Had a friend send me this article from Truthout by former Republican staffer Mike Lofgren under the subject line, "Informative reading for tonight's Republican showcase." I'm probably late in seeing it, but Lofgren's piece raises fascinating and terrifying questions about the future of our political system and the increasing possibility that we are headed toward something like a civil war, or a constitutional crisis.
Lofgren, in describing the reasons for his defection from the Republican party, describes a Republican camp that increasingly acts not like a traditional peacetime political organization, but more like an apocalyptic cult or one of the authoritarian movements from early 20th century European history.
In particular, the insane decision to turn the once-routine procedure of raising the debt ceiling (Lofgren notes it was done 87 times since WWII) into a political crisis revealed that the GOP party mainstream had sunk to the level of terrorism – holding our economic system hostage in exchange for political concessions.
This was a form of violence, and a serious escalation even from the days of George W. Bush, when the party was mostly limited in its willingness to use human beings as pawns in homicidal ploys for political power. Bush and Rove were willing to sacrifice Iraqi lives, and the lives of American servicemen, for oil and votes. But this current crew of Republicans shook canisters of kerosene over the entire American population and threatened to light a match if it didn't get what it wanted.
As Lofgren notes, this was insurrectionary, revolutionary behavior. Only the massive scale of the gambit prevented it from being easily identified as terrorism and criminal blackmail. If in exchange for not defaulting on our debt Boehner, Hensarling, Cantor and the rest of them had asked for a billion dollars worth of gold bullion deposited in Swiss bank accounts, or the release of a dozen Baader-Meinhofs from German prisons, it could hardly have been much different from what they actually did.
I think most Americans can agree that reducing the public debt is a goal we can all share – and in the old days of thirty or forty years ago, when congress operated on a more collegial model that involved members from opposing parties getting together on weekends to achieve reasonable compromises over golf and highballs, the Rs and Ds could have found a way to press forward with reasonable deficit reduction plans without pushing us all to the edge of a cliff.
But for the new GOP, compromise of any kind defeats their central purpose, which is political totale krieg. This party's entire reason for being is conflict and aggression. There is no underlying patriotic instinct to find middle ground with the rest of us, because the party doesn't have a vision for society that includes anyone outside the tent.
I've always been queasy about piling on against the Republicans because it's intellectually too easy; I also worry a lot that the habit pundits have of choosing sides and simply beating on the other party contributes to the extremist tone of the culture war.
But the time is coming when we are all going to be forced to literally take sides in a political conflict far more serious and extreme than we're used to imagining. The situation is such a tinderbox now that all it will take is some prominent politician to openly acknowledge the fact of a cultural/civil war for the real craziness to begin.
Reading Lofgren's piece, and a piece by John Judis of the New Republic, makes one realize that we came pretty close to real chaos in that debt ceiling debate. Had Obama invoked emergency powers to raise the debt limit unilaterally – and I think he had good reasons to do that – we might have had a revolt on our hands.
Most people aren't thinking about this because we're so accustomed to thinking of America as a stable, conservative place where politics is not a life-or-death affair but more something that people like to argue about over dinner, as entertainment almost. But it's headed in another, more twisted direction. I'm beginning to wonder if this election season is going to be one none of us ever forget – a 1968 on crack. Anyway, I hope I'm wrong, and I hope everyone reads this Lofgren piece, which is a rare piece of insider insight.