By D.R. Tucker on 8/17/2012, 3:05pm PT  

Guest blogged by D.R. Tucker

Mike Lofgren's new book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, will certainly motivate the actual patriots in the United States --- and alienate those Americans who merely call themselves patriots.

Lofgren, who spent nearly three decades as a Republican congressional staffer working at various points for then-Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and then-Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, garnered national attention last year for a Truth-Out.org piece entitled "Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult."

In that piece, he famously declared, "The Democrats have their share of machine politicians, careerists, corporate bagmen, egomaniacs and kooks. Nothing, however, quite matches the modern GOP."

The Party Is Over is more than an extension of the Truth-Out piece; in fact, it is the best description of the intellectual and moral collapse of Washington since Sam Tanenhaus's The Death of Conservatism

Lofgren makes it clear at the outset that the Republicans can get away with their insanity in part because the Democrats don't fight aggressively enough for sanity:

[The Democrats] have not become an extremist party like the GOP --- their politicians do not match the current crop of zanies who infest the Republican Party --- but their problem lies in the opposite direction. It is not that they are fanatics or zealots; it is that most do not appear to believe in anything very strongly…After three straight losses in presidential elections between 1980 and 1988, they abandoned the practices of their old beliefs while continuing to espouse them in theory. These new Democrats will say anything to win an election --- an objective that, in their minds, generally requires them to emulate Republicans, particularly with respect to moneygrubbing on the fund-raising circuit…What has evolved in America over the last three decades is a one-and-a-half-party system, as Democrats opportunistically cleave to the 'center,' which, in the relativistic universe of American politics, keeps moving further to the right.

Lofgren notes that when he first started working in Washington, bipartisan coalitions were still possible, and members of his party still valued facts, reason and logic. Thanks to such figures as Newt Gingrich and Karl Rove, the GOP gradually and "collectively lost its mind" and became the party of Grave Overarching Partisanship:

There were signposts on the road ahead --- the Gingrich revolution of 1995, the Clinton impeachment circus --- but things got much worse after September 11, with the massive infringements of civil liberties that followed and the bluster and bravado that preceded the invasion of Iraq. By the 2010 midterm election the party had collectively lost its mind…How did this happen? Under the influence of political consultants such as Karl Rove, the GOP decided that educated and affluent (but not necessarily rich) suburban voters could be taken for granted to vote for them as the 'natural governing party.' The party could thus focus on gaining new adherents by sharpening its differences with the opposition.

This led to the development of GOP talking points that depicted the Democrats as weak on national defense, anti-religious and elitist --- talking points that were able to take hold in the vacuum of an eviscerated corporate mainstream media [emphasis added]:

[T]he GOP has confected a shrewd marketing campaign: play up the culture wars and demagogue national security issues to distract voters from their real intentions. It did not take long for clever political consultants to realize that, in the absence of critical and analytical news media, the most assertive and repetitive voice will win the argument. Also, the GOP reflexively scorns so-called elites (by which it means educated, critical thinkers) to mask the way it is utterly beholden to the true American elite: the plutocracy that runs the country.

Thanks to Gingrich and Rove (among others), the GOP is no longer a conservative party in the Burkean sense, Lofgren charges, but a "radical right-wing party" that "is no longer a party of governance, because it has no positive, workable agenda with which to exercise power: it has become the 'anti' party par excellence."

A fetish for the military-industrial complex now defines the GOP: Lofgren notes that the "authoritarian national security and law and order mentality that has gripped the Republican faithful" has created a situation in which the party's base gleefully accepts limitations on civil liberties:

Believing that they are the most patriotic Americans, and that they have nothing to fear, they rationalize warrantless surveillance as something the government will only use against terrorists, foreigners, criminally inclined minorities, and other evildoers.

Of course, there's a reason the GOP gets away with this madness:

Democrats--ever sensitive to the whiff of corporate money (as in their vote to indemnify the telecommunications companies for illegal surveillance), or afraid of being tarred as soft on terrorism, soft on crime, or soft in general--have closely followed the GOP's trail. None of this would have happened in the presence of a vigilant press or a resolute citizenry conscious of its rights and skeptical of distractions, scare tactics, or intimidation. Sadly, we have been dumbed down, beaten down, and conditioned into accepting the invalidation of the Constitution as the new norm with scarcely a whimper.

The ideologically juiced-up GOP has been able to bamboozle the public with empty catchphrases (Lofgren sarcastically notes that the so-called "job creators" have created most of those jobs in China!) and half-truths (the "Half of Americans don't pay taxes!" talking point), all of which are promoted not only through Republican media but also through the "corporate-owned business press."

As a result of this brainwashing, too few Americans realize how obsessed the GOP is with unlimited military spending and warmaking (much of which is advocated by "the neoconservative Weekly Standard, the supposedly liberal New Republic, the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, and increasingly that of the Washington Post") and scorn for climate science (based on donations from fossil-fuel companies and a distorted understanding of Scripture).

Lofgren specifically rebukes the rise of "the belligerent frat-boy conservative, a political lifestyle and performance art launched in the 1980s by P.J. O'Rourke" and most recently exemplified by "the late Andrew Breitbart and his protégé, James O'Keefe." The frat-boy conservatives, writes Lofgren, "earn their bona fides by praising belligerence and touting ignorance of world affairs as a moral virtue, notwithstanding the fact that they have no core of fixed moral beliefs at all, religious or intellectual."

However, Lofgren repeatedly emphasizes that the Democrats have their own maladies, namely what Current TV host Cenk Ugyur calls "corporatist Democrats," including such figures as Sen. Max Baucus of Montana and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York. Lofgren strongly denounces the Obama administration for continuing many of President Bush's "antiterrorism" efforts, and attacks "left-leaning think tanks" (such as the Center for American Progress) for not being more vocal against President Obama's foreign-policy decisions.

"The [Department of Defense] budget grew more under Obama than it had been projected to grow by the Bush administration," Lofgren declares. "Various illegal or unconstitutional regimes involving surveillance, detention, and trial instituted by Bush have been retained, consolidated, and strengthened under Obama. On the domestic front, Timothy Geithner, Obama's Wall Street messenger boy, saw to it that there would be no CEO compensation limits in the Dodd-Frank bill, and that the bill as a whole would be more façade than substance."

Lofgren concludes by noting that there is a way to reform the American system: "Get money out of elections --- get all private money out of our public elections. Federally funded campaigns will undoubtedly create new problems, but can they be remotely as bad as the auctioning of candidates that occurs today?"

A "reasonable but limited amount of free [televised] political advertising" and the elimination of grotesquely gerrymandered congressional districts would also produce the reforms necessary to get both parties back on track, he writes. (Lofgren also embraces the controversial concept of "open, nonpartisan primaries with the top two finishers contesting the general election.")

However, those reforms will not become reality until and unless the American people demand these changes. "It is long past time," Lofgren writes, "for average Americans to switch off Entertainment Tonight and become well-informed citizens on foreign and national security policy issues…If you want politicians to treat you as a citizen rather than as a subject, don't give them reasons to regard you with contempt."

You can't watch it in a theater or on DVD, but The Party Is Over is one of the best political documentaries in years. Washington will hate this book. It stands to reason: doesn't the criminal always hate the prosecutor?

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D.R. Tucker is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and a former contributor to the conservative website Human Events Online. He has also written for the Huffington Post, the Boston Herald, ClimateCrocks.com, FrumForum.com, the Ripon Forum, Truth-Out.org, TheNextRight.com, and BookerRising.com. In addition, he hosted a Blog Talk Radio program, The Notes, from August 2009 to June, 2010. You can follow him on Twitter here: @DRTucker.