Don’t welcome the Neoconfederate OverlordsPosted: September 4, 2011
I used to be a Republican. I registered as a Democrat when I moved to Louisiana 15 years ago. The Clinton Presidency was a beacon of hope for what I considered a party so co-opted by crazies that I couldn’t take it any more. As some of you know, I ran for state office in Nebraska and was completely stalked and harassed by right to life true believers and looney bin church members. I used to work for Republican candidates during my high school years. I attended many state and county conventions. During the 80s there was a distinct change. The conventions were packed with people recruited from church pews that were sent with directions on who to vote for and which principles to remove from the party platform. They removed the ERA and support for abortion rights with some of the most specious reasons I’d ever heard. I really thought if I heard any one mention unisex bathrooms one more time that I was going to slap some one silly.
All I ever got for nearly everything I said was some absolutely insane diatribe that wasn’t grounded in reality let alone science or economics or sound principles of governance. You can’t really debate any one who insists the earth is less than 10,000 years old and that scientists lie. The minute you run for office to start a policy discussion, you become labelled a politician and branded as part of the problem. They hate you for your education and call you an elite. You are screamed down for attending celebrations of women’s suffrage for ‘marching with lesbians in the street’ as if that was some kind of craven and criminal act. I’ve seen rabid dogs with less crazed eyes than the looks I’ve seen on anti-choice zealots. I completely understand why people always say they never knew they had a mass murderer burying bodies in yards right next to theirs. They choose not to see what’s going on. So many people avoid being truly awake. No amount of evidence seems to wake people who really want to be uninformed.
I totally self-identify as an Independent now because I think it’s pretty obvious that both parties are only interested in self-sustenance and not the country. I will not ever get involved with party politics again but I occasionally will work for a candidate. The last campaign I volunteered for was Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the Democratic nomination. I watch the new Republican party machinations with complete horror. An article in TruthOut has brought back all my angst felt while I was trying to help wrest the party from religious and John Birch-style extremists in the 80s and 90s. Its headline is this: “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult”. The author is Mike Lofgren who served as a Republican staffer–mostly in a budget analyst position for the House and Senate–for 30 years and has now quit. You should read the article and be very afraid. It’s an insider’s guide to the rebirth of the confederacy where quoting the Bible justifies any form of slavery and violence as a state’s right.
To those millions of Americans who have finally begun paying attention to politics and watched with exasperation the tragicomedy of the debt ceiling extension, it may have come as a shock that the Republican Party is so full of lunatics. To be sure, the party, like any political party on earth, has always had its share of crackpots, like Robert K. Dornan or William E. Dannemeyer. But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.
It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill. A couple of months ago, I retired; but I could see as early as last November that the Republican Party would use the debt limit vote, an otherwise routine legislative procedure that has been used 87 times since the end of World War II, in order to concoct an entirely artificial fiscal crisis. Then, they would use that fiscal crisis to get what they wanted, by literally holding the US and global economies as hostages.
The debt ceiling extension is not the only example of this sort of political terrorism. Republicans were willing to lay off 4,000 Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) employees, 70,000 private construction workers and let FAA safety inspectors work without pay, in fact, forcing them to pay for their own work-related travel – how prudent is that? – in order to strong arm some union-busting provisions into the FAA reauthorization.
Everyone knows that in a hostage situation, the reckless and amoral actor has the negotiating upper hand over the cautious and responsible actor because the latter is actually concerned about the life of the hostage, while the former does not care. This fact, which ought to be obvious, has nevertheless caused confusion among the professional pundit class, which is mostly still stuck in the Bob Dole era in terms of its orientation. For instance, Ezra Klein wrote of his puzzlement over the fact that while House Republicans essentially won the debt ceiling fight, enough of them were sufficiently dissatisfied that they might still scuttle the deal. Of course they might – the attitude of many freshman Republicans to national default was “bring it on!”
It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th century Europe. This trend has several implications, none of them pleasant.
He continues to write about how the media has not really awakened to the true nature of the party’s activists as well as a list of the current lunatic ideology that has captured the Republican political machinery. I’ve often written about the way the press never seems to hold any one to account for lying. They are complicit in the destruction of political discourse. They refuse to call out obvious lies.
The media are also complicit in this phenomenon. Ever since the bifurcation of electronic media into a more or less respectable “hard news” segment and a rabidly ideological talk radio and cable TV political propaganda arm, the “respectable” media have been terrified of any criticism for perceived bias. Hence, they hew to the practice of false evenhandedness. Paul Krugman has skewered this tactic as being the “centrist cop-out.” “I joked long ago,” he says, “that if one party declared that the earth was flat, the headlines would read ‘Views Differ on Shape of Planet.’”
Lofgren cites a fairly recent article from The New Republic worth reading. Its’ written by John B Judis and titled ” If Obama Likes Lincoln So Much, He Should Start Acting Like Him”.
Over the last four decades, the Republican Party has transformed from a loyal opposition into an insurrectionary party that flouts the law when it is in the majority and threatens disorder when it is the minority. It is the party of Watergate and Iran-Contra, but also of the government shutdown in 1995 and the impeachment trial of 1999. If there is an earlier American precedent for today’s Republican Party, it is the antebellum Southern Democrats of John Calhoun who threatened to nullify, or disregard, federal legislation they objected to, and who later led the fight to secede from the union over slavery.
Today, Republicans are threatening a government shutdown and an international monetary crisis over raising the debt ceiling. They have demanded a set of ruinous concessions as a condition for raising the ceiling. These conditions would include draconian budget cuts at a time when economic growth has virtually stalled—it grew a mere 0.9 percent the first half of this year—because of the exhaustion of the 2009-10 government stimulus. To gain Tea Party votes, House Speaker John Boehner set another condition for raising the debt ceiling again in six months: the passage by the House and Senate of a constitutional amendment to balance the budget. An amendment of this kind would make it impossible for the federal government to reverse economic downturns. The Republicans are, in effect, demanding a major constitutional change in return for not shutting down the government and undermining the American economy. That’s insurrectionary behavior.
I am not an expert on Lincoln, but I have a pretty good idea what he would say if he were to suddenly appear on the scene. He would reject the Republican majority’s attempt to blackmail the rest of the government and the nation. If, because of Republican intransigence, the Congress were unable to raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd, I suspect he would follow Bill Clinton’s advice and raise the debt ceiling unilaterally on the grounds of the fourteenth amendment, which says that “the validity of the public debt … shall not be questioned.” That’s certainly a risky move. If Obama were to do it, he could eventually face a hostile Supreme Court majority, just as Lincoln’s suspension of habeas corpus aroused the ire of Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1861. But, given the dangerous game that the Republican Party is playing, that’s a risk worth taking.
I am completely baffled by the inability of people that like Ron Paul to listen to him and not hear the same confederate language that framed the civil rights era. He uses the same language I heard in the 60s and 70s when people in the south were trying to justify all their Jim Crow Laws and their monumental laws supporting voter disenfranchisement. We’re seeing today’s Republican Governors pass legislation to restrict access to votes. We’re seeing Republican Governors and legislation restrict access to a constitutionally protected medical procedure. Still, there seems to be a distinct lack of outrage by people who supposedly support limited government on these actions. This is the same group of people that are now screaming about the size of federal debt while they were more than willing to spend incredible amounts of money on unnecessary military actions and items during the Reagan years and the Bush 43 years. The hypocrisy is just maddening. The complicity of the press in presenting this insanity as simply another view point is virtually treasonous.
Back to Lofgren who demonstrates point-by-point that the Republican party is obsessed with protecting its rich constituents, promoting war and military industry, and has a religious bent now based on the view of the inevitability of apocalypse. This alliance of neoconfederates, crony capitalists, religious fanatics, and war mongers has been 40 years in the making.
It is my view that the rise of politicized religious fundamentalism (which is a subset of the decline of rational problem solving in America) may have been the key ingredient of the takeover of the Republican Party. For politicized religion provides a substrate of beliefs that rationalizes – at least in the minds of followers – all three of the GOP’s main tenets.
Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God’s favor. If not, too bad! But don’t forget to tithe in any case. This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.
The GOP’s fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter – God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass – and since American religious fundamentalist seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.
It is the apocalyptic frame of reference of fundamentalists, their belief in an imminent Armageddon, that psychologically conditions them to steer this country into conflict, not only on foreign fields (some evangelicals thought Saddam was the Antichrist and therefore a suitable target for cruise missiles), but also in the realm of domestic political controversy. It is hardly surprising that the most adamant proponent of the view that there was no debt ceiling problem was Michele Bachmann, the darling of the fundamentalist right. What does it matter, anyway, if the country defaults? – we shall presently abide in the bosom of the Lord.
I frequently lament that not enough people really pay attention to candidates when they exercise their voting rights. However, unless you are willing to do your homework and embrace the idea that politicians may not be who they say they are, you will wind up as one of those low information voters that’s easy prey to the likes of Rick Perry. Back to Lofgren.
It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill. It is not in my pragmatic nature to make a heroic gesture of self-immolation, or to make lurid revelations of personal martyrdom in the manner of David Brock. And I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett.
I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country’s future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them. And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and “shareholder value,” the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP’s decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.
If you think Paul Ryan and his Ayn Rand-worshipping colleagues aren’t after your Social Security and Medicare, I am here to disabuse you of your naiveté. They will move heaven and earth to force through tax cuts that will so starve the government of revenue that they will be “forced” to make “hard choices” – and that doesn’t mean repealing those very same tax cuts, it means cutting the benefits for which you worked.
The lessons of the last year could not be clearer. If you live in a state with a governor and a legislature sympathetic to these views, you’re watching the country descend into a locus of neoconfederate states where the state serves the plantation masters and the rest of us are slaves to ideology, servitude, debt and old tyme religion. We are all share croppers now. Take some time to think about this on a weekend that celebrates the struggles that our grandparents endured to bring us in to the modern age. Think about this as we descend in to Civil-War era politics and mindsets. Also, be very aware that the absolute ineptitude and corruption of the Democratic party and their inability to stop this insanity is as treasonous as the ‘fair-minded’ press. We the People need to do something quickly.