From RINO to DINO: A Travelogue

Here’s a featured letter in today’s New York Times. It describes a view similar to one I held for a long time, but it also presents a major puzzle that any moderate Republican has to resolve.

To the Editor:

Year in and year out, Republicans fail to find the words to convince the public that there is a beating heart at the core of their beliefs. Stereotypes are often inaccurate but they are easy to sell, and Democrats have no trouble flogging their favorite — the callous, unthinking Republican, extremist in view and out for himself.

The facts reveal a softer party profile. According to a Gallup Poll in June, 42 percent of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents consider themselves to be conservative on both social and economic issues, the lowest level since 2005. Another 44 percent are some version of moderate, either on both social and economic issues or just social issues.

And so, quiet moderates are half our number — not the impression we get from the media. Disparaged as RINOS (Republicans in Name Only) by fellow party members further to the right, many now are happy to take on the name. Pro-choice, pro-gun-control and accepting of same-sex marriage, they consider the culture wars peripheral. Their G.O.P.’s first priority is championing private enterprise, the engine that drives the nation, pays its bills, rewards ingenuity and creates jobs.

They have a thoughtful regard for the environment but also care about a form of inequality that Democrats prefer to ignore — that the cost of swapping fossil fuels for renewable energy falls disproportionately on the shoulders of the poor because it slows growth. And so their natural wariness of the accuracy of climate models is prudence, not ignorance.

They know that an infusion of new talent and energy from outside our borders has always been the country’s greatest strength and watch with dismay Donald Trump’s ugly posturing in favor of deporting 11 million immigrants. Most support a sensible plan for amnesty.

They do not feed on anger and resentment. They believe that it is our obligation to look after those in need.

They want to create, not diminish; transform, not long for a mythical past. They are collaborators, not obstructionists.

Greenwich, Conn.

The writer is a longtime registered Republican.

One problem here is that the author is presenting herself as a social liberal and economic conservative while citing figures that say that 42% of Republican-like people are social and economic conservatives. Given the mismatch, the 42% figure doesn’t seem all that meaningful. As for “44% are some kind of moderate,” part of the problem is the vagueness of “moderate,” and part of the problem is that that 44% only seems moderately exercised about the calamity that seems to have befallen the party. They are, to paraphrase Barry Goldwater, moderates about everything, including the defense of truth and the pursuit of justice. That’s why they’re “quiet.” In other words, politically speaking, they’re complacent, apathetic, and ultimately useless.

The boilerplate about “private enterprise” is weak tea. Fringe players aside, we’re all committed to “private enterprise” nowadays. The devil is in the details.

As for the natural wariness of the accuracy of climate models, it would be more impressive if the Republican Party had a genuine commitment to science in the first place. But the Republicans’ “natural wariness of climate models” looks more like a natural wariness of science itself than of climate models in particular.

So here is the puzzle. Suppose that you’re a social liberal broadly in favor of private enterprise. You face serious obstacles within the Republican Party. So why not become a Democrat? The only obstacle would seem to be the widespread belief that the Democrats reject free enterprise. They don’t, really, but even if they did, why is their rejection of free enterprise a bigger obstacle to joining them than the Republicans’ rejection of reality?

3 thoughts on “From RINO to DINO: A Travelogue

  1. I’m finding you eminently quotable these days. When I read the old interview from The Jewish Standard, I was taken with your line: “I don’t define my actions in relation to the expected reactions of any community or any authority. I define them for myself, and I encourage others to do so the same.” Now I’m taken with “why is their rejection of free enterprise a bigger obstacle to joining them than the Republicans’ rejection of reality?” I still refuse to join any political party, but I wholly concur, and I’m glad to hear you say it. We need to get back to disagreeing one of these days.

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    • Thank you very kindly, my dear Riesbeck. Actually, there’s something of a disagreement embedded right there within our putative agreement. You refuse to join a political party, but I think joining one is instrumentally necessary to effect political change in the American political context (and a commitment to justice requires a commitment to making political change). I’ll save that one for some other time, however. Right now, I’m busy digesting yesterday’s hummus (and grading, supposedly).

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  2. Pingback: The “No Boots on the Ground” Fraud | Policy of Truth

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