No Comment — September 8, 2011, 2:35 pm

Good-bye to All That

Once in a blue moon, a figure deep inside the Beltway beast leaves and says something profound and honest about the environment in which he works. One such figure is former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel; another is former South Carolina congressman Bob Inglis. Both Republicans presented lucid criticism of their party’s policies and conduct, but were essentially ignored by major broadcast media. Now a Republican staffer in the House and Senate budget committees with nearly thirty years’ service under his belt, Mike Lofgren, has left his position and published a stinging critique of Washington’s partisan ways. Lofgren’s piece, published at Truthout, provides an insider’s assessment of the dynamics that drive the G.O.P., coupled with well-aimed missiles at the Democrats and the Beltway media. It’s also composed in an unusually lucid, entertaining style.

Lofgren’s core thesis is that the G.O.P. has transformed itself into something dangerous: “The crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today. . .The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.” He points out, too, that the Beltway media’s inept coverage of political developments has enabled the extremists, writing that the “constant drizzle of ‘there the two parties go again!’ stories out of the news bureaus, combined with the hazy confusion of low-information voters, means that the long-term Republican strategy of undermining confidence in our democratic institutions has reaped electoral dividends.” In other words, the crazies feed off the lazy, inept coverage that fills American broadcast media.

The G.O.P. now has three major tenets, Lofgren argues:

  1. The G.O.P. cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors. We see this now in G.O.P. positions on tax-revenue issues: The party has adopted a mantra of opposing any effort to dispense with tax breaks for the truly wealthy, even though polling consistently shows a solid majority of Republicans favoring the elimination of loopholes such as tax breaks for corporate jets.

  2. They worship at the altar of Mars. As the conflict in Libya demonstrated, Republican leaders don’t seem to be able to say no to a new war — even when some of them had been coddling Qaddafi in Tripoli only a year earlier. They also instinctively oppose cuts to the single biggest chunk of discretionary spending, the defense budget, an attitude that fuels increasingly extreme positions on other sectors.

  3. Give me that old time religion. Religious evangelicals dominate Republican politics like never before. This helps explain why figures elected on a libertarian-like Tea Party platform instantly set to work on a very un-libertarian social conservative agenda — introducing the most aggressive efforts to curtail abortion rights since Roe v. Wade, for instance.

As Lofgren notes, there is a great deal of interplay between the second and third tenets:

The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter — God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass — and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.

Lofgren is not describing trends which may emerge at some distant point on the horizon. He is describing the circumstances that exist today inside the Republican tent. And his assessment is ominous. We live in a two-party system in which the electoral pendulum swings back and forth according to the performance of the economy and other factors. This means that with the crazies in charge of the G.O.P., their control of government is all but inevitable at some point in the near future.

Lofgren’s analysis is sharp-sighted and unsparing. And it suggests why it’s important to treat figures many will dismiss as marginal — Michele Bachmann, Steven King, and Alan West, for instance — with the utmost seriousness. In the past year, they’ve done a great deal of damage to the nation’s reputation in the world, particularly among our allies and in the financial community — but they’re poised to do much worse.

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No one would talk to me for this piece. Or rather, more than twenty women talked to me, sometimes for hours at a time, but only after I promised to leave out their names, and give them what I began to call deep anonymity. This was strange, because what they were saying did not always seem that extreme. Yet here in my living room, at coffee shops, in my inbox and on my voicemail, were otherwise outspoken female novelists, editors, writers, real estate agents, professors, and journalists of various ages so afraid of appearing politically insensitive that they wouldn’t put their names to their thoughts, and I couldn’t blame them. 

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