Mike Lofgren, a former GOP staffer, wrote a much ballyhooed article a few days ago on why he is abandoning the Republican Party. Lofgren has done us a favor as much by what he gets wrong as what he gets right, but he is at least thoughtful. Now let’s see which is which.
First, stories about escaping a cult always carry weight with the naive. “I was held captive by Moonies but escaped!” The appeal is twofold. One, it makes us think that this person must be telling the truth. After all, he/she used to believe the lies but reformed. Two, it excuses us for our own recasting of a formerly bad position. “Gosh, I know how he feels. I once lived with the Moonies, but now I see the light.”
Lofgren explains that the Republican Party is full of lunatics. Duh. He also admits that Democrats have their share. Double duh. Yes, the country is full of lunatics, but his idea of what constitutes a lunatic bears examination. Apparently, Republicans are lunatics for standing firmly on principle, an act he thinks amounts to taking hostages. The Tea Party freshmen were not content simply to agree to a “good” debt ceiling deal, he laments, but one in which spending was not raised, period. Sounds like just plain old hard bargaining to me. Also absent is the counterexample of Democrats hard at work on Christmas Eve passing Obamacare. Goose? Gander?
Aside from the hypocrisy of singling out one party as the refuge of crazies, there is the matter of what Lofgren thinks is behind all this seemingly nutty strategy. It is, he laments, a tactic for reducing respect for our institutions of government.
Take a breath now and sit back down. Yes, I know. We just found the real lunatic, or at least a lunatic sympathizer. News flash: We don’t need any help lowering our estimation of government and they sure as hell don’t need any help providing us with reasons to do so. Disrespect for government is quintessentially American, and a good thing to boot. The problem is that we say we distrust and disrespect big government, but let it grow and grow and grow anyway. That is why we now live in a time where the public sector threatens to engulf us all.
This is lost on people like Lofgren, who still believe that what we are as a country reflects closely the principles on which it was founded.
This tactic of inducing public distrust of government is not only cynical, it is schizophrenic. For people who profess to revere the Constitution, it is strange that they so caustically denigrate the very federal government that is the material expression of the principles embodied in that document.
Uh, no, it is not. Not even close. The federal government is a monstrosity, to put it kindly. It no longer can pretend to be primarily dedicated to preserving individual rights or even straining to stay within the bounds designed by the Founders. Rather it is the arbiter of everything from diet to decor, thrusting its claws into every aspect of its citizen’s lives.
That Lofgren fails to see this is the real problem with this part of his Republican-scolding. Opposition to big government is not opposition to government in general and objecting to out-of-control social programs is not hatred of or contempt for the poor. The GOP’s libertarian tendencies, those few that remain, are honorable and far from lunacy.
To his credit Lofgren does identify a cancerous growth in the GOP. It is the tendency to demonize people unlike ourselves. Hate is not a foundation for any kind of sane ideology. The more vitriolic conservative media freaks pander to people who thrive on despising the Other–a cheesy and destructive tendency. Those who do not endorse this kind of thinly-veiled racism should say so openly, lest Republicans drift toward a hateful homogeneity.
Religion also comes under Lofgren radar, and he makes a good point. Republicans have tended to appeal to a type of religious fundamentalism that comes passing close to theocracy. Being religious does not make one a lunatic, but the indiscriminate mixing of one’s personal interpretations of scripture (whatever the faith) with governance for all is bound to meet lunacy on the road somewhere. Republicans would be better off not pandering to the worst of faith in America.
While his points of religious and racial intolerance have some merit, Lofgren’s farewell to the Republican Party seems to me to be prompted more by the resurgence of libertarian thinking than exclusive nastiness. He prefers the gentler, more agreeable GOP of yesteryear, not realizing that this is the reason we are in a mellofahess today. If Republicans do embrace Tea Party principles (the real ones, not the ones the press makes up) they can afford to lose the Lofgrens of this world. If not, he and his sympathizers can rejoin the Grand Old Party as it quietly acquiesces to America’s destruction. Were I a Republican, I think I’d rather hack off a few people than go along to get along.