Sunday, September 16, 2012

Reviewing "The Party is Over" in the Washington Post

My review of Mike Lofgren's The Party is Over is in the Washington Post this weekend.

Lofgren, a career Republican congressional staffer, retired last year after 28 years and published a fiery essay at Truthout about what he saw as the radicalization of his party. The book expands upon these themes, and takes Democrats to task for not offering a credible alternative.

For more -- and my thoughts on the book -- enjoy the review.


  1. I read that Lofgren essay when it first came out. In some ways it was a surprising to read rhetoric like that from a GOP staffer and in some ways not...

    On Phillips, he was an apostate a lot earlier than *American Theocracy.* Check out this 2006 TNR review by John Judas recounting Phillips' career. It's a must read. It's interesting to see one of the inventors of culture war politics react to what became of his political strategy.

    Also, check out pp. 88-89 of Phillips' The Emerging Republican Majority... It reads just like Irving Kristol's New Class rhetoric, but still in a raw, regionalist form.

  2. Agreed on Phillips, but it's in "American Theocracy" that he most clearly and cleanly presages many of the arguments Lofgren makes. (Remember, Lofgren is largely criticizing the changes in his party starting after 1994, so many of Phillips' earlier works aren't quite to the point.)

    "Emerging Republican Majority" is a must read for anyone interested in national politics and the creation of the 'southern strategy'.

  3. Thanks... It seems like there are a few possible "declension narratives," one of them involving the Gingrich congress (that's the Ornstein/Mann narrative, right?). I tend to go back to Blumenthal's *Rise of the Counterestablishment* back in the 80's. That's the era when Phillips fell out with the movement.

    But on *The Emerging Republican Majority,* there was the southern strategy, but I believe there was also a northern, "town and gown" aspect to to his work, where Phillips wanted the South Boston working class to vote at the expense of the "silk stocking" educated professionals across the Charles.

    My hobby horse is that this created a class war between the educated and what used to be FDR's base, making possible the kind of demagogic style that Rick Santorum inherited.

    Not that the ivy types are great by any stretch. But I'd argue that things get dangerous because you get a "who watches the watcher?" problem (science-related policy is the glaring example of this). Once you've rhetorically eliminated the "New Class," guillotined it for your electorate, at least you need to have some responsible adults in place afterward. Because demagogues tend not to be very accountable (see Phillips' boss Nixon, Richard).

    After a while, the problem you get is intellectual anarchy, as movement apostates like David Frum have argued. You go back and forth between anarchic, populist figures like Sarah Palin on one hand, who prop up the base with nativist energy, and unreasonable, authoritarian, toe-the-line intellegentsia on the other, like Grover Norquist and DC's system of libertarian think tanks. How do you solve serious problems (like we have) in an atmospere like that? There's a heck of a lot of know-nothingism and bad faith.

    When Phillips says in the piece I linked to above "Sociologists in the '60s... mistakenly identified populism with the left and played down the much more important demographic implications of people who spent time listening to fundamentalist preachers..." I pretty sure he's talking about the sociologists he collaborated with on this book, who were hugely influential--and whose efforts were continuous with his, otherwise he wouldn't have contributed. One of these sociologists, as Kevin Mattson put it, wasn't just satisfied with social science but "wanted a movement... Social science wouldn’t win a war. But a class warfare argument just might." That kind of warfare was successfully institutionalized, and that's my declension narrative.

    Anyway that's about as concise as I can make it. Thanks for your kind attention...