Be Very Afraid: Mike Lofgren’s The Party Is Over


There are a lot of books published this year criticizing one or the other of the political parties, written by the usual partisan suspects who grind their party’s ideological axe down to a guillotine’s edge.  They are of little use to the distressed voter because they recycle the wishes, lies, and dreams we have been subjected to over at least the last decade.  They are hardly worth borrowing from the local library, let alone buying them outright.  But there is one book that everyone who fears for the future of our country should read, Mike Lofgren’s The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, not necessarily because he tells us anything new but because he tells it from an unusually informed perspective.  Lofgren was until recently a loyal member of the Republican Party and a long-time Congressional staff member.  Unlike media pundits of the right and left, Lofgren has not only witnessed the legislative and political process, he has actively participated in it; with 16 years as senior analyst on the House and Senate budget committees, he is particularly knowledgeable about federal budget issues.

I first heard of Lofgren’s book from watching Bill Moyers interview him on Moyers’ PBS show, and he caught my attention when he said that the Republican Party has been taken over by an “apocalyptic cult.”  He does not use that phrase in this book, but he does explain what he means by it, that his former party has become a war-mongering, nihilistic, anti-intellectual (i.e., anti-intelligence), Old Testament, End Times, and authoritarian cabal bent on driving America into bankruptcy in order to force government to downsize so much that the corporate profiteers can clear the field of impediments to their theft of the nation’s wealth, while at the same time increasing the war budget to realize the corollary goal of beating the rest of the world into submission in time for the Second Coming.  You may not be surprised that as I read the book (straight through in a matter of a few hours) I kept thinking of the last days of Weimar and the rise of fascism and Hitler.  Desperate people seek certainty and “strong” leaders to assuage their fear and end chaos—so the best way to secure authoritarian power is first to put people in that state of fear.

I will not pre-empt the book by summarizing all Lofgren’s main points and evidence, but to get a good taste of his thesis, the following paragraph is worth quoting:

“But it is not enough to say that Abu Ghraib, or the renditions of prisoners to countries (including Syria) that enthusiastically tortured them, or the contractor corruption, or the decline in Ameri­can prestige abroad both among foreign governments and their publics, or the fiscal damage caused by the war were all predictable consequences of the decision to go to war in the first place. I believe the toxic dynamic that led to all of these ills is one, the same, and inseparable from the belligerent and avaricious mind-set that de­regulated the markets, pushed the tax cuts, encouraged subprime borrowing, and botched the handling of Hurricane Katrina. The bedrock of this mind-set is a lack of intellectual seriousness com­bined with ideological rigidity, sound-bite glibness, and ethical cor­ner cutting. And power worship, whether the object of worship is money, high office, or military might. The cultural witch’s brew of the last thirty years produced Ken Lay and Bernie Madoff just as surely as it produced John Yoo and Dick Cheney.” (p. 182, emphasis added)

Foreign policy cannot be separated from domestic policy because the same ideology underlies and motivates both.  As Lofgren documents, war has become a means of enriching private corporations just as much as financial deregulation and K Street lobbying.  Periodic bowing in the direction of values-oriented voters camouflages the real purpose of the fat cats who finance the Republicans.

Although Lofgren’s subtitle suggests he will take the Democrats to the same woodshed as the Republicans, he devotes far less time to them, though he makes a strong point that President Obama is a center or even center-right politician who appears liberal only by contrast to the extreme right-wing Republicans.  He knows the Democrats far less well than he does the Republicans, and perhaps there is really less negative to say about them anyway.  Nonetheless, his point that corporate financing of political campaigns has weakened the Democratic program is worth noting.

Lofgren ends the book with a brief clarion call for reforms, all of which depend upon an informed electorate rising up to protest the kidnapping of their country and re-establishing a more truly democratic political process.  Unfortunately, the anti-intellectualism he discerns in the Republican Party is symptomatic of a wider problem of our culture—it touches even putative Democrats—and it may be hoping for too much to advise television viewers to turn off the American Idol and Extreme Makeover fat edition and read Logren’s book.  White bread and cable circuses may be too addicting to quit.

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