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GOPer Confesses: Republicans Have Gone 'Nuts' With Religious Fundamentalism

After nearly three decades on Capitol Hill, Mike Lofgren quit last year after the Tea Party caucus pushed his party to new extremes.

For 28 years, since Ronald Reagan's first term, Mike Lofgren served as a Republican Congressional staffer on Capitol Hill. He was one of the many people who work behind the scenes on the nitty-gritty of governing while the politicians they work for are out making speeches and raising campaign funds.

But in 2011, after a wave of Tea Party ideologues had stormed the Hill, Lofgren had seen enough. A few months after quitting his job, he wrote that the party he had belonged to for his entire career had become dominated by “lunatics.” The big problem, in Lofgren's view, was the pervasive fundamentalist theology that had gained so much influence in the GOP over the years Lofgren served in Congress. Last year, he wrote:

It should have been evident to clear-eyed observers that the Republican Party is becoming less and less like a traditional political party in a representative democracy and becoming more like an apocalyptic cult, or one of the intensely ideological authoritarian parties of 20th-century Europe.

Lofgren has penned a new book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle Class Got Shafted, that offers an insider's view of the extremism he saw among his colleagues. Lofgren appeared on this week's AlterNet Radio Hour. Below is a lightly edited transcript of the discussion (you can listen to the whole show here).

Joshua Holland: Mike, in the book you argue that the Republican party’s extremism these days is fueled by politicized religion, by the religious right. Before we get into that, I kind of want to locate you on the political spectrum. These days you're writing things that are somewhat similar to what those of us on the left have been saying. Have your political views changed, or to paraphrase Ronald Reagan, has the Republican party simply left you? Do you still identify yourself as a moderate conservative?

Mike Lofgren: Well, I would say that in today’s GOP, Ronald Reagan would be considered too moderate. After all, he pleaded with Congress to pass a clean debt relief bill when the deficit threatened to get out of hand. He passed several tax increases. So I think maybe the GOP has maybe passed me by.

JH: He also of course signed an amnesty bill for undocumented immigrants. I agree with you very strongly that in today’s party, Ronald Reagan would probably be called a RHINO (Republican in name only).

We should be clear that we’re not talking about people of faith who are in politics. you’re writing about fundamentalists, biblical literalists.

ML: Right. I am not criticizing religion per se. I’m criticizing the fusion of politics and religion, which debases both politics and religion.

JH: It seems to me, and it comes through very clearly in the book, that religious fundamentalism is by definition incompatible with democracy, because democracy requires some compromise. When you believe your position is the word of God and the other guy’s position is the work of Satan you can’t really meet in the middle, can you? How did this ideology play out when you were working on the Hill?

ML: You kind of saw that and it was one of the reasons that led me to retire from the Hill. In early 2011, I saw that this whole new infusion of Tea Party Republicans, particularly in the House, they were going to use the debt limit increase issue -- which had been passed without too much crisis something like 87 times previously since World War II -- use it to ransom the government of the United States to their ideology. That little stunt caused Standard & Poor’s to downgrade the nation’s credit rating. According to the Government Accountability Office, it cost $1.3 billion in transaction costs alone.

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