A Republican insider takes on both parties

Via John Aravosis, this piece at Truthout by Mike Lofgren, a thirty year veteran Republican staffer, is an interesting read. Lofgren claims he resigned recently after watching the GOP get taken over by lunatics (his word) like Michele Bachmann, Allen West, Patrick McHenry and Steve King.

This passage stands out:

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.

Lofgren astutely notes the media’s complicity in this sabotage, through the devolution of journalism from a noble profession practiced by talented individuals to a medium defined by false equivalencies and “he said, she said” reporting.

While Lofgren’s critique of his own party is devastating, his analysis of the failings of the modern Democratic Party is also insightful.

What do the Democrats offer these people? Essentially nothing. Democratic Leadership Council-style “centrist” Democrats were among the biggest promoters of disastrous trade deals in the 1990s that outsourced jobs abroad: NAFTA, World Trade Organization, permanent most-favored-nation status for China. At the same time, the identity politics/lifestyle wing of the Democratic Party was seen as a too illegal immigrant-friendly by downscaled and outsourced whites.

While Democrats temporized, or even dismissed the fears of the white working class as racist or nativist, Republicans went to work. To be sure, 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, knowing the mental compartmentalization that occurs in most low-information voters, played on the fears of that same 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 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.

Lofgren actually mistakes inept messaging with desired political outcomes, while simultaneously missing the real point of the DLC-made Democratic Party’s free trade policies. Give voters too much passion from the government as a source of job creation and health care, and they’re bound to want more. But that’s not what the corporatists in the right of the Democratic Party want, so they don’t push for it. Obama and many conservative Democrats are pushing for cuts to the Big Three social support programs. They don’t want there to be an estate tax, because they don ‘t want their rich donors to be taxed. So when Lofgren writes, “The GOP cares solely and exclusively about its rich contributors,” it’s also the case that the same could be said for many, many conservative Democrats.

Lofgren’s piece shows him as someone who is outraged by what is happening in an America where one of two political parties is hell-bent on destroying government. But his analysis of the other party is centered around political cravenness, giving no real attention to the rightward shift of controlling Democratic ideology. In the end the problems don’t necessarily arise from one party dashing to the right, but the other moving along with it. In that sense, no choice is preserved for voters and thus the people who make the move to shift to the frame of acceptable debate are the ones who win out over time.

Lofgren spent 28 years working on at the House and Senate Budget Committees. I’m sure he has seen an evolution in how the Democratic Party operated and how the increased influence of first the DLC and then Third Way shifted the Democrats to the right, while a similar shift was ongoing in his party. It would be interesting to see him write about that narrative, now that he’s established himself as a smart, credible critic of government and politics in the 21st century.

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