Bespectacled and characteristically deadpanned, author Mike Lofgren could almost pass for The Daily Show’s John Hodgman, though unfortunately Lofgren’s often comedic take on the grim political reality in Washington is no joke.
Still, one can’t help but chuckle when he refers to the current congressional roll call as the “casebook of lunacy” that eventually drove him to resign after a nearly 30-year career as a senior Republican policy aide in the House of Representatives, or when he calls Republican members “bellhops for corporate America.”
The thing is, Lofgren doesn’t seem to thrive on the stage act. In an appearance last night at Washington’s “Politics & Prose” book store, before a standing-room-only audience and a C-SPAN camera, Lofgren carried these one-liners with the cogent seriousness of a man on a mission. Though early reviews of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted suggest Lofgren has a real seller on his hands, it appears that fatigue and genuine disgust with the system ultimately drove him out of his shell, rather than an interest in apostasy-marketing.
And his story is? That the current state of American politics has put the economy and our democracy in crisis — and the GOP is mostly to blame. “I wrote the book because I am a concerned citizen,” he explained.
To Lofgren, who worked for individual Republican members of the House and Senate before serving his last 16 years (he left in 2011) as a senior Republican analyst on the budget committees mostly on the the national security and defense sides, both parties are rotten, but Republicans take the prize for sailing off the rails and taking all manner of common sense and duty to the republic with them. On that, a few choice observations: “[Republicans] are captured by Wall Street and Corporate money … a cult-like party …. an increasing number [of members] are becoming unhinged …worships wealth and the wealthy… [they persist] in furthering and enriching the nation’s plutocracy… [the GOP] uncharacteristically hesitates when it comes to tax relief for the people they claim to represent [the middle class],” while “relentlessly manipulating” the tax code for wealthy corporate interests.
He accuses the party of handing the keys to the radicals (and crazies) and embracing contentiousness and gridlock to the point of holding the fragile economy hostage, recalling last summer’s debate over the debt ceiling extension. “Their behavior caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the national credit rating last year … the Republicans wanted to hold our credit rating hostage. It cost the country $1.3 billion dollars.”
Meanwhile, Lofgren charged, Republicans engage in hyperbolic “war worship… greatly exaggerated in the aftermath of 9/11,” which is part “quid pro quo” to the corporate defense industry, part “a neurotic need to demonstrate toughness.”
“Militarism springs from a psychological deficit that requires an endless reserve of enemies, both foreign and domestic,” he noted.
Anyone who had hoped he would heap some condemnation on the Democrats might have been disappointed last night, but this was, after all, a liberal Washington audience and frankly, that’s not Lofgren’s schtick. That doesn’t mean he doesn’t scorn the donkeys — he does. He calls them “half a party,” one that’s dropped its progressive ideals and has “coasted far too long on Roosevelt’s legacy.” After the success of Ronald Reagan (he observes, “in today’s politics, Ronald Reagan would probably not be radical enough” for the GOP) and the New Right, plus successive electoral losses in the 1980s,”[Democrats] abandoned their beliefs” and now “say anything to win elections … they generally emulate Republicans.” Which makes them two-time losers in Lofgren’s book. “If people want a Republican, they will vote for the real thing.”
The “real thing” by the way, in terms of a politician Lofgren would trust to get things right, already came and went like 60 years ago. When pressed by a questioner in the audience about the ideal pol, he said. “I like Ike.”
“It has to go that far back?” said the incredulous man. “It goes way back,” Lofgren responded curtly.
End of discussion.
Lofgren believes public financing of campaigns would be the first step in taking government and politics back. “It’s the avalanche of money in politics that forces both parties to be money grubbers … get the money out of politics.”
That may be one of the bigger sticking points among Lofgren’s conservative fans. Yes, he does have them. Some of them were at Politics & Prose last night, too. Easily spotted were a couple of Republican staffers-turned lobbyists, at least one guy from Ron Paul’s office and a prominent writer from National Review (not necessarily there out of admiration, but at least curiosity). Clearly enough, what Lofgren has to say may go down like a bitter pill for longtime Republicans, but that doesn’t mean what he says isn’t widely accepted among those who have already made their psychological if not practical breaks with the party establishment. And Lofgren wields not only a rare integrity in this town, but credibility, too. As The Atlantic‘s James Fallows pointed out after Lofgren’s coming out manifesto made the rounds last November, “Lofgren’s name is barely known to the general public, but among people who have covered or worked in the national-security field, he is a familiar and highly esteemed figure.”
Who has, apparently, gone over to the “dark side,” at least the side where the emperor’s clothes are plainly seen and talked about openly, with candor, and yes, with a little bit of comic relief.