If your idea of a good start to the week is with an incredible and engrossing tirade against the modern Republican party, with bonus anecdotes about their incoherent and dangerous behind-the-scenes decisions, then this is going to be a great Monday for you!
Mike Lofgren, a GOP staffer on the House and Senate Budget Committees for the past 28 years, has retired this year and decided to share the concern and disgust that finally led him to leave the party. It’s a fascinating read — I like to think that it’s even edge-of-your-seat for people who usually care less about John Boehner and more about Jo Calderone. I keep trying to find a good passage to make that clear, but honestly, there are too many. The stories of the insane difficulties heaped on FAA employees to bully them into union-busting provisions; the conspiracy theories entertained in the dark corners of the Republican side of the Hill because “it is also a fact that Republicans think that no Democratic president could conceivably be legitimate;” the fact that the GOP is so desperate to defend against tax increases for their richest friends, like the Koch brothers, that they ended up refusing Obama’s deficit-reduction package and pushing one that had less deficit reduction and fewer spending cuts in order to preserve as much income for the rich as possible.
So that doesn’t sound like fun lunch break reading? Well, to each their own. The takeaway is this: Mike Lofgren left the GOP after almost thirty years not because he’s no longer a conservative (upon reading that will become immediately clear) or because he’s been won over by the cause of Obama and the Democratic party (upon reading, that will become REALLY clear). He left because he perceived that the machinations of the GOP had progressed past being bad for the nation due to misapplied principles and ineffective policies and become actually intentionally destructive to America and the people in it. Lofgren contends that the GOP’s goals and objectives as a party are no longer aligned with those of America, and that they are in fact willing to work against America’s best interests to get what they want. Sound like what you’ve been thinking already? Lofgren has the stories and inside knowledge to back it up.
He outlines what he considers the three major tenets of the modern GOP — 1. The GOP cares more about its rich contributors than anything else, 2. They’re committed to militarism, and 3. The party is now based fundamentally on conservative Christianity. These aren’t really shocking ideas; anyone who’s paid even casual attention to the GOP’s actions and priorities over the last election cycle would come to similar conclusions. But you wouldn’t necessarily conclude (although you could!) what Lofgren has: that the GOP has explicitly decided it’s in the GOP’s best interest to essentially sabotage the workings of the entire US government.
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress’s generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.
Well! That’s really special. Anyone who followed the debt ceiling “crisis” at all will maybe recognize some of the above-mentioned behavior. Most pundits, however, described that debacle as an instance of Republicans trying to make Democrats look bad in front of what Lofgren calls “low-information voters.” In short, that the GOP’s aim was to make Democrats look greedy and financially irresponsible, and make the GOP look very sober and levelheaded in comparison. If we take Lofgren at his word, it was actually much worse than that. The GOP was trying to convince voters who are unlikely to have been well-educated on issues like federal fiscal responsibility and the national deficit via a mostly made-up “crisis” that the entire institution of government is unreliable, unstable, and full of incompetent liars.
There are tens of millions of low-information voters who hardly know which party controls which branch of government, let alone which party is pursuing a particular legislative tactic. These voters’ confusion over who did what allows them to form the conclusion that “they are all crooks,” and that “government is no good,” further leading them to think, “a plague on both your houses” and “the parties are like two kids in a school yard.” This ill-informed public cynicism, in its turn, further intensifies the long-term decline in public trust in government that has been taking place since the early 1960s – a distrust that has been stoked by Republican rhetoric at every turn (“Government is the problem,” declared Ronald Reagan in 1980).
Since at LEAST John McCain’s “maverick” campaign for the 2008 Presidential election, the Republican party has seen increasing numbers of “mavericks” and “rogues” and other candidates who bill themselves as being somehow “outsiders” when of course they are part of arguably the most powerful insider’s group in America. This appeals to a sort of individualist “rugged” streak, but apparently also has a larger purpose — to keep Americans loyal to “rogue” politicians and their government once they have been successfully convinced that the government as an entity can’t be trusted. The recurring theme of fear and politically expedient anxiety has been a mainstay in American politics for a while now; some would say well before 9/11. Lofgren makes the point that the GOP has been using a variety of different scapegoats to manufacture that fear for a long time:
You can probably guess who those people are. Above all, anyone not likely to vote Republican. As Sarah Palin would imply, the people who are not Real Americans. Racial minorities. Immigrants. Muslims. Gays. Intellectuals. Basically, anyone who doesn’t look, think, or talk like the GOP base. This must account, at least to some degree, for their extraordinarily vitriolic hatred of President Obama. I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama’s policy of being black. Among the GOP base, there is constant harping about somebody else, some “other,” who is deliberately, assiduously and with malice aforethought subverting the Good, the True and the Beautiful: Subversives. Commies. Socialists. Ragheads. Secular humanists. Blacks. Fags. Feminazis. The list may change with the political needs of the moment, but they always seem to need a scapegoat to hate and fear.
But the difference now, if you believe him, is that along with fearing everyone the government “protects” them from, Americans (especially “low-information voting” Americans) are now being conditioned by the GOP to also fear the government.
What does that mean for the queer community, which has been a cardholding scapegoat for generations? Well, we’ve noticed a trend over the last few months with Republican inside strategists indicating that marriage equality just isn’t an issue that they’re going to make a priority anymore. Michele Bachmann, one of the most historically vocal anti-gay candidates in the race, has begun refusing to answer questions about her views on gays. We speculated about what these trends could mean at the time; ideally, it was a sign that activists and gay families had successfully changed the connotation of legislating against gays from “pro-family” to “hateful,” and so it was becoming a political faux pas to do so. That could still be true, and hopefully is. But if you believe Lofgren’s story, there could be another factor: it could just be a completely calculated shift in Republican strategy. Maybe the Gay Scapegoats weren’t working out quite as well anymore, hopefully because of the work we’ve been doing, but maybe that’s also fine, because Republican strategists were already working on a new, much bigger scapegoat — the American government itself. This isn’t necessarily bad news for gays specifically — whatever their motivation is, if Republicans decide to stop expending energy and legislative power on hurting us and our families, it really will be possible to push through a lot of rights that we need badly. But it could be really bad news for everyone, gays included, if the GOP manages to convince a large portion of the population that it can’t trust the government, only the “anti-government” GOP politicians that are in control of the government.
Despite the political and policy disagreements you may have with Mr. Lofgren (I personally have many!) I think what he has to say is more than worth a read. While I’m hesitant to say something as inflammatory as “know your enemy,” it is true that knowledge is power. And the queer community should know as well as anyone that when facing people like the ones Mr. Lofgren describes, we need to make our own power, because they’re not going to let us have any without fighting for it.