This is one of the most important political pieces I have read in a very long time.
It’s by Mike Lofgren, who spent 28 years as a Republican staff member on Capitol Hill, explaining why he left that job — and the GOP, which he says is “becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult.”
He goes into specific detail about what’s wrong with the modern-day Republican party, from doing everything to help the rich and soak the rest of us to the way their religious zealotry distracts low-information voters to how the crazies have taken over the party. He details the right’s success in “concocting an entirely artificial fiscal crisis,” then using that crisis to get what they wanted by holding the domestic and global economies hostage.
Moreover, he reveals the GOP’s strategy of purposefully creating dissatisfaction with government to create a populace more easily manipulated:
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.
A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s — a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.'”
Lofgren doesn’t spare the Democrats (he hasn’t joined that party), who have lost the battle by not understanding how to use language, not appealing to the weakened middle class, and not fighting loudly and strongly enough for the core issues of our time. Why? Because while Republicans use fear to stimulate their base, Democrats are filled with fear at being painted with a negative GOP brush.
Democrats ceded the field. Above all, they do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? — can anyone even remember it? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. Contrast that with the Republicans’ Patriot Act. You’re a patriot, aren’t you? Does anyone at the GED level have a clue what a Stimulus Bill is supposed to be? Why didn’t the White House call it the Jobs Bill and keep pounding on that theme?
You know that Social Security and Medicare are in jeopardy when even Democrats refer to them as entitlements. “Entitlement” has a negative sound in colloquial English: somebody who is “entitled” selfishly claims something he doesn’t really deserve. Why not call them “earned benefits,” which is what they are because we all contribute payroll taxes to fund them? That would never occur to the Democrats. Republicans don’t make that mistake; they are relentlessly on message: it is never the “estate tax,” it is the “death tax.” Heaven forbid that the Walton family should give up one penny of its $86-billion fortune. All of that lucre is necessary to ensure that unions be kept out of Wal-Mart, that women employees not be promoted and that politicians be kept on a short leash.
It’s rare to hear this kind of candor from someone who operated within the framework of a political machine, an insider who’s seen it all from Capitol Hill. Every Democrat, from President Obama on down, should read Lofgren’s piece, recognize what’s going on and, rather than try to mollify and compromise opponents who will not give an inch, present Americans with a real choice– a strong voice that stands for them.