O.K., if this is true, how come the Republicans, you know the party that you go on to describe as a crazed cult that is also in thrall to corporate interests, were able to include competition in Bush’s infamous Medicare Part D drug coverage expansion which has allowed market forces to put pressure on “Big Pharma” in just the way that you want. Actually, this statement is not true — I think you seem to believe that there are no trade-off involved when the government
mandates “negotiates with” a company to provide a good or service at a particular price. Indeed, our “cult” has become so animated as of late, about the size and scope of the government (particularly at the federal level but at lower state and local levels as well) because it seems like liberals have forgotten these basic economic truths and want to live in a world in which the government can simply pass laws to solve problems like unemployment or the high cost of health care (or lack of coverage) without much difficulty. But there are no simple solutions to these problems and often, the conservative warns, government attempts to solve the problem will only make it worse.
Anyway, you conclude the above section talking about the debt ceiling. Again, you can’t conceive of a Congress that is so concerned about the future and about the current Administration’s plans that they refuse to continue to do something that has been done 87 times before. So this tells me more about your intellectual imagination and less about whether or not the Republican Congress was correct from a policy perspective concerning the debt ceiling fight. You like to use words like “prudent”, or “clear-eyed” as if it is obvious to everyone that raising the debt ceiling without serious spending cuts or reform is not ruinious or detrimental to American interests. Maybe those crazed Republicans who weren’t concerned about national “default” (which is a confusing term to begin with because the U.S. was never going to default on its bondholders if the debt ceiling wasn’t raised — it was going to have to drastically cut government operations) were the “prudent” or “clear-eyed” ones. I’m not sure if I was in Congress if I would have supported the Boehner-Obama debt ceiling deal — I think punting to this special commission might not produce real and lasting reductions in the size and scope of the federal government. But note that I think the real problem is the size and scope of the federal government and that I think there are many good reasons for thinking our national government has gotten too big. But you seem to believe such reasons don’t exist (otherwise why not do something so routine that it’s been done 87 times before, 87, 87, 87 as if that number has some special power because it seems so ordinary and dare I say it, “reasonable”) — for you I am simply another member of the “cult”.
In the next installment of this series, we’ll discuss some of my reasons and we’ll continue to examine your strange, fact-free and ideologically blinkered world — thanks to you Mike I’m blogging again!