A Republican Insider Looks at the Rise of the Religious Right
Frederick Clarkson printable version print page     Bookmark and Share
Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 03:22:08 PM EST
A career Republican Congressional staffer retired and published an essay for Truthout in September -- that went viral. Mike Lofgren wanted us to know what, in broad strokes, had gone wrong with politics and government. He thinks one major factor has been the rise of the Religious Right in the GOP. Like other Republicans before him, from Barry Goldwater, to John Danforth, to John Dean who each belatedly spoke out, we need to consider his perspective as that of someone who played ball, worked with and even advanced some of the very elements he now criticizes.

Nevertheless, it is worth hearing and carefully considering what he has to say, not only about what it means to be a professional working in such an ideologically charged environment, but how he views liberals and Democrats as having been weak and ineffectual in response. (I wish he had provided more details.) There is a refreshingly honest and thoughtful -- if rueful -- quality to his words that puts in perspective a great deal of what we read from all sides, especially as the campaign season kicks in hard.

I have excerpted a few relevant quotes below, which I offer without evaluation -- but the entire essay, if you have not already considered it, is worth the time.

Some liberal writers have opined that the different socio-economic perspectives separating the "business" wing of the GOP and the religious right make it an unstable coalition that could crack. I am not so sure. There is no fundamental disagreement on which direction the two factions want to take the country, merely how far in that direction they want to take it.  The plutocrats would drag us back to the Gilded Age, the theocrats to the Salem witch trials. In any case, those consummate plutocrats, the Koch brothers, are pumping large sums of money into Michele Bachman's presidential campaign, so one ought not make too much of a potential plutocrat-theocrat split.

It is this broad and ever-widening gulf between the traditional Republicanism of an Eisenhower and the quasi-totalitarian cult of a Michele Bachmann that impelled my departure from Capitol Hill....     I left because I was appalled at the headlong rush of Republicans, like Gadarene swine, to embrace policies that are deeply damaging to this country's future; and contemptuous of the feckless, craven incompetence of Democrats in their half-hearted attempts to stop them.

Pandering to fundamentalism is a full-time vocation in the GOP.  Beginning in the 1970s, religious cranks ceased simply to be a minor public nuisance in this country and grew into the major element of the Republican rank and file.  Pat Robertson's strong showing in the 1988 Iowa Caucus signaled the gradual merger of politics and religion in the party.  The results are all around us: if the American people poll more like Iranians or Nigerians than Europeans or Canadians on questions of evolution versus creationism, scriptural inerrancy, the existence of angels and demons, and so forth, that result is due to the rise of the religious right, its insertion into the public sphere by the Republican Party and the consequent normalizing of formerly reactionary or quaint beliefs. Also around us is a prevailing anti-intellectualism and hostility to science; it is this group that defines "low-information voter" - or, perhaps, "misinformation voter."

The Constitution to the contrary notwithstanding, there is now a de facto religious test for the presidency: major candidates are encouraged (or coerced) to "share their feelings" about their "faith" in a revelatory speech; or, some televangelist like Rick Warren dragoons the candidates (as he did with Obama and McCain in 2008) to debate the finer points of Christology, with Warren himself, of course, as the arbiter.  Politicized religion is also the sheet anchor of the culture wars.  But how did the whole toxic stew of GOP beliefs - economic royalism, militarism and culture wars cum fundamentalism - come completely to displace an erstwhile civilized Eisenhower Republicanism?

Televangelists have long espoused the health-and-wealth/name-it-and-claim it gospel. If you are wealthy, it is a sign of God's favor.  If not, too bad!  But don't forget to tithe in any case.  This rationale may explain why some economically downscale whites defend the prerogatives of billionaires.

The GOP's fascination with war is also connected with the fundamentalist mindset. The Old Testament abounds in tales of slaughter - God ordering the killing of the Midianite male infants and enslavement of the balance of the population, the divinely-inspired genocide of the Canaanites, the slaying of various miscreants with the jawbone of an ass - and since American religious fundamentalists seem to prefer the Old Testament to the New (particularly that portion of the New Testament known as the Sermon on the Mount), it is but a short step to approving war as a divinely inspired mission. This sort of thinking has led, inexorably, to such phenomena as Jerry Falwell once writing that God is Pro-War.




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Lofgren recently gave a follow-up interview to Truthout, which is what got me to thinking about all this.

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 03:23:24 PM EST

Thanks for this article. And please check your second paragraph. It appears to have been posted double.

by MLouise on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 07:19:18 PM EST
I think I should make big glaring errors more often to see if anyone is reading this stuff ;-)

by Frederick Clarkson on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 09:53:26 PM EST
Parent
I have Talk2Action set as my browser home page. And I'm a compulsive proof reader. It's genetic ~ my father, a school teacher, used to correct the letters I sent home from college.

by MLouise on Sun Dec 11, 2011 at 10:05:32 PM EST
Parent
In retrospect, that sounds kind of snarky. It wasn't intended that way. I should have put a smiley face at the end, so here it is now :-)

by MLouise on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 03:04:26 PM EST
Parent
I appreciate the eagle eyed among us, and wish I was eaglier myself.

by Frederick Clarkson on Mon Dec 12, 2011 at 03:12:51 PM EST
Parent





Mike Lofgren's essay for Truthout is a must-read for anyone interested in understanding the rise of the Religious Right in the Republican Party.  cannabis business and society As a career Congressional staffer, Lofgren speaks with authority on the subject, offering insights that are both thought-provoking and eye-opening. His perspective as someone who was involved in the party and worked with the very elements he now criticizes is invaluable. The essay is an important reminder that we should all take the time to consider the views of those who have seen the system from the inside.

by isabelladom on Sun Mar 26, 2023 at 12:47:13 PM EST


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