Book Review: “The Party Is Over”

The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got ShaftedThe Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted by Mike Lofgren
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Because I’ve worked on Capitol Hill for nearly a decade and was a lobbyist for nearly as long before that, Lofgren’s account resonated with me from start to finish. Much of what he had to say about his party (the Republicans) was not news to me, but he’s a good story teller with a talent for the turn of phrase. A sampling:

How did Republicans manage to seize control of the way Americans speak about public life? Democrats do not understand the power of language. Their initiatives are posed in impenetrable policy-speak: the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The what? Can anyone even remember that? No wonder the pejorative “Obamacare” won out. (from Ch. 4)

But the larger objective, beyond specific policies, is to blanket the American public with a message of fear. As long as we are fearful, as long as there is anendless list of threats, Pentagon spending can never be cut, PATRIOT Act provisions can never be repealed, and the United States will forever have the right and duty to meddle in every corner of the world. (from Ch. 6)

Did Bradley Manning, the U.S. Army enlisted man who gave thousands of pages of sensitive government documents to the website Wikileaks, damage national security? Perhaps he did, but no reasonable person with any experience in government should have taken the government at its word when it attempted to justify holding him without charge or legal counsel and in abusive conditions. Especially not when senior administration officials from both parties also leak classified information to the press to further their objectives. National security secrets have become degraded to the status of gossipy tidbits for the press. I am sure a Venn diagram of persons who want to boil Bradley Manning in oil would hardly intersect a diagram of persons who wanted similar treatment meted out to Scooter Libby for blowing the cover of a covert CIA officer–an extremely serious matter. (from Ch. 8)

What interested me was his take on the other party I used to belong to–the Democrats. This, from the introduction, gives you a taste:

The Democratic Party coasted far too long on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy. It became complacent and began to feel entitled to its near hegemonic position in politics, culture and the media. When the New Right increasingly began to displace it in all three of those arenas, some liberals merely turned into ineffectual whiners and crybabies or ivory tower escapists. The bulk of Democratic politcians and operatives, however, moved in a different direction. 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. Many of them only last a term or two, because if people want a Republican they will vote for the real thing. 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.

And this, from his full chapter on the Democrats, lays out what many progressives (and probably many independent) voters feel after Obama’s first term:

Many left-leaning think tanks, like the Center for American Progress, handle the same executive branch usurpations that they criticized when Bush was in office less by explicitly praising them (for that would be too blatantly hypocritical) as by adopting a see-no-evil approach. A pervasive mentality appears to have taken over among establishment Democrats that we live under a government of men (and women) rather than laws. Illegal surveillance, indefinite detention, unlimited executive war powers, and the whole menu of executive branch encroachments were a grave breach of the Constitution, decency, and common sense when practiced by a Republican president. But now that a Democrat is in office, it is different. He is one of our people and can be trusted to wield power responsibly. He won’t spy on us. He won’t detain us without charge. There;s no way he’ll assassinate us (a power Bush never explicitly claimed). With this attitude, establishment Democrats only mirror the right-wing Republicans who cheered the PATRIOT Act, denounced criticism of illegal wiretapping, and favored all manner of of illegality. They believed that they, too, were immune from having their rights violated by the government so long as “their guy” was in power.

If the book has a weakness, it’s the last chapter, which contains Lofgren’s solutions for our current political plight: getting all private money out of public campaigns, congressional redistricting by nonpartisan commissions, a limited campaign season, etc. Most of what Lofgren proposes has been put forward by others, in most cases long ago. None of that makes Lofgren’s suggestions less valid. The book is a must-read if you want to better understand our dangerously dysfunctional political culture.

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