The Party Is Over
How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted
The New York Times–bestselling manifesto about America’s broken political system and how it got that way
Mike Lofgren was once a proud Republican. When he came to Washington in the early 1980s, the party was controlled by what was mostly a rational group of people with a basic grasp of economics and foreign policy. So what happened since then? How did the party of Lincoln become the party of lunatics? After some thirty years in Congress, Lofgren, exasperated by the circus of the debt-ceiling debate, stepped down from his position on the Senate Budget Committee in disgust in 2011.
Written by a refreshingly skeptical insider, The Party Is Over is an electrifying manifesto for the growing number of Americans who are appalled by our politicians and fed up with their pandering to corporate interests. Wry, trenchant, and highly persuasive, Lofgren offers clear suggestions for how to break through the gridlock and reverse political dysfunction in Washington.
I was compelled to write this book because I became alarmed by the trends I was seeing. In particular, my own party, the Republican Party, began to scare me. After the 2008 election, Republican politicians became more and more intransigently dogmatic. They doubled down on advancing policies that transparently favored the top 1 percent of earners in this country while obstructing measures such as the extension of unemployment insurance. They seemed to want to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted in the middle of the worst economic meltdown in eighty years.
And there was worse to come. Whether it was Representative Joe Wilson (R-South Carolina) boorishly yelling “You lie!”— unprecedented behavior during a joint meeting of Congress assembled to hear a presidential address—or the obscene carnival of birtherism, Obama-the-secret-Muslim, death panels, and all the rest of it, the party took on a nasty, bullying, crazy edge. From my vantage point on the budget committee I watched with a mixture of fascination and foreboding as my party was hijacked by a new crop of opportunists and true believers hell-bent on dragging the country into their jerry-built New Jerusalem: an upside-down utopia in which corporations rule; the Constitution, like science, is faith based; and war is the first, not the last, resort in foreign policy.
I suspect many of these politicians never believed what they were saying but were cynically playing to an increasingly deranged political base that does believe it. Television viewers could observe the outcome of this strategy in September 2011, when the partisan audience invited to view the Republican presidential candidates’ debate at the Reagan Library in California cheered and clapped at the mentions of executions and the prospect of letting the uninsured die.
Do Democrats offer a sane alternative? The explanation is more complicated, but the answer is, finally, no. They have not become an extremist party like the GOP—their politicians do not match the current crop of zanies who infest the Republican Party— but their problem lies in the opposite direction. It is not that they are fanatics or zealots; it is that most do not appear to believe in anything very strongly. Democrats who expect this book to be a diatribe against Republicans alone will be disappointed. The GOP has gone off the rails—it is the party I know best, and which I will describe in greater detail. But its sorry situation is a symptom of a deeper dysfunction in American politics and society for which Democrats own a considerable share of the responsibility.
The Democratic Party coasted far too long on Franklin D. Roosevelt’s legacy. It became complacent and began to feel entitled to its near hegemonic position in politics, culture, and the media. When the New Right increasingly began to displace it in all three of those arenas, some liberals merely turned into ineffectual whiners and crybabies or ivory tower escapists. The bulk of Democratic politicians and operatives, however, moved in a different direction. After three straight losses in presidential elections between 1980 and 1988, they abandoned the practices of their old beliefs while continuing to espouse them in theory. These new Democrats will say anything to win an election—an objective that, in their minds, generally requires them to emulate Republicans, particularly with respect to moneygrubbing on the fund-raising circuit. Many of them last only a term or two, because if people want a Republican, they will vote for the real thing. What has evolved in America over the last three decades is a one-and-a-half-party system, as Democrats opportunistically cleave to the “center,” which, in the relativistic universe of American politics, keeps moving further to the right.“Lofgren’s ideas are trenchant and far-reaching. . . . With the feel of a long-repressed confession and the authority of an insider’s testimony, like the anti-war views of a decorated infantry officer . . . he writes about how the Republican party took advantage of a profoundly ignorant electorate, an easily conned and distracted media, and a cowed Democratic Party to press the ideological struggle in spite of the deep unpopularity of many of its positions.”
—George Packer, The New Yorker
“A fast-moving, hard-hitting, dryly witty book-length account of the radicalization of the Republican party, the failures of Democratic rivals and the appalling consequences for the country at large. Like the essay that inspired it, The Party Is Over is forceful, convincing and seductive.”
—The Washington Post
“Expect demand for this inside view of Washington, D.C., by a staffer who spent a quarter-century on Capitol Hill before publishing a screed on “America’s broken political system” at truthout.org. Lofgren criticizes Democrats . . . but his long service to GOP office-holders inevitably makes his critique of that party more detailed and fascinating. . . . A pungent, penetrating insider polemic.”
—Mary Carroll, Booklist (starred review)
“A scrupulously bipartisan diagnosis of the sick state of American politics and governance . . . Lofgren devotes close attention to budget issues rarely accorded so much detail in garden-variety op-ed warfare. Sustaining his original thesis well beyond Internet-browsing attention span, Lofgren has crafted an angry but clear-sighted argument that may not sit well at family reunions or dinner parties, but deserves attention.”
“A well-argued call for more sanity in American politics.”—Kirkus Reviews
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