Ex-GOP Operatives Are Human, Too

Evaluating Mike Lofgren's Insights.

Bart Simpson liberal tribeYesterday I argued that Mike Lofgren is not who Truthout says he is. I'm still waiting for somebody to acknowledge what a great post it was. Instead, the liberal blogosphere is not only buying that identity lie, but also the entirety of what Lofgren has to say. He picked up a major endorsement from Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone and the article has been bruited by grandee James Fallows at The Atlantic.

Unfortunately, Taibbi goes off the cliff and Fallows only passes on other average reactions to the article, Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult. Before I get to the take-down of Lofgren's conclusions, there are many important facts in his analysis that aren't mentioned enough:
  • 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.
  • There were only 44 million Republican voters in the 2010 mid-term elections, but they effectively canceled the political results of the election of President Obama by 69 million voters.
  • the unpalatable fact that the United States has the largest incarcerated population of any country on earth. [Who else said that? - NS]
  • Ever since Republicans captured the majority in a number of state legislatures last November, they have systematically attempted to make it more difficult to vote: by onerous voter ID requirements (in Wisconsin, Republicans have legislated photo IDs while simultaneously shutting Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) offices in Democratic constituencies while at the same time lengthening the hours of operation of DMV offices in GOP constituencies); by narrowing registration periods; and by residency requirements that may disenfranchise university students.
  • Republicans also regarded Bill Clinton as somehow, in some manner, twice fraudulently elected (well do I remember the elaborate conspiracy theories that Republicans traded among themselves).
  • "Washington spending" - which has increased primarily to provide unemployment compensation, food stamps and Medicaid to those economically damaged by the previous decade's corporate saturnalia.
  • But the number of small businesses that have a net annual income over a million dollars is de minimis, if not by definition impossible (as they would no longer be small businesses). And as data from the Center for Economic and Policy Research have shown, small businesses account for only 7.2 percent of total US employment, a significantly smaller share of total employment than in most Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries.
  • All of these half truths and outright lies have seeped into popular culture via the corporate-owned business press. [My strikeout - NS]
All that is great, and it's why tribal liberals are jumping up and down cheering. So, what's wrong? How much time do you have? Don't worry, I'll just take on the biggest mistakes after the jump.

This part has gotten a lot of attention:
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.
Lofgren calls the Democrats stupid several times, but since it's not used here it can be applied to Lofgren himself. Everybody who watches TV knows that in a hostage situation, the cops don't give in to the hostage takers - they call their bluff. First over some small things, like a demand for money in three hours: "We just can't get it together fast enough, don't you know it's after banking hours? In the meantime, we need you to send out a hostage as a sign of good will." Then some major stuff, like the bad guys threatening that a failed deadline will cause them to shoot a hostage. Predictably ensues. The cops know that as the deadline approaches without any signs of progress, the bad guys start to get very nervous; contact is made right before the deadline to distract them; then BOOM! in comes the SWAT team; the bad guys are killed, except the leader, who cowardly gives up; and the hostages and the good guys live happily ever after. The Democrats watch TV, right? Seriously, if you can't credibly threaten to call the other side's bluff, you've rolled yourself.

Also, of course Ezra Klein is confused, he's a columnist at the WaPo! (or as Dean Baker calls it, Fox on 15th Street.) It's practically a job requirement. But Lofgren is confused too, because TEA Party rejection of the debt limit deal was only possible because lots of House Democrats, including the leadership, voted for it. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) had plenty of votes to spare, even with very little teabagger support. Although I have to give Lofgren props for the most indirect accusation of Fascism I've ever read in the second paragraph above. Nice job! However, there's more sloppiness to come. Including flawed premises:
The US Senate has more complex procedural rules than any other legislative body in the world; many of these rules are contradictory, and on any given day, the Senate parliamentarian may issue a ruling that contradicts earlier rulings on analogous cases.

The only thing that can keep the Senate functioning is collegiality and good faith. During periods of political consensus, for instance, the World War II and early post-war eras, the Senate was a "high functioning" institution: filibusters were rare and the body was legislatively productive. Now, one can no more picture the current Senate producing the original Medicare Act than the old Supreme Soviet having legislated the Bill of Rights.
First, I don't really think blaming the Senate Parliamentarian is cool: "The role of the parliamentary staff is strictly advisory; the Presiding Officer is in no way required to follow their advice". More importantly, nothing of substance ever happens on the floor of the Senate anyway. Second, Lofgren is correct, as many have already noted, filibusters are way up lately. However, his point is a truism, "During periods of political consensus ... the Senate [is] a 'high functioning' institution". Duh! Third, didn't we just make Medicare bigger a few years ago? Since when is giving voters something at very little direct cost while vastly increasing the market for big business hard? There is also flawed logic and facts:
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).
Lofgren starts with a good premise this time: there are tens of millions of low-information voters. That's likely true and probably important. But then he morphs these voters into "they are all crooks" people, who don't vote. I particularly object to the phrase "ill-informed public cynicism." It is the very well informed, including the politicians themselves, who are most cynical about American politics. The ill-informed people are very motivated to act on their limited - and more importantly skewed - information.[1] Finally, Lofgren goes off the sociological research rails. Even with the hedge "further intensifies," attributing a long-term decline in public trust in government since the 1960's to ill-informed public cynicism is non-sensical. "Ill-informed" is vague and indirect, while "public cynicism" is just the antonym of public trust in government.

Public Trust in GovernmentBut that's just a guess. The problem is that it would be extremely hard to find even correlation between the hypothesized cause and the actual result, because there is no way to track "ill-informed public cynicism." You can find data about public trust in government from one poll question.[2] The chart at right shows that many more people answered they "trust the government in Washington to do what is right 'just about always' or 'most of the time'" in the early 1960's than today.[3] Can't deny that. But can you explain it? Not from anything about the state of public information. You can say however, that it doesn't fit Lofgren's interpretation. One problem is he has cherry-picked his starting point as the golden age of American ... something or other. After Vietnam and Watergate, the numbers move back and forth from 20% to 50% basically with the economy.[4] And the more specific blame that Lofgren places on former President Reagan's attitude in 1980 is completely backward. Trust in government went up very fast in the Gipper's first term.

There's lots more. But Shooter needs sleep. BMT.

[1] It's called the Dunning-Kruger effect: the less people know about a subject, the more confident they are in their knowledge.

[2] From Pew Research Center, but using data from many different polling outfits. Note that the pre-1976 data is limited. I see about 8 data points from 1958 to 1975. The basic point here is that drawing large conclusions from polling data on such a general question is hazardous. As Gallup data is used somehow in the chart, it is interesting to note that Gallup didn't ask any trust in government questions from 1976 to 1997. They have some truly useless charts on the subject. (The first is a satisfaction question, scroll down to the trust questions, only asked by government branch and domestic or international circumstances.)

[3] I actually have no idea if the question remained consistent over the course of this long period.

[4] To see this, look at the line chart on this page in the section labeled "Long-Term Trends in Trust in Government."