Both Micky and Smick sent me this this article by former GOP staffer Mike Lofgren, in which he argues that “the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe.” Before we address that contention, let’s take a moment to agree that Micky and Smicky would have made a great racist comic strip during the 1920s. Micky is small and Smicky is big, and the one where they steal a coconut and can’t figure out how to open it is classic. Anyway, surely it is not true that the Republican Party has consciously decided to damage the functioning of Congress, as Lofgren alleges. I mean, right?
Lofgren’s establishing metaphor is that of a hostage situation, in which the party that has taken the hostage and does not care for his or her survival enjoys an intrinsic advantage. What’s fun about this analogy is that we’re the hostage, or at least our federal government is. The hostage-taker is the Republican Party, whom Lofgren says is deliberately thwarting governance in order to lower opinion of the federal government. Quote:
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.
In Lofgren’s analysis, this extraordinarily cynical tactic is abetted by the media, whose professional instruction to avoid bias encourages them to describe Republican intransigence as failures of Congress or the political system itself. Here he introduces perhaps the best part of his essay: the term “low-information voters,” to describe those people who follow the news well enough to know about, say, the debt ceiling crisis, but not enough to know who’s doing what therein. That particular debacle was manufactured almost entirely by the Republican Party, but it brought the national favorability rating of Congress as a whole to a longtime low.
So the GOP’s present policy of merciless obstruction is working. The question is, are they doing it on purpose? The party Lofgren describes is pursuing an extraordinarily cynical project with an extraordinary degree of coordination. One would think that conscientious objectors would emerge. Consider the debt ceiling. Had Republicans deliberately forced that crisis, wouldn’t a few of them have broken ranks? It seems implausible that the GOP organized an effort to humiliate the federal government by holding it hostage to absolutist budgetary demands, got everyone to agree to it, and kept their plan secret from the American press. A political party that could do that should probably be given the entire federal government, just on organizational prowess.
It seems more likely that the contemporary GOP is less evil and more just crazy/stupid. Here, though, is where Lofgren’s article becomes really chilling. As the author points out, world financial markets lost $1 trillion while the Republican Party was either cynically or ideologically refusing to negotiate with Democrats. The US credit rating has since been downgraded, and Russia and China are arguing that the dollar should not longer be the global reserve currency. Whether they did so deliberately or not, the GOP successfully caused one of the biggest fuckups in recent federal finance.
Similarly, the Republican Party has reduced taxes on the rich to sixty-year lows even as it pushed the country into two open-ended wars of choice, and what began as a budget surplus in 2000 is now either a crippling or just a very scary deficit. Meanwhile, the gap between rich and poor is wider than it’s been since the 1890s. And Michele Bachmann just spoke favorably of a 0% corporate income tax. The question of why the party of Lincoln has become so rabidly committed to these apparently destructive actions is maybe impossible to answer. It also begs an even more interesting one.
The scariest thing about Lofgren’s essay is the question it does not answer: if the Republican Party were deliberately sabotaging American politics and the federal government for its own benefit and that of the wealthy and corporations, how would it behave differently? Whether the GOP has become an insurrectionist party or not, it’s producing the same outcomes. Maybe it’s because they truly believe that a nation with little functioning government will benefit everyone. Maybe it’s because they’re trying to do away with democracy as we know it. What bothers me is the possibility that, from the outside, both plans look exactly the same.