Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted

Posted by nliakos on December 22, 2012

by Mike Lofgren (Viking 2012)

Mike Lofgren is a Republican disillusioned with (one might say disgusted by) what the Republican party has become. As the title indicates, he is not enamored of the Democratic Party either. Lofgren worked for 28 years for Republicans John Kasich and Judd Gregg on the House and Senate Budget Committees. As a Hill staffer, he had a good vantage point from which to observe the changes in the Party. When he was finally disgusted enough to quit, he wrote this book. He seems to have written it during the 2012 primary season, as he did not yet know who would be the Republican candidate.

It is quite funny, or would be if the subject were not so serious. Somehow, reading about the corruption of the system as described by someone of Lofgren’s background makes it scarier for me. Lofgren’s prose is frequently inflammatory: The Republican Party is “full of lunatics” (pp. 9-10) who “bamboozle millions of people” (p. 56); the Bush administration went “off their rockers” (p. 173); the new Democrats “will say anything to win an election–an objective that . . . generally requires them to emulate Republicans, particularly with respect to moneygrubbing on the fundraising circuit” (p. 3). He does not mince words.

There are a couple of chapters that were particularly interesting to me. One is Chapter 4, “A Devil’s Dictionary,” which examines the way Republicans have come to call the linguistic shots in U.S. public discourse. I remember how the phrase “family values” suddenly became something I didn’t want to identify with, and when the use of “pro-life” for anti-abortion-rights advocates implied that the rest of us were somehow “pro-death.”  He attributes this in part to the fact that Democrats take their language cues from academia (“arcane, qualified, and convoluted,” p. 61), whereas Republicans take theirs from advertising (the phrase public relations is itself an example of the creation of a new term to replace one that has become tainted, in this case propaganda, according to Lofgren). He writes at length of the sudden use of the word homeland and shows how “the war on terrorism” morphed into “the war on terror” (“How can one make war on a subjective mental state?” p. 59), comparing this use of language to Orwell’s Newspeak. The chapter ends with a funny but chilling mini-glossary including such gems as “conservative: a person profoundly respectful of heritage, tradition, and old-fashioned values while preaching the revolution and strip-mining the Grand Canyon for high-sulfur coal” and “liberal (pronounced librull): a satanic ideologue who is at once a social leveler, an elitist defender of privilege, and atheist, and a secret Muslim determined to bring sharia law to America” (pp. 64-65).

Another eye-opening chapter is Chapter 7, “Media Complicity.”  In it, Lofgren takes no prisoners, lambasting everyone from Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck to Tom Friedman and The Washington Post (my hometown newspaper). He accuses the so-called “respectable media” of bending over backward to appear balanced and becoming the mouthpiece of whoever is in power. He berates the Post in particular of overuse of anonymous sources and warns that “the true danger lies in an ostensibly neutral journalism that most Americans count on to tell them what is going on in the world but which too often acts as a stenographer for powerful and self-serving factions in government operating under a cloak of anonymity.” (p. 127)

There are also chapters on the abuse of the Constitution, taxes, war, religion, intellectuals, the decade of the 2000s (from the run up to 9/11 when the Bush administration should have been paying attention to the warnings of imminent terrorist attack from its own people, to the economic debacle from which we have yet to recover–a time he describes as “grubby and dishonest” [p. 177]), and the Democrats, who he accuses of lacking core beliefs and contributing to the massive expansion of military spending. The final chapter offers what he sees as the only possible way out of the mess we are in: public financing of drastically shortened politic campaigns, and an electorate that does the hard work of informing itself so that it is no longer ” apathetic and befuddled” (p. 211).

I liked the book, but I am sure it will not be read by the people that most need to read it: Republicans. I have to admit that I would probably shy away from a similar book criticizing liberals or progressives. (I confess to being a card-carrying member of the ACLU!) It’s painful when the wool is removed from our eyes and we see the ugly truth. And according to Lofgren, there is a lot of ugly truth to see.


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