25 October 2013

Behind the Shutdown: The Lofgren Corollary

It is easy to look at the shutdown and the concomitant chaos in federal government as the product of incompetence and corruption.  But it was a deliberate effort by a vocal congressional minority from safe, cynically gerrymandered, congressional districts to sabotage the functioning of the entire federal government (including Defense in the short term).

One would think that a deliberate effort to turn the entire US government into an incompetent global laughing stock would be seen as an act of treason (and it certainly would have been if the effort was focused on the Pentagon), but to date, this has not been the case.  Yet as Bruce Barlett observes in the attached essay, there was indeed a systematic method to the destructive objectives of the government shutdown.  His critique is important, because Bartlett is no weepy effete liberal from the salons of the upper west side.  He is a long time card-carrying conservative Republican, having worked for Congressmen Ron Paul and Jack Kemp in Congress, before serving in the Reagan and George H.W. Bush administrations. 

Bartlett argues the goals of the Republican radicals in Congress are (1) to wreck the domestic functions of the Federal Government as we know it and (2) mutate the federal government into some idealized vision of limited government front for the ubiquitous tentacles of an authoritarian national security state.  Borrowing from the work of my good friend Mike Lofgren (another lifelong Republican), Bartlett names this method the Lofgren Corollary to the definition of the Republican chutzpah: which is shorthand for the premeditated self-reinforcing strategy to intentionally sabotage government programs over the long term (except defense) by denying them the resources and stability to function efficiently, then attacking those programs when they do not work as advertised, thus justifying further strangulation, which creates more problems and confusion ...  and adds ammunition for further attacks.  In short the goal is to put the Federal Government (defense excepted) into what a fighter pilot would recognize as a dead man's spiral.

If Bartlett is correct, and I think he is, he ends by showing why those wishful thinking lefties who think Obama won the shut down debate should think again. To be sure, the shutdown artist have taken the bulk of the blame, but like the Taliban in 2001, they have a secure base from which to attack again, and the nature of the deal to re-open the government guarantees another crisis for these vanguards of totalitarianism to exploit.  To borrow from Winston Churchill (with a twist): the end of the shutdown is not the end, nor is it the beginning of the end ... and, given the destabilizing nature of continuing resolutions and public confusion over very basic bytes of information (for example 59% of the people think the deficit is increasing when in fact it is decreasing),  it is perhaps not even the end of the beginning. 

Chuck Spinney

Republicans and the “Lofgren Corollary

The Fiscal Times
October 25, 2013

Last week I explained that Congress has become an incompetent institution, unable to do its most basic work of passing annual appropriations bills to keep the government running. We usually think of incompetence as being the result of ineptness, stupidity or ignorance. But in the case of Congress, it is often intentional and deliberate, part of a long-term strategy by some Republicans to undermine government itself.
Former Republican congressional staffer Mike Lofgren first alerted me to this phenomenon two years ago in a widely discussed article, “Goodbye to All That: Reflections of a GOP Operative Who Left the Cult.” In it, he discussed the tactic of filibustering all legislation in the Senate and all nominations to administration positions, regardless of merit. In Lofgren’s words:
A couple of years ago, a Republican committee staff director told me candidly (and proudly) what the method was to all this obstruction and disruption. Should Republicans succeed in obstructing the Senate from doing its job, it would further lower Congress's generic favorability rating among the American people. By sabotaging the reputation of an institution of government, the party that is programmatically against government would come out the relative winner.

A deeply cynical tactic, to be sure, but a psychologically insightful one that plays on the weaknesses both of the voting public and the news media. 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).

An ABC News/Washington Post poll out this week confirms that the strategy is working. ... [continued]