Mr. Lofgren Leaves Washington

The Man with Two Faces.

Barbara Stanwyck: "We're both rotten!"

Fred MacMurray: "Yeah - only you're a little more rotten." -"Double Indemnity" (1944)


Those lines of dialogue from a classic film noir sum up the state of the two political parties in contemporary America.
So begins Mike Lofgren in a widely-linked article at Truthout.org, Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.

Double Indemnity
Walter Neff and Phyllis Dietrichson
First, I've got to give Lofgren credit for good taste - Double Indemnity (1944) is a terrific film and the sexual chemistry between Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray is scorching. "Wait, Fred MacMurray had scorching sexual chemistry?!?" Yup. "The My Three Sons guy!?!" Double yup. "He wasn't smooth like Ken?" Stop it now![1] "Okay, what does MacMurray have to do with Lofgren?" Good question...

Lofgren has been cast as the Double Indemnity version of MacMurray - and the blogosphere has eaten it up - while I think he's much more of a My Three Sons type. The Truthout editors, who wrote the hed,[2] did all of the casting: Lofgren isn't really a "GOP Operative." But that didn't stop other headlines from cementing the narrative, like GOP Defector Spills the Beans from Michael Tomasky at The Daily Beast.

The fact is that only knowledgeable congress critters have ever heard of Mike Lofgren and he has only written in public once before now. In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times in June, just nine days after he retired, Borrowing and spending the GOP way, Lofgren writes:
The failure of our leaders to offer realistic budget proposals was a major reason I decided to retire after 28 years in Congress, most of them as a professional staff member on the Republican side of both the House and Senate Budget Committees. My party talks a good game, ...
The attribution at the bottom of the column simply states, "Mike Lofgren retired as a congressional staffer on June 17." Now, this would be enough for a website looking for pub to claim the author is a Republican, but did they read the article before slapping the hed on? Because in the text Lofgren doesn't exactly establish his GOP bona fides. There are only three bits of information that have any positive association with Republicans:
  1. He says, "a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption."
  2. "I will leave a more detailed dissection of failed Republican economic policies to my fellow apostate Bruce Bartlett."
  3. The second footnote starts, "I am not a supporter of Obama and object to a number of his foreign and domestic policies."
Wait, I take that last one back. A GOP operative would say "all his policies," while a Real Republican would just say "I hate Obama." Now look at who Lofgren cites:
  1. Ezra Klein, Washington Post
  2. Thomas Jefferson
  3. Hannah Arendt !
  4. John P. Judis, The New Republic
  5. Ronald Reagan (not even approvingly, much less worshipfully)
  6. Paul Krugman !!!!!, New York Times
  7. Chris Cillizza, Washington Post
  8. Peter Schroeder, The Hill
  9. Chris Hedges !!!!!!!, Truthdig.com
  10. Andy Kroll, Mother Jones !!!
  11. Dwight Eisenhower
  12. David Brock (ex-conservative)
  13. Bruce Bartlett (GOP critic)
  14. John Lukacs, there aren't enough !'s in the blogosphere to express this one
And who he mentions, all negatively (except where mentioned):
  1. Rush Limbaugh
  2. Karl Rove
  3. Sarah Palin
  4. John Huntsman, with a back-handed compliment
  5. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH)
  6. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), neutrally
  7. Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL)
  8. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ)
  9. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC)
  10. Pat Robertson
  11. Rick Warren
  12. Jerry Falwell
  13. Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN)
  14. Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI)
  15. Ayn Rand
  16. Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
Even ignoring all that, I think I could rest my case on just one item: What person who actually self-identifies as a Republican would ever put this into print:
I have joked in the past that the main administration policy that Republicans object to is Obama's policy of being black.
How in the world can anyone honestly call Lofgren a GOP operative who left the cult? You can't unless you mean RINO's, who don't even make up a sect. For instance, I agree with his evaluation that both parties are rotten, that the Republicans are a little more rotten, and I object to a number of President Obama's foreign and domestic policies. But if a DFH like me wrote the piece, it would not be getting any buzz. (Even if I had more than my one reader. Hi there!)

There is another point of misinformation that Lofgren does pimp - why he left congress. He says:
But the crackpot outliers of two decades ago have become the vital center today: Steve King, Michele Bachman [sic] (now a leading presidential candidate as well), Paul Broun, Patrick McHenry, Virginia Foxx, Louie Gohmert, Allen West. The Congressional directory now reads like a casebook of lunacy.

It was this cast of characters and the pernicious ideas they represent that impelled me to end a nearly 30-year career as a professional staff member on Capitol Hill.
Well, that certainly is a list of crackpots. But how does this justification jibe with "[t]he failure of our leaders to offer realistic budget proposals"? Not at all, as it turns out. The list only contains members of the House, none of which are even on the House Budget Committee, much less have influence in creating budget proposals.[3] Considered with the fact that unrealistic budget proposals have a long history on the Hill, these two reasons for quitting don't seem to hold water. What else could it be?

Well, it doesn't take Encyclopedia Brown (or Conservative Jones) to figure it out. After a couple of biblically-themed subterfuges, Lofgren states an altogether believable reason:
And, in truth, I left as an act of rational self-interest. Having gutted private-sector pensions and health benefits as a result of their embrace of outsourcing, union busting and "shareholder value," the GOP now thinks it is only fair that public-sector workers give up their pensions and benefits, too. Hence the intensification of the GOP's decades-long campaign of scorn against government workers. Under the circumstances, it is simply safer to be a current retiree rather than a prospective one.
Ah, "in truth" - such a noble phrase. "Follow the money" isn't quite as lofty, but it usually gets the truth out just the same. Lofgren has done well for himself, making over $130,000 per year since 2005, when he transferred to the Senate side. (h/t my homie, Eric Black, who also has a mis-leading hed.) And did you forget that he has worked as a government employee for 28 years? My very educated guess is that his pension has maxed out, both in terms of number of years of service and in average salary over the last five years of his career, the most common determiners of public pension payment amounts. I'd say that he has no more need of work.

Steve Douglas
Steve Douglas
For all of these reasons, Lofgren is much closer to Steve Douglas than Walter Neff. There is nothing wrong with that - Douglas certainly had a lot more wisdom and self-control than Neff. Just the sort of thing you'd want in a professional staffer for a congressional committee.[4]

There's lots of solid blogging material in the piece, owing to both good facts and bad arguments. Unfortunately, the lefty media attention is trumpeting the insider turncoat angle, while wholeheartedly praising the substantive points. I'll tackle the latter problem in the next post.

UPDATE: Another data point for Lofgren being only a nominal Republican at most: Andrew Sullivan agrees with Lofgren so much, that he says he didn't comment on the article because, "it so closely follows my own argument in The Conservative Soul and on this blog, that it felt somewhat superfluous."

[1] One bio of MacMurray at IMDb starts, "Fred MacMurray is likely the most underrated actor of his generation." He was a major Hollywood star before he took the now-time-honored tradition of cashing in with an easy TV series. Another MacMurray forgotten gem is Billy Wilder's The Apartment, which won the Academy Award for Best Picture, Director and Screenplay in 1961.

[2] Does "Goodbye to All That" refer to anything in particular? Google has 3.5 million different results.

[3] Note that means Lofgren has never worked with any of them.

[4] Also note that he works for a Senate committee, not a particular member of congress. These positions are partisan, the two parties maintain separate web sites, for instance. (The Democrats list their staff members.) However, they are not the hyper-partisans of legislators' offices. Lofgren probably owes his job to the Republican ranking member of the committee in 2005, but I would guess he can't be fired for strictly political reasons, either. The bottom line is that there is no requirement, even an unspoken one, that a Republican appointed budget analyst - Lofgren's expertise was on the military budget - would need to support any position of the GOP.

0 comments: