Book Reviews

Useless Democrats and Crazy Republicans: A Review of “The Party Is Over”

9780670026265_p0_v1_s260x420Former Republican Party insider Mike Lofgren’s The Party is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted (Penguin, 2012), is an admirable effort because, right from the get-go and all throughout, it remains true to its purpose, which is succinctly laid out at the very start:

“This book is about America’s broken political system: how it got that way, who benefits, and who loses.It is about the growing domination of the legislative process by corporate money and the corresponding decline of a broad public interest.It is about how politicians use intensely polarizing ideological issues as bait to energize their political bases—and to divert those followers away from focusing on the one overriding political issue in our society: who gets what.”

Perfection.

A year ago, Lofgren, a Republican (although nowadays he’s probably an independent), made a splash after retiring from Congress as a 30-year veteran staffer—and he listed all the reasons why in that introduction. “What I saw,” he laments, reflecting on the de-evolution he witnessed on Capitol Hill, “was not Civics 101 or Jefferson’s Manual, but an auction where political services are won by the highest bidder.” The disgruntled former aide has since then channeled his frustration into a 240-page, populist rant, and as the subtitle indicates, he takes no prisoners on either side of the aisle.

Actually, while a first glance may lead you to believe that Lofgren attacks Republicans and Democrats equally, you’d be mistaken; sure, he takes aim at both sides, but his blows at the GOP make his criticisms of Dems look like slaps on the wrist. He dismisses the latter as incompetent cultural elitists, as corruptible and as guilty of being corporate lackeys as their right-wing counterparts. But the former? Well, Lofgren spurns the GOP three or four paragraphs to one, painting them as either incorrigible whack-jobs or shamelessly devious scoundrels who prey on the simpleminded, ignorant, impressionable, and predictable minds of uninformed, overzealous, overly patriotic, and overly religious denizens. (I swear I’m basically just paraphrasing!)

Yes. Any suggestion that this is a balanced book is plain silly.

And that’s a shame because any well-reasoned arguments of his are complemented—if not downright permeated—by belligerent, curmudgeonly, and thereby potentially unapproachable and unattractive prose. In short, he sounds like me when I’m yelling at right-wingers, and it’s not a good thing in his case because his audience isn’t my audience: he’s supposed to be talking to the middle class.

And what’s more is that, ultimately, Lofgren doesn’t offend me, a Democrat, and there’s a solid chance that it’s the same case with most Republicans (who, I imagine, would be emboldened instead of insulted by him)—we’re both pretty pompous! This raises the question of whether or not his book is actually useful—better yet, wondering whether or not he does more harm than good (if there’s one thing I learned on PolicyMic, it’s that some people are more sensitive about being insulted than being proven wrong), which brings me to my final point.

Honestly, this book is to budding libertarians as GayTube.com is to people getting close to figuring out that they’re actually homosexicals. It doesn’t just appeal to their growing sense for how much politics pisses them off; Lofgren actually legitimizes and enhances that sense, and he does so to such an extent that it inadvertently fans whatever flames of curiosity readers may have for the juicy alternative of Gary Johnson’s bandwagon. I say inadvertently because The Party Is Overisn’t exactly blessed by the Holy Church of Libertarianism. In fact, it’s implicit in Lofgren’s criticism of Paul Ryan, for example, that he’s probably not all that fond of libertarianism (or of consequentialist libertarianism anyway): Lofgren believes in an ideal government’s provision of social safety nets, and therefore thrashes away at Ryan, who’d eliminate Medicare and privatize Social Security if he could.

But that’s the thing; considerably more evident than his indirect disdain for fiscally über-conservative libertarianism is his awfully explicit disdain for how far our dysfunctional government is from what he considers ideal (i.e. a political system in which moderation and practicality are prized—not vilified and substituted with other means that serve ends like the character assassination, ideological rigidity and purity, political gain, or increasing profits). His cynicism is domineering and sometimes overstated, outweighing any sort of hope that Humpty Dumpty could one day be put back together again.

He imparts unto his readers, perhaps unintentionally, his own cynicism—atop the cynicism that already defines most of us in today’s vitriolic climate.

Despite all of the good things about it (e.g., his much needed criticism of “American Exceptionalism,” as well as our delusion that ours is an “indispensable nation”; his criticism of cable news media’s fear of “criticism for perceived bias” and its subsequent “practice of false evenhandedness”), even an optimist like me had a hard time ignoring how much this book overall made me hate my government—my own party, even! And if Lofgren’s intention was to instill some sort of motivation to fix the system, one could easily walk away from this book having surmised quite the opposite. Unintentional or not, his tone confirms and amplifies all too well so many equally compelling reasons why we shouldn’t have any such faith.

I don’t think that’s a healthy outlook for any country to have.

Originally published on PolicyMic (08/15/12).
Edited by Michael Luciano.

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