A Republican apostate on how to fix America

During the 2011 debt ceiling crisis, a highly respected, soft-spoken Republican congressional staffer, Mike Lofgren, abruptly ended his 30-year career in government. To the surprise of everyone who knew him, in September of that year he authored an explosive Internet post titled Goodbye to all that: Reflections of a GOP operative who left the cult, which exposed the dysfunction of Congress from the point of view of the ultimate insider. The post received over a million views.

Like fellow Republican apostates David Stockman and Bruce Bartlett, Lofgren has plenty of criticism for both parties, but saves the most devastating denunciation for the GOP. Lofgren has authored a best-selling book expanding on the theme of his original piece. The title is a pretty good summary of the book: The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.

Similar to several recent authors, Lofgren places blame for the sad state of our politics on two things: the capitulation of the GOP to extreme right wing reactionaries, and more importantly, the influence of big money, for which he blasts both Republicans and Democrats, although not equally. He documents the corruption and craziness of our elected officials in language that is both eloquent and devastating; not the kind of prose you would expect from someone with the reputation of being mild-mannered. Lofgren has obviously long been internalizing his frustration with the government he served so faithfully, and when the frustration broke, it came out with a bang.

These books usually contain suggestions for how Americans can rescue our nation from the influence of big money power brokers and give it back to the citizens. I found the ideas proposed by Lofgren extraordinarily intriguing; enough so that I’m listing an abbreviated summary (you should read the book for more detail). Some are familiar, some are unique.

  • Get all private money out of our elections. All Congressional and Presidential elections must be publically funded, no private donations or self-funding allowed. Here’s a quote, typical of the language he uses in the book: “A politician is a hog that is grateful to whoever is rattling the stick inside the swill bucket. It is time to take that swill bucket away from corporations and plutocrats.”

  • The above process must allow for independent/third party candidates, with a carefully designed qualification process to weed out the kooks but not be too onerous for legitimate candidates.

  • Campaign season limited to 60 days before the election.

  • Eliminate tax-exempt status for political advocacy organizations and think tanks.

  • The law should oblige television broadcasters to offer a reasonable but limited amount of free political advertising during the campaign period. “The broadcasters’ permission from the Federal Communications Commission to use the public airwaves gives them a virtual license to print money – should they not give something back to the public for that privilege?”

  • If media outlets choose to accept paid commercials for so-called “independent” issue ads, they must offer equivalent time to the opposing view for free. That’s what happened to cigarette ads on TV; they weren’t directly outlawed, but the requirement to give anti-smoking messages equal time killed them.

  • Primaries should be open and non-partisan with the top two finishers contesting the general election, regardless of party, thus doing away with the hyper-partisan convention/closed primary process.

  • Voting districts should be drawn by non-partisan commissions.

Most reading this would likely agree with many, if not all of the above recommendations – but are saying, “So what – there’s no chance any of this can happen!”

I don’t know. Here’s a thought: It’s too early to know how the election will turn out, but let’s assume for a moment the Democrats win (defined as a victory for President Obama, Democrats retaining control of the Senate, and cutting significantly into the Republican majority in the House). If that happens, what should we rank-and-file Democrats do?

I say we should pressure the President and congressional Democrats to take a page out of the playbook of obstructionist Republicans the last two years. The pattern was given by Lawrence Lessig in his book Republic Lost from last year. Here’s how it would work: The President would refuse to sign any bill from Congress until they place on his desk acceptable legislation to take big money out of politics. If that legislation needs to be a constitutional amendment, so be it. The above suggestions could serve as a pattern. Maybe there are better ideas. But here’s the deal: Barack Obama was right in 2008; our problems will not be solved until the broken system is fixed. Unfortunately (and I say this as an Obama supporter), he tried to fix the problems before fixing the system. My opinion is that his main priority his second term should be fixing the system. Once we get our legislators away from spending half their time dialing for dollars and take away the swill bucket, the system will start working again as intended and we can get America back on track.

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