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Watch out for the quiet ones ...
on August 8, 2012
In "The Party Is Over" Mike Lofgren presents a very similar message to Joseph Stiglitz's "The Price of Inequality" and Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein's "It's Even Worse than It Looks." The difference is that Lofgren's perspective is from working as a Republican analyst on House and Senate budget committees for 28 years. Throughout the book he tells of some of his interactions with unnamed elected officials, but primarily he focuses on specific people in government who forgot about what was for the good of the people in return for the power -- Republicans like Bush, Cheney, Abramoff, Gingrich, Bachmann, the Koch Brothers and Democrats like Obama, Rubin and Geithner. (Hint - you don't want to be mentioned in this book.)
I've made it a point to read books that were written by people who have written from different vantage points -- columnists, think tankers, bloggers, former officials, news people. It's interesting to see how those authors attempt to balance their criticism to attempt to attract both liberal/Democratic and conservative/Republican readers and to avoid the shut-down response where one side jumps onboard enthusiastically and the other pans it without actually reading it. None of those books were as outspoken and specific as Lofgren's. The first 10 chapters focus on aspects of the Republican strategy or how the Republican Party has gotten to the point where they are now -- its history, tactics, selective use of the Constitution, the words it uses to fire up its base, its tax strategy (it's really all about reducing taxes for the rich ... all the rest is purposely used to distract from that main strategy), its alliance with the religious right, its media complicity, its anti-liberal fixation, and its continued dishonesty -- and all this from a Republican staffer! This focus on one aspect at a time helps to compartmentalize their positions. Chapter 11 is not friendly to the Democrats, stating that they are just as much in corporate pockets as the Republicans are and that Obama has done little more than extending many of the policies and affronts to our personal rights that Bush put in place. The main problem he has with the Democrats is that they don't focus on anything. Perhaps if the Democrats do focus in this campaign on the middle class as Carville & Greenberg propose in "It's the Middle Class, Stupid!" this issue might be addressed.
As was the case in Jeff Faux's "The Servant Economy" I got a sense of hopelessness when I got to that final chapter. If you believe the expression "it's always darkest before the dawn," the chapter starts with this quote--
"As we embark on the second decade of the 21st century, the commanding heights of corporate America--the banks, the military-industrial complex, corporate interests benefiting from huge subsidies like Big Pharma and Big Oil--largely have the government they want. They have the tax structure they desire. Under Bush appointee Chris Cox, the SEC's regulatory function was wrecked. The military has been so outsourced that the Army can no longer feed itself, while a policy of permanent war assures a perpetual cash flow to contractors. Federal law guarantees pharmaceutical companies the kind of collusive and monopolistic profiteering that antitrust laws were intended to prevent. Corporate America has posted record profits even amid the most protracted period of joblessness in post-World War II history. It is corporate nirvana. Under these circumstances, who needs an activist government? Now that the commanding heights have achieved their objectives, a gridlocked government will work just fine, regardless of who is in charge."
Pretty scary if this is even remotely the case. In that final chapter, though, Lofgren offers a glimmer of hope. If the money can be removed from politics, then a chain reaction of positive developments could take place. After all, Lofgren says, people put us into this unfair and unequal position and citizens if properly educated to the situation can fight our way out. Already there are positive developments like people cleaning up their debt, refusing to apply to colleges where the tuition keeps skyrocketing, and working their way out of mortgages with no help from the government.
It's pretty interesting, too, to see the early press reactions to Lofgren and how he emerged from a long, low-profile career in government to express such loud and outspoken opinions about people he experienced up close and personally. Few have branded him as a whistleblower or a troublemaker, though one reporter wondered why he sat still for so long if this bothered him so much. This may be a preview of what we may see in the upcoming 2012 election. How are the Republican moderates who are increasing pushed out of their party going to react to the extremism of the current party? Will they have had enough and vote Democratic as the better of two evils? Will there be a candidate with the resolve to do what is right rather than doing what they are lobbied or outright bribed to do? These are the questions that Lofgren focuses on that can help us as voters to think through what must happen in a long-term effort to reclaim our government.