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Sunday, November 22, 2015

Review: The Deep State by Mike Lofgren

Mike Lofgren is a former GOP Congressional aide for twenty-eight years who has become disenchanted with several features of our current government. In “The Party is Over” he complains the sole purpose of Republicans elected to Congress is to shut down government or at least bring it to a standstill. They have often succeeded. He argues in this book that there are two governments in Washington: the visible one that is in the public eye with campaigns and elections, and the “deep” government that operates behind the scenes, often following its own agenda and never changes regardless of who might be elected. Ironically, I sensed much of this reading Robert Gates’ memoir “Duty.” It was clear that he, as Secretary of directions his president wanted to move.) Defense, often had trouble moving the Defense Department bureaucracy and military in directions he wanted (and I felt he sometimes thwarted or at least resisted.) The process has been a gradual one and not unexpected.

Much of the problem he attributes to the “beltline” mentality and the aggregation of agencies, foundations (there are now more than sixteen-hundred of these tax-exempt “ hordes of gun slinging grants man who tried to maintain a facade of scholarly disinterest are functionally as much a part of the ecosystem of the town is the lobbyists on K Street,) and agencies like Homeland Security, which, truth-be-told, would make much more sense after 9/11 to be dispersed throughout the country, but which instead is firmly entrenched in a former insane asylum retrofit, now ten years behind schedule and $1 billion over budget, but thankfully protecting us from shampoo-bottle bombers. Its first chief, Michael Chertoff, I suppose could be congratulated by the bureaucracy for his display of efficiency in turning DHS (doesn’t the word Homeland remind you of “fatherland” and cause a reflexive need to bring the right arm to sharp Hitlerian attention?) “into a contractor-infested replica of the DOD’s in only a few years. His post-government career has been single-minded attempt to cash in personally on his bureaucratic creation and his own notoriety.”

9/11 had an effect on all of this, of course, as military contractors rushed to merge and join the hoards of others with headquarters in Washington (thanks to generous tax benefits passed at taxpayer’s expense) sucking at the government teat.

For all the bellyaching that goes on throughout the country about out-of-touch bureaucrats, corrupt and unresponsive government, and how much everyone hates Washington, these visible signs of our increasingly intrusive and overbearing government did not fall out of the sky upon an unsuspecting public. The Deep State, along with its headquarters in Washington, is not a negation of the American people's character. It is an intensification of tendencies inherent in any aggregation of human beings. If the American people did not voluntarily give informed consent to the web of unaccountable influence that radiates from Washington and permeates the country, then their passive acquiescence, aided by false appeals to patriotism and occasional doses of fear, surely played a role. A majority of Americans have been anesthetized by the slow, incremental rise of the Deep State, a process that has taken decades. (p. 29)

Much of this “deep state” results from Washington group think. In the military it’s clearly more obvious, you have to get on board with the mission or go nowhere career-wise. In the bureaucracy the pressures are equally strong if not as apparent. And they know they’ll be around long after the flavor-of-the-day politicians move on. As Upton Sinclair said, “It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

The last chapter consists of Lofgren’s prescriptions for resolving some of the issues he has highlighted in the book. I would disagree with several of them. His first solution, “eliminate private money from public elections” has been batted around so many times. When has money never been a problem in campaigns? It always has and will always be. Public financing is hardly the solution. Do I really want my tax money to be used to fund the campaigns of Sarah Palin and Michele Bachmann? And is this only for presidential campaigns? It’s local city and state elections that often have more of an influence. I would argue for complete transparency but let people spend their money on campaigns as they wish, just make sure everyone knows where it’s coming from. PACS should be eliminated; all the money should go directly to the candidate but with full accounting and accountability.

I fully concur with his recommendations that we reduce military spending and stay of of the Middle East. Nothing we have done in the past sixty years seems to have worked the way we intended it to beginning with the CIA-Seven Sisters overthrow of the government in Iran. To quote him: “ISIS is undeniably a toxic gang of murderers, but our own disastrous intervention in Iraq formed the petri dish in which its diseased ideology could evolve.” I love that metaphor. Constant military interventions have provided the rationale for ruinous military spending which, in turn, empowers the shadow government even more not to mention increased the debt by six trillion and counting. His suggestion that much of that military spending be channeled to domestic infrastructure repair and building is admirable but would, ironically, continue to empower the shadow government in the form of additional bureaucratic structures.

He admits that many of his proposals sound utopian (not to mention Progressive) but insists that the United States has reformed itself several times in the past on equally grand a scale. I’m not so optimistic.

Lots of amusing, if cynical, lines in the book. For example, referring to the invasion of Iraq and its justification, “ the tongue tied George W Bush sorely needed the mellifluous double talk of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, on the theory that nothing sells hideously awful policy as well as an Oxford accent (the American political class swoons on cue at gibberish delivered with Received Pronunciation.) I could go on with many other examples. But read the book and weep.

I enjoy Mike Lofgren’s work and was offered an “Advanced Reader Copy” of this book in hopes I would read and review it. I was happy to do so since I intended to buy it when it appeared anyway, although I would have much preferred an ebook copy for my Kindle (much easier to take notes and highlight passages.) The book is excellent but probably futile (I must be really pessimistic this morning.)
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