(Photo: Brian Topolski)

In late February, Jason Pettigrew traveled to Chicago and braved a snowstorm to interview Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath for the cover story of AP 286. The two touched on a wide variety of topics during their time together, including today’s political climate—as you’ll see in this exclusive excerpt from the story. AP 286 will be on newsstands April 3, but you can pre-order it right now.

AP: As you learn about the cultures of the world and their particular travails, you can start to build up a great distrust of politicians. Over here, it seems real issues are always clouded with buzzword stuff that doesn’t matter. The economy is in ruins, but some people are more concerned with Ellen DeGeneres shilling for JCPenney. Is anything Ellen does in her bedroom going to affect someone’s ability to get a job? Isn’t that culture war?

TIM McILRATH: It’s moral superiority, in a sense. And it’s sheer hypocrisy, too, when you talk about a party who likes to espouse these ideas that there’s too much government here, here and here, but when it comes to your marriage, we want government all up in your business. When it comes to treating gay people equally, we want government right there so it doesn’t happen. The argument now is women’s reproductive rights. How incredible is it that you have this party saying they want government so much up in your business that I turn the news on and the term “forced vaginal probe” is being talked about. That’s what was on CNN this morning, and that’s what’s being talked about. It’s 2012, we’re still fighting a war, and our economy is in a downward spiral. Yet there are groups who want to impose their religious values on everybody else to control women’s reproductive rights. If it was reversed and some other religion was being imposed on them, you could see the country freaking out. But because it’s Christianity, then it’s okay. Employers that can decide whether they want to cover your birth control method [via health coverage] because of their own morals is scary. And it’s scary because it’s being talked about.

I was talking to somebody the other day about how incredible our country is that we give the time of day to crazy fucking people. We’re so nice. We give people like Rick Santorum the time of day—we let him talk on television. That’s freedom of speech, right there. But he’s out of his mind. And there are so many people that support him, unfortunately. This is not progress.

Any speculation on how it’s going to play out in November?

It’s interesting. For the first time in my lifetime, the Republican establishment has lost control of its constituency. At one point, outlets like Fox News did whatever the Republican sector told them to do. It seems that time is over and that the roles are reversed: The Republican establishment is beholden to Fox News. Fox News is the one actually steering the ship nowadays, and the Republicans have to placate that and acquiesce to this viewership they’ve built up over the last decade. And then you have the Tea Party, which at one point was [the Republicans thinking,] “Cool, this is our energetic response to liberals taking over D.C.,” but then it was, “Oh, wait: This is Dr. Frankenstein’s monster. We can’t control it anymore.” The right built Fox News and the Tea Party, but now they’ve lost control. The monster has gone AWOL. At a time where it would’ve been a no-brainer to have Mitt Romney as the guy to go against Obama, now they can’t even assure that happening because they’ve built up this crazy constituency of people they no longer have direct communication to.

It’s been really fun watching this [nomination process] unfold. What I think it is doing is showing the really ugly sides of right-wing conservatism, the real bottom of the barrel. We live in a world where we like to think, “Well, the left-wing talking heads are no better than the right-wing talking heads.” The Republican right-wing conservative party is now synonymous with bigotry. And it’s really scary. [Rise Against] were working with the It Gets Better campaign with our song “Make It Stop.” Now you’re seeing actual lives at stake. You’re seeing people in politics working to create an environment that trickles down into the hallways of high schools, an environment where there are students who feel they don’t belong in those hallways, or on this planet. When you are pulling those strings in Washington, D.C., and creating such mental anguish in a student’s or a teenager’s life, you’ve crossed the line. This is pure hate and it has no place. It’s a great thing in America that we give people a voice. But that party has gone off the rails. It needs to be reined in, and it needs to be held accountable.