Summary: Today’s post reviews Mike Lofgren’s important new book about The Deep State, the ruling center of the New America. Lofgren’s entertaining but scary book sketches out this institution and how it works. Here’s an explanation of why you should read the book, and its two big limitations.
by Mike Lofgren (2016)
Mike Lofgren has written the definitive account of the Deep State, the “hybrid association of key elements of government and pats of top-level finance and industry that is effectively able to govern the United States with only limited reference to the consent of the governed.”
His has the experience to do so after 28 years as senior budget and national security expert with the Republican staff in Congress. It gives him technical knowledge plus a wealth of observations and vignettes, which he weavers into an entertaining narrative (see the Forward).
The Deep State is the hidden connecting thread to the news in America. It explains the government’s operations run with indifference to their stated goals, its leaders’ unconcern with failure, and the inability of citizens to affect its policies. The quiet growth of the Deep State is the story of modern America’s history.
“Our venerable institutions of government have outwardly remained the same, but they have grown more and more resistant to the popular will as they have become hardwired into a corporate and private influence network with almost unlimited cash to enforce its will.”
Lofgren explains the origins and operations of the Deep State, how it has shaped Washington to its needs and sent its tentacles throughout the American power structure. After reading this book you’ll see the news with a different perspective. It should be required reading for every college student.
Now for the critical part of the review. He goes too far in the middle of the book, almost a list of everything wrong with America — with the Deep State the master explanation. He sometimes conflates the Deep State with conservative forces, when its strength comes from its bipartisan support (everybody loves the F-35, and few are more hawkish than Liberals explaining our Responsibility to Protect).
But these are minor points in a brilliant, thoroughly researched, and well-written book. My disagreements concern two subjects about which we can only speculate.
“The twin shocks of 9/11 and the Great Recession seem mentally to have unhinged a portion of the American people and much of the political class. The following years were consumed by crazy arguments about the president’s birth certificate, death panels, and voters shouting that the government must get its hands off their government-provided Medicare.”
What drives the Deep State?
Lofgren describes the operation of the Deep State, but I remain unclear about its nature and purpose. Is it a cancer in the body politic, growing beyond its natural limits and without regard for the welfare of the nation? Or does it serve greater interests?
The answer lies, I believe, in the rising inequality of wealth and power in America — all concentrating in the 1%. Lofgren mentions this but does not draw conclusions from it. The Deep State is best seen as the agent of the 1%, one means by which they extend their rule over America (they already own most of it).
Lofgren speaks for us. It’s a vision of the Deep State from our perspective. But there are always others ways to see things. Like Lofgren, my business has brought me into contact with members of the 1%. They see themselves as best fit to rule America, and their servants often (usually?) share this view. Looking at America, can we easy say they are wrong?
There is a way to prove our fitness to rule, which goes to my second disagreement with Lofgren.
“It is an inescapable fact that Washington is unique among capital cities of the so-called free world in the ubiquity of its military presence. I have never seen anything comparable elsewhere except in East Berlin in 1974 and Moscow in 1979. The extent to which Washington has become a garrison town makes an ironic counterpoint to the widespread myth that the city is some kind of radical-liberal Gomorrah.”
How can we reform America?
Lofgren’s books is among the best of its genre — entertaining documentaries for America’s outer party (professionals and managers), giving them the feeling of being engaged in politics while remaining passive and apathetic. So it is ironic that Lofgren does not explain how to motivate Americans to action, the only step to reform of the Deep State. Like most reformers, he skips to the fun stuff — a nine-point plan for policy action.
His confidence that we can reform has a sound basis — our success rolling back the first Gilded Age. But we are not them. Our elites have grown more sophisticated, while the institutions through which people exercised their power have atrophied.
I hope that Lofgren’s book closes a chapter for us. Let’s move from diagnosis of our problems to exploring ways to fix them.
“What I have just suggested sounds utopian, even unworldly. But the United States has done more surprising thing in its history.”
About Mike Lofgren
Mike retired in May 2011 after 28 years as a Congressional staff member. H
Lofgren began his legislative career in 1983 as a military legislative assistant to then congressman John Kasich (R-OH). In 1994 he joined the staff of the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee. From 1995 to 2004 he was a budget analyst for the House Budget Committee. From 2005 until his retirement in 2011, Lofgren was the chief analyst for military spending on the Senate Budget Committee.
Also see Winslow Wheeler’s review of The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless, and the Middle Class Got Shafted. His essay that led to this book: “Anatomy of the Deep State“, 21 February 2014.
For More Information
Read the Forward to The Deep State here.
- Members of the Deep State exchange high-fives, celebrating our passivity — an essay by Michael Brenner.
- Celebrate what happened one year ago. It’s the birthday of a New America! — Results of the NSA revelations.
- The Snowden affair has ended. What have we learned about ourselves, and about America?