09.05.11

GOP Defector Spills the Beans

Mike Lofgren loyally served the GOP on Capitol Hill for 28 years. But no longer. Michael Tomasky on what the defection of a Republican staffer tells us about the state of the party.

Many people are buzzing about an article at truthout.org by one Mike Lofgren, a longtime Republican staff aide on Capitol Hill who just couldn’t take the crazy anymore, left his job, and produced this buzzy (and quite well-written) lamentation about his party’s tactics and goals. If you haven’t read it, you must. There was nothing in there that surprised me. I’ve been saying all these things for a long time (as have many others). What continues to dumbfound me is why Lofgren’s assertions are even controversial, because as long as they remain so, “neutral” observers who deny this reality bear some responsibility for the sad shape our politics is in.

I should say before we get to the gravamen of Lofgren’s case that there is something in pieces like this that is a little bit too convenient for my side: a Republican with three decades of service to his party writes a scabrous attack on them, and it’s eloquent to boot! It makes me proceed with a little caution. On the other hand, James Fallows wrote over the weekend that while Lofgren was unknown to most of us, “among people who have covered or worked in the national-security field, he is a familiar and highly esteemed figure.” Jim being one of the very top journalists in the country, that’s a pretty valuable testimonial that eases the mind somewhat.

The Lofgren piece is full of harsh observations and accusations, but here’s just a little sampling:

• The debt-ceiling debate was an act of “political terrorism,” in which the GOP concocted a crisis and used it to ensure that the party's unprecedented demands were met. He writes: “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.”

• The August FAA reauthorization fight was another instance such of hostage-taking: “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.”

• The GOP plan to discredit government in the people’s eyes is very conscious: “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.”

• As for belief as opposed to tactics, the party basically really cares only about the rich. Actually, Lofgren doesn’t say “basically.” He says “solely and exclusively.” And he explains how they’ve camouflaged this with talk of protecting small businesses and so on.

There is much, much more. He’s not very happy either about his party’s militarism, its cynical use of religion, its total opposition to doing anything about the environment, and other matters, but most especially its neo-Leninist posture in which political power trumps everything.

When Lofgren first started working on the Hill, in 1983, the House and Senate were still full of moderate Republicans—and even Reagan himself was a quisling by today’s standards.

Some with short memories may ask, how could such a person have been a Republican anyway? Answer: there used to be loads of Republicans like Lofgren. George H.W. Bush and his EPA secretary, William Reilly, put the first serious cap-and-trade proposals on the table. When Lofgren first started working on the Hill, in 1983, we were into the Reagan Revolution, granted, but the House and Senate were still full of moderate Republicans, and even Reagan himself, as has often been observed, was a quisling by today’s standards. And if you want to go back to Lofgren’s youth ... well, Google Thomas Kuchel or Charles Percy.

I spend a part of virtually every day wondering where all this will lead. Will this fever break in two years? Five? Ten? What if it doesn’t break until, oh, 2028? Or never? The goals of today’s conservative movement are, shall we say, audacious. No public old-age pensions. No public old-age medical coverage. Taxes far, far lower than they are now, especially on that blessed and praiseworthy top 1 percent. Regulations gutted to the point of nonexistence. All achieved through the kind of political-terrorism tactics Lofgren describes. It’s going to take them time to accomplish these things. Our system moves slowly, even for Leninists. But there is no reason to think they won’t keep at it for many years to come.

Every time I hear NPR (that allegedly socialistic outfit) describe the latest act of terrorism in neutral terms, the reporter taking care to blame “both sides,” interviewing an expert who is prudent enough to know that on NPR’s 501(c)(3) air she must, if she wants to be quoted again someday, hold responsible the mysterious and mostly unnamable failings of the amorphous “system” for this or that Republican hostage-taking exercise, I wonder if these people hear themselves and understand how they’re misleading America. NPR is better than most places, so surely they must, just as many elected Republicans must just as surely be a little ashamed of how they’re acting in public. What can change it? Only a crisis (I mean an actual one) so deep and threatening that even NPR must call things what they are, and even some Republicans must say, “OK, there is such a thing as collective action, and we’d better undertake it.” Until then? More Lofgrens.