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Ex-GOP Insider Unloads: Blame “Neo-Confederate Insurrectionists” for Shutdown!

"I would take Boehner drunk over Cruz sober," former 28-year GOP staffer-turned-author Mike Lofgren says.

The government shutdown, and the prospect of an unprecedented debt default, have sparked a new wave of debate about  whether the system of government set forth in the Constitution is equipped to handle the tactics taken up by the modern GOP. Salon spoke Friday with Mike Lofgren, who worked as a Republican congressional staffer from 1983 to 2011 (including 16 years as a senior analyst on the budget Ccommittees of the Senate and House) before leaving and writing  the best-seller “The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted.”

We discussed the last government shutdown (“terrible”), the current GOP (“neo-Confederate insurrectionists”) and how this showdown could end. A condensed and edited version of our conversation follows.

So in the lead-up to the shutdown and the way it’s played out so far, what if anything has surprised you?

Nothing. Of course the media is kind of covering it like the Michigan-Ohio State game, and love anything with a countdown clock or supposed suspense and all this other crap, and the easy visuals of some park service guy putting up a sawhorse at the Jefferson Memorial. None of that surprised me. [But] this is not something happening according to exigent circumstances or happenstance. This is something that the GOP wanted.

And I’ll say this: I am not an Obama partisan. I have many bones to pick with him, including the healthcare bill. If your intent was to insure as many people as possible, you’d have single payer. You also wouldn’t pay off big Pharma and the insurance companies. That said, the difference between what Obama and the Republicans are doing is like the difference between stomach upset and galloping Ebola.

These people are basically neo-Confederate insurrectionists. They are in substantive rebellion against the orderly government of the country. And one of the things I noticed — and it’s something that’s very common in human beings — we all try to mollify or appease the crazy uncle at Thanksgiving dinner. You know, “Don’t make a scene.” Well, I noticed in the last few years of my service on the Hill that a number of Democrats seemed to be afraid of Republicans. And Obama pretty much wasted his first term trying to mollify them. I think he’s finally stumbled upon a strategy that’s better: simply not give them what they demand. Because this is a deliberate strategy to hold the government hostage.

Newt Gingrich has  been arguing that this isn’t really unusual, because shutdowns have happened before, and other language has been attached to bills raising the debt ceiling before, and so this is just the normal course of politics — and that it’s Obama who’s acting unusually by not being willing to make concessions to avert a shutdown or a debt default. What’s your view of that kind of argument?

What concessions were made in the cases prior to this that the debt ceiling was raised? Yeah, people made partisan political speeches. But they didn’t threaten to shut down the government or have the United States default.

Gingrich has to defend it because of the shutdown that occurred during his speakership; if he were to criticize [this], it would be a criticism of his leadership. Now he says, “Well, we got the welfare reform and all of this other stuff from Clinton, so it was useful.” Well, [while] they were worried about Vince Foster’s “murder,” and how Clinton was a “communist,” he was probably the best moderate Republican president we’ve had. He signed the repeal of Glass-Steagall and he was not under any duress. He signed the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 that pretty much prohibited any regulation of commodities, CDOs and mortgage-backed securities. So that was Clinton’s inclination all along; it had nothing to do with pressure from Gingrich.

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