Saturday, June 23, 2018
Opinion

Looking for adults who can lead us

In 1939 George Orwell wrote, "We have now sunk to a depth at which restatement of the obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."

Enter Mike Lofgren, today's intelligent man fulfilling that duty. His book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted, is an engrossing autopsy of current political reality — where one party looks like a freak show and the other barely registers a pulse.

What makes Lofgren unique is his vantage point. He was a once-proud Republican who worked in Congress for 28 years analyzing legislation for the House and Senate budget committees. At various times he worked for Republicans, Rep. John Kasich of Ohio and Sen. Judd Gregg of New Hampshire. But like many Republicans — Charlie Crist of Florida, Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, to name a few — Lofgren stood still while his party made a sharp turn to the right, leaving him and sanity behind.

Lofgren's story is not one of newfound love for Democrats. To the contrary, he finds both parties culpable for souring the American Dream.

The difference is Lofgren faults Democrats for their omission as much as their commission. He says while Democrats don't match the "zanies who infest the Republican Party," their problem is "most do not appear to believe in anything very strongly."

Democrats are no longer a viable opposition party countering the Republicans, who now work exclusively for the benefit of the rich, according to Lofgren. Their willingness to compete with Republicans for deep-pocket fund-raising has transformed Democrats from FDR progressives who would stand for workers and the middle class over corporate interests, to pipsqueak moderates who cleave to a "center" that keeps moving further to the right. Lofgren calls Democrats half a party.

As to Republicans, Lofgren's book is a foghorn warning, an open-mouthed scream that would scare even Edvard Munch. He says his party has been hijacked by opportunists and true believers who have transformed it from the party of Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt and Eisenhower into one of "crackpots" like Eric Cantor, Steve King, Michele Bachmann and Allen West.

In Lofgren's experience, the new Republican Party wants to remake the country as "an upside-down utopia in which corporations rule; the Constitution, like science, is faith-based; and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy."

Lofgren blames the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism for the party's shift, saying it provides a substrate of beliefs for the GOP's three main tenets: "wealth worship, war worship, and the permanent culture war."

He says the party's fierce anti-intellectualism, ethical corner-cutting and warmongering resulted in a range of disastrous policy judgments over the Bush years, including: the use of torture, an unprovoked war of aggression in Iraq, military contractor corruption, market deregulation and irresponsible tax cuts.

Behind it all are the country's plutocrats to whom Republican politicos are fully beholden. Lofgren couldn't be clearer that there is only one overriding issue on the GOP agenda: "protect our society's overclass at all costs." Even alleged support for deficit reduction is just "eyewash" to blind voters.

For proof, Lofgren points to Republican-sponsored tax plans like that offered up by Mitt Romney, that would cut taxes on the rich while raising them on the middle class and do little to reduce the debt. He notes that the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission, a commission Lofgren assisted on an ad hoc basis, offered a plan with $4 trillion in deficit reductions. Yet all three House Republican commission members, including Paul Ryan, rejected it because it would have raised some net revenue.

After feeling battered and hopeless by Lofgren's litany of sad political turns our nation has taken, the last chapter is titled: "A Way Out?" Note the question mark. As much as anything, Lofgren is putting his hopes in the rising generation of adults. Because those around now — to restate the obvious — have really botched it.

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