This stunt that House Republicans have pulled—shutting down government because they don’t like the health-care reform law that will not be affected by the shutdown—puts me in mind of one of their recent former staff aides.
His name is Mike Lofgren. For 28 years he worked as a Republican staffer on Capitol Hill, the last 16 as a budget analyst for the House and Senate.
By late 2011 he had endured all he could endure. So he quit and, in September of that year, published a buzzed-about article for a website, truthout.com.
In that article, Lofgren deplored that his party of Eisenhower and pragmatic conservatism had become an “apocalyptic cult” wanting either to tear down the government to take it over, or take over the government to tear it down.
By “apocalyptic” he intended a kind of religious metaphor.
Apocalyptic religion is a fundamentalist one holding that we’re all headed for a dire fate if we don’t believe and behave as the fundamentalist religion dictates.
These new Republicans who came to Congress, principally the U.S. House, with the Tea Party revolt in 2010 are like that in their politics, Lofgren wrote.
Their political theology, he said, worships private business and/or religion, owing to a convenient and cynical political merger of board room and pulpit, and sees government as the vile enemy of both.
A government dictate that everyone must buy health insurance—why, that’s practically the unpardonable sin, they believe. It burdens the private sector and presumes that a moral imperative can be mandated, and a virtuous act performed, by government.
This new shutdown of the government for no reason other than House Republican zeal reveals a prescience in Lofgren’s article, which he parlayed into a recent book, The Party is Over.
After I wrote a laudatory column in September 2011 about the article, while calling it “perhaps a tad overwrought in a sentence or two,” Lofgren sent me a note saying he’d actually restrained himself because things really were worse than I could imagine.
There was another equally profound theme of his article. It was that this new and destructively apocalyptic House Republican politics gets enabled by Democrats, the media and the people.
The Democrats are complicit, Lofgren wrote, because they are politically cowardly and inept and beholden themselves to corporate underwriters.
The news media is complicit, Logren wrote, because of a practice that The Guardian has called American journalism’s addiction to “both side-ism,” meaning a faux attention to supposed fairness by trying to balance reporting.
That, Lofgren wrote, leads people to blame both parties equally in times such as these rather than to distinguish and confront the real fact—which, in this instance, is that Republicans are singularly to blame for acting illogically with cynical obstruction.
The people are complicit, he wrote, because elections are dominated by “low-information voters” who often express their disdain for government by voting for the party most disdainful of government. That means Republicans, even as Republicans were the ones primarily responsible for making government deserving of disdain.
Every time people blame only “Congress” for “this mess,” they are, by their broad generic brush, falling into the Republicans’ trap.
The problem at hand isn’t Congress, but the House Republican subset. The “mess” at hand isn’t vague and pervasive, but narrow and specific to that House Republican subset.
It’s one thing to want to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A bill could be filed to accomplish that and it could be argued vigorously. Then a vote could be taken.
But to refuse to fund the government because you don’t like that act, and to deploy a bully’s tactic that inflicts broad collateral harm without touching that thing you don’t like—because, as it happens, the Affordable Care Act is not affected by this cessation of newly discretionary funding—well, all of that is the handiwork of extremist defenders against the apocalypse.
The wild card in the current affair is that Democrats suddenly have begun to appear less cowardly.
President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid have declared simply and plainly that keeping government open is not a matter of negotiation, and that neither is the debt ceiling by which the government pays its bills.
Even the usually obliging U.S. Sen. Mark Pryor said on the Capitol View program Sunday on KARK-TV that Republicans can’t have their way this time because … they lost.
Indeed, they lost the presidency. Indeed, they lost the Senate.
They also lost the combined popular vote for the House, though they held their majority thanks to redistricting that gave them consolidated choirs to which to preach their apocalyptic sermons.
John Brummett’s column appears regularly in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at email@example.com. Read his blog at brummett.arkansasonline.com, or his @johnbrummett Twitter feed.