Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Reflections of a GOP Operative

Mike Lofgren was a Republican staffer for thirty years. His written a piece that lays out what most of us have known for a while -- that the modern GOP is out to destroy the government, and the country with it. Most of what Lofgren writes was covered in more detail in Thomas Frank's book The Wrecking Crew. I recommend reading both Frank's book and Lofgren's article. I've summarized a large chunk of Lofgren's article here, but I still recommend you click through and read the whole thing.
To millions of Americans who... watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots... but the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today.

I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote... 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...It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is... an apocalyptic cult... This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.

Virtually every bill, every nominee for Senate confirmation and every routine procedural motion is now subject to a Republican filibuster. Under the circumstances, it is no wonder that Washington is gridlocked: legislating has now become war...

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 favorability rating... By sabotaging the reputation... of government, the party that is against government would come out the winner.

[It is a] psychologically insightful [tactic] that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. There are tens of millions of low-information voters... [whose] confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that "they are all crooks," and that "government is no good,"... This ill-informed public cynicism... further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government.

The media are also complicit in this phenomenon... Inside-the-Beltway wise guy Chris Cillizza...wrote that the institution of Congress was a big loser in the [debt ceiling] fracas, which is, of course, correct, but then he opined: "Lawmakers - bless their hearts - seem entirely unaware of just how bad they looked during this fight and will almost certainly spend the next few weeks (or months) congratulating themselves on their tremendous magnanimity." Note how the... deprecation falls... on those who precipitated the needless crisis and those who despaired of it. He seems oblivious that one side... has deliberately attempted to damage the reputation of Congress to achieve its political objectives.

This constant drizzle of "there the two parties go again!" stories... 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.

But if this technique falls short... there are other even less savory techniques upon which to fall back.... Republicans... have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that disenfranchises university students.

[T]he deindustrialization and financialization of America since about 1970 has spawned an increasingly downscale white middle class - without job security (or even without jobs), with pensions and health benefits evaporating and with their principal asset deflating in the collapse of the housing bubble. Their fears are not imaginary; their standard of living is shrinking.

While Democrats... dismissed [those] fears... Republicans went to work.... the business wing of the Republican Party consists of the most energetic outsourcers, wage cutters and hirers of sub-minimum wage immigrant labor to be found anywhere on the globe. But the faux-populist wing of the party... played on the fears of the white working class to focus their anger on scapegoats that do no damage to corporations' bottom lines: instead of raising the minimum wage, let's build a wall on the Southern border (then hire a defense contractor to incompetently manage it). Instead of predatory bankers, it's evil Muslims. Or evil gays. Or evil abortionists.

How do they manage to do this? Because Democrats... do not understand language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? 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... 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.

After a riot of unbridled greed... by Wall Street and its corporate satellites, where is the popular anger directed? At "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged...

The Republican Party of 2011 believes in three principal tenets...

1. The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors... they... cannot abide so much as a one-tenth of one percent increase on the tax rates of the Walton family or the Koch brothers, much less a repeal of the carried interest rule that permits billionaire hedge fund managers to pay income tax at a lower effective rate than cops or nurses.

John Boehner is fond of saying, "we won't raise anyone's taxes," as if the take-home pay of an Olive Garden waitress were inextricably bound up with whether Warren Buffett pays his capital gains as ordinary income or at a lower rate. Another chestnut is that millionaires and billionaires are "job creators." US corporations have just had their most profitable quarters in history; Apple, for one, is sitting on $76 billion in cash, more than the GDP of most countries. So, where are the jobs?

...Republicans have assiduously spread the myth that Americans are overtaxed. But compared to other OECD countries, the effective rates of US taxation are among the lowest. In particular, they point to the top corporate income rate of 35 percent as being confiscatory... But the effective rate is much lower. Did GE pay 35 percent on 2010 profits of $14 billion? No, it paid zero.

2. They worship at the altar of Mars. Democrats... can never match GOP stalwarts... in their sheer enthusiasm for invading other countries. [John] McCain wanted to mix it up with Russia - a nuclear-armed state - during the conflict with Georgia in 2008... while Lindsey Graham has been persistently agitating for attacks on Iran and intervention in Syria. And these are not fringe elements of the party; they are the leading "defense experts"... Militarism springs from the same psychological deficit that requires an endless series of enemies, both foreign and domestic.

3. Give me that old time religion. Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP. Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased to be a minor public nuisance... but grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file.... Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science.

[H]ow did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs - economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism - come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism? [T]he rise of politicized religious fundamentalism... may have been the key ingredient of the takeover... Politicized religion... rationalizes...all three of the GOP's main tenets.

If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor. If not, too bad! But don't forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter... This... has led to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.

I left [the GOP] because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans... to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country's future... Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits... the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too.... Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.

If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren't after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be "forced" to make "hard choices" - and that doesn't mean repealing those tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.

If Republicans have perfected a new form of politics that is successful electorally at the same time that it unleashes major policy disasters, it means twilight both for the democratic process and America's status as the world's leading power.

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