The Idiot Villagers

Letting the Public Down Since...

While there has been plenty of blog traffic highlighting my current obsession, Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult by Mike Lofgren, it seems like the buzz does not extend to the lamestream media.[1] However, I was alerted to two LSM sources by a post I found with a Google Blog search for "Mike Lofgren." The first is still a blog post, but at the Washington Post website. Jonathan Bernstein wrote The dysfunctional Republican Party. So far, so good. That lasts for about 7 seconds. He endorses another Chicken-Little scream from a fellow Villager:
The issue that should dominate the landscape is the radicalization of the modern Republican Party and the effects of having one of two major political parties descend into madness.
Let's just amp it up a little:
Space Madness
The Ren & Stimpy Show, Wikipedia entry

That's better. Bernstein[2] then goes on to offer his own silly little thoughts about the part where a Republican staffer confides to Lofgren that: GOP obstruction -> Lower esteem for Congress -> Party against government (GOP) wins.
Lofgren believes, and I think most Democrats and Republicans would agree, that this strategy has in fact been a huge success. I strongly disagree. Republicans have been using this scorched-earth, bomb-throwing strategy since at least the late 1970s (when Newt Gingrich arrived in the House), and one can certainly argue that it goes back to Richard Nixon. And yet, the promised day of American disgust with government never does show up. Oh, yes, Republicans certainly have succeeded in winning plenty of elections — but 30 (or 40) years on, they’ve never managed to solidify a majority for very long. Nor have they really succeeded in changing the ideological balance. ... Nor has policy shifted radically to the right, no matter what frustrated liberals believe.
First: "And yet, the promised day of American disgust with government never does show up." I wonder what this political scientist would take as evidence of American disgust with government. There's not much solid to grasp onto, but what there is shows at least relative disgust. Congressional approval at 13%; President Obama at 44%, his lowest number so far; and Direction of the Country is 73% on the wrong track.[3] But worse is Bernstein's lack of focus in making that statement. What would happen if that amorphous day ever did show up? Even lower voter turnout? What would that mean? Who knows, certainly not Bernstein. It probably wouldn't benefit one party more than another, so in true villager fashion, it is a meaningless proposition for him. [UPDATE: Bernstein responds Quote: "People would oppose Social Security, Medicare, environmental regulations, food safety, and on and on and on." By people, he means a majority. That's silly. Okay, I said it's crazy in a follow-up comment.]

Second: "Oh, yes, Republicans certainly have succeeded in winning plenty of elections — but 30 (or 40) years on, they’ve never managed to solidify a majority for very long." For a political scientist, this is a ridiculous thing to say. Presidential elections since 1968:Presidential Elections 1968-2008The margins of victory don't matter here at all. Republicans managed a string of 3 consecutive terms, Democrats followed with 2, then the GOP with 2 terms again. Pretty even balance. How about the Senate:Senate Elections 1968-2010Democrats until 1978, then back and forth. How about the legislative body that is supposed to be closest to the people, as well as easiest to maintain lasting majorities, the House of Representatives:
House Elections 1968-2010Heavily Democratic, even before Watergate, all the way until 1992, then fairly balanced.

Bernstein is right, Republicans haven't solidified a majority for very long over that range. But with the exception of the House during and after the Watergate era, Democrats haven't ever solidified a majority for very long either. Ignoring the Watergate House elections of 1974-1978, there is one example of a lasting majority in one body of Congress, from 1980 to 1992 - seven elections.[4] So this one lasting majority is the deviation that needs explaining, not why one party hasn't had a lasting majority. And it makes common sense a priori, too: you would expect back and forth swings between the two parties in a first-past-the-post closed two-party system. It would take a political scientist to ignore that.

Third: "Nor have they really succeeded in changing the ideological balance. ... Nor has policy shifted radically to the right, no matter what frustrated liberals believe." I would like to see Bernstein support this, because I think it's ridiculous on its face:Apparently, he can't support it. The other Idiot Villager is Chris Matthews. He had Mike Lofgren on Hardball to talk about the article. The clip and analysis after the jump.

That's Lofgren on the left. The other one is Michael Tomasky, who is on the edge of the Village. Not a good sign he's going on Hardball. Be sure to watch at least the beginning of the clip. It has a scene from Double Indemnity and Mathews' first line will produce a funny from the transcript:
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I suppose it is. It`s what you got cooked up
for tonight any better?


MATTHEWS: Wow, that scene from the movie "Double Indemnity," the
ultimate film of war, illustrates according to a former Capitol Hill
staffer how both political parties work in Washington.
It's only 6 minutes long, so there's not much to analyze besides how awful Matthews is:
All we have in our democracy is the way we govern ourselves, that`s it. That separates us from barbarians.
I'd say our democracy does some very barbaric things, but that just shows the meaning of "barbarian" can be stretched just as much as "terrorist." Other than that, Lofgren says he's a historian by training - sort of interesting. And I wish Tomasky heeded his own advice:
I should say before we get to the gravamen of Lofgren’s case that there is something in pieces like this that is a little bit too convenient for my side: a Republican with three decades of service to his party writes a scabrous attack on them, and it’s eloquent to boot! It makes me proceed with a little caution.
I didn't detect any caution in the rest of the article. I will give Tomasky some credit, though, because "on the other hand" (as he said immediately after pledging caution), he ends with this:
Every time I hear NPR (that allegedly socialistic outfit) describe the latest act of terrorism in neutral terms, the reporter taking care to blame “both sides,” interviewing an expert who is prudent enough to know that on NPR’s 501(c)(3) air she must, if she wants to be quoted again someday, hold responsible the mysterious and mostly unnamable failings of the amorphous “system” for this or that Republican hostage-taking exercise, I wonder if these people hear themselves and understand how they’re misleading America. NPR is better than most places, so surely they must, just as many elected Republicans must just as surely be a little ashamed of how they’re acting in public. What can change it? Only a crisis (I mean an actual one) so deep and threatening that even NPR must call things what they are, and even some Republicans must say, “OK, there is such a thing as collective action, and we’d better undertake it.” Until then? More Lofgrens.
Pretty good on the NPR bit. His prediction that only a crisis can produce change - good thing a pundit never has to be right, he just has to guess.

[1] Although I didn't do a Nexis search and I don't watch TV news of any stripe, so that's a unsupported statement that I would ridicule if someone else made it.

[2] Bernstein, who was guest-posting on Greg Sargent's The Plum Line, has his own very accurately named blog, A plain blog about politics. He's racked up almost 100 posts per month since he started in July of 2009, the same time I started here. I came across his writing very soon there-after because he somehow got a mention in The Dish. He's a political scientist somewhere and has perfect pitch for his "View from Nowhere" thoughts.

[3] Note just citing these numbers to show public disgust is not contradictory to ragging on Lofgren for using no data to conclude an ill-informed public is the cause of public distrust of government. Again, I think the opposite is true: the more information a voter has, the more likely they are to distrust government.

[4] Note that the Republicans controlled the Presidency over all but one of the terms from 1968 to 1992, when Democrats were strong in Congress. So there has never been lasting political dominance for either side since 1968. I suppose that Republicans had a lasting majority in the House from 1994 until 2004, but I'd say the 2002 and 2004 elections were distorted just a bit from 9/11.

[5] Yes, the 1983 fix had a mix of cuts (delayed cost of living increases) and increased taxes. It also was reacting to a more immediate situation. Social Security checks would be delayed within a few years. President Obama has proposed only a cut, permanently lowering the cost of living increases. And the Social Security Trust Fund has enough money according to current projections to pay out 100% of benefits until 2038. Since that is 27 years away, a small increase in revenue would keep SS flush until the end of the century. (h/t Dean Baker)

[6] You have to read the Wikipedia article. A sample: "The Act's sponsors embraced conventional Keynesian economic theory, which advocates aggressive government spending to increase economic demand." And: "The Act set specific numerical goals for the President to attain. By 1983, unemployment rates should be not more than 3% for persons aged 20 or over .... If private enterprise appears not to be meeting these goals, the Act expressly allows the government to create a 'reservoir of public employment.' These jobs are required to be in the lower ranges of skill and pay to minimize competition with the private sector." That means direct federal hiring like the New Deal era CCC and WPA. I haven't read this 2007 Congressional testimony from James K. Galbraith on the Act (which expired in 2000), but based on its author, I bet it's good.