WINO

Most politicians deserve a little name-calling, but there are two labels—really two variations on the same label—that have become popular lately and really get my goat. They are RINO and DINO: Republican In Name Only and Democrat In Name Only. Even Libertarians call other Libertarians LINOs, Greens have their GINOs, and probably even Independents who get called IINOs even though I have no idea how to pronounce it.

I make an exception for the use of the phrase (but not the acronym) when clarifying the leanings of an entire party or group. It’s commonly and correctly noted that Nazis were socialists in name only, and frequently there are claims that China is communist in name only. Those tend to be valid or at least not unreasonable claims.

RINO and DINO on the other hand, appear to be the label used when the member of one party diverges in even a very small way from the respective party’s platform. That variance may be the accuser’s favorite issue making it understandable that she might be disappointed in the party’s representative, but very rarely are these terms used for people who actually fall outside their party’s mainstream.

Notable alleged RINOs:

  • Newt Gingrich
  • Paul Ryan
  • John Boehner
  • Rand Paul
  • Mitt Romney

Notable alleged DINOs:

  • Barack Obama
  • Nancy Pelosi
  • Gavin Newsom
  • Patrick Leahy
  • Bill Clinton

Here in the United States we have two major political parties, each with a platform comprising a wide variety of issues, of which some have common roots in values but many do not. And values are tricky things; people with the same values but different life experiences may have very different ideas about how to promote those values. It should be no surprise that there are people who want a reduction in social programs and stricter gun control laws—a Republican by one issue and a Democrat by another. It should be no surprise that there are people who oppose gay marriage and also oppose laws restricting abortion.

In fact, it should come as a surprise to find someone who agrees with the entirety of a party’s platform. And since positions on issues within parties change over time, one could not expect such a person always to have been in lockstep with a party or to continue so for very long. Indeed, even in our increasingly polarized Congress there is only a single senator and two members of the House who have voted every vote in the 112th Congress with their parties. Of those (Dan Coats R-Indiana, John Boehner R-Ohio, and Christopher Lee R-New York) Dan Coats was not a senator in the 11th Congress and neither John Boehner nor Christopher Lee had a 100% party-line voting record. It seems the only way to have a perfect party-line voting record is to be in the beginning of one’s first term in Congress.

Lack of adherence to the official party line is not usually what gets a politician or a private individual a «Whatever In Name Only» label.  Most often what earns the label is a failure to be more extreme than the mainstream of a party. Many on the left see Obama as failed Democrat for not being liberal enough, despite being somewhat more liberal than the Democratic Party’s median.

While there are examples of politicians voting largely against their party lines, they are few. Most vote with their party 80% or more of the time. Without accounting for the relative importance of the votes, it seems that the RINO or DINO label is, with very few exceptions, unwarranted.

When it comes to private individuals, party affiliation usually takes an even greater backseat to individual values, beliefs, and perspective, as well it should. Here the label becomes even less useful. Each of us must balance the importance of issues and vote for candidates who disagree with us on many issues. Some voters put one issue above all other considerations, other voters agree with their party or candidate on all but a small number of issues. Others don’t vote by issues at all but judge a candidate’s character and vote by integrity even when the candidate’s position is entirely dissimilar from the voter. This last type may be more common than generally believed. A 2008 article in Mens Health (May the Most Authentic Man Win) asserts that looking back through presidential elections the winner was always the one who was—or at least appeared—more authentic.

So it should not be a sin to disagree with your party. Your party, in fact, should be grateful for your support despite your differences. Some people don’t see that and start tossing around the Whatever In Name Only labels, trying to shame others into compliance or at least make them appear to have less integrity regardless of the logic or validity of their beliefs. In short, Whatever In Name Only cannot serve as more than an ad hominem argument.

Personally, I’ve been handed both of the most common labels: RINO and DINO. I’m most often described as an extreme version of whatever party the speaker is not. My father has called me an ultra-liberal and my friends in the Bay Area think I’ve fallen off the right side of the right wing.

The two-party system gives us inadequate choice with which to voice our beliefs. In most cases, we can say loud and clear what we don’t want, but not so clearly what we want instead. Did a vote for Obama in 2008 indicate an endorsement of the worldview of the Democrats, or a rejection of Bush using McCain as a proxy? Was it because the country demanded healthcare legislation? Or because the country demanded we disentangle ourselves from the war in Iraq? Or because the country wanted to keep the government out of abortion? Or because Americans are opposed to tax cuts?

Strictly, probably none of the above. Certainly not all of the above. But with each election, the winning party takes their success as an endorsement of the entire party’s platform. Each time the incumbent party loses, politicians take the cue to further their own agendas with little regard to the actual messages voters sent. It was with good reason that George Washington in his farewell address 215 years ago warned against becoming entangled in party factionalism:

…the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the Public Councils, and enfeeble the Public Administration. It agitates the Community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms; kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.

In other words, placing importance on political parties leads to a government which is too focused on issues of little import or urgency whilst preventing the vital work to be done, divides a nation against itself, and invites corruption from inside and out. Does this sound familiar?

It takes an engaged and informed electorate to make democracy (even a democratic republic) work. Disturbingly, it is doubtful that either party is interested in democracy. They are, of course, interested in votes, but if our politicians cared about democracy they wouldn’t spend so much time bolstering a party system that disaffects voters and is prone to propagandizing.

I doubt that any politician would admit to purposefully disaffecting voters, but the parties have more power than the people do, and they like it that way. Sure, the people get to give the wink to one party or another, but the choice between candidates that don’t match anyone’s values is one that encourages giving up or subsuming the party line into one’s own beliefs. That provides a lot of power to politicians, and power is not something which politicians willingly let go.

I submit that those who use one of the WINO terms are undermining the very fabric of American democracy. I plead that if you catch yourself about to use the term—especially if you are about to level it at someone in the same room—that you take a step back and address the actual issue with which you and the other person disagree. I suggest that writing letters—even emails—to elected representatives that concern individual issues—especially when the preferred position on the issue is contrary to that politician’s party—may be the only way to ease the stranglehold the parties have on American politics.

That may be the only hope democracy has of surviving our times.

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Comments

Wow, Steve! I've never heard any of these people called RINO or DINO. As a matter of fact, most of them are considered to be on the outer side of the center of their respective parties. The term is usually applied to people who often vote with the opposing party. A past example is Jim Jeffords, who ended up switching parties. Current examples are Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins from Maine. They don't always vote Democratic, but often enough to earn them the title. Probably a more fitting term is Gypsy Moth Republican or Boll Weevil Democrat. Both vote for the other party often enough to do harm to their respective party's agenda.

No one expects a congressman to vote the exact party line, but they should do it most of the time.

As for calling you an ultra-liberal, that was far in the past. You outgrew that as you grew wiser. Now I consider you occasionally misguided. :) But I am OK with anyone who at least thinks about their beliefs. The people I can't stand are the ones who cannot clearly and rationally tell you why they voted for someone, even if they are supporting my candidate.

Dad

...and I can always at least tell you the irrational reasons I voted for a candidate even if I don't have any rational ones. smiley

(I'm not sure that adding the smiley button to the text editor was a good idea.)

Part of why I hate the RINO/DINO terms so much is because they are so often applied to people who just aren't extreme enough for the taste of the person using the term. As far as the people on my list,

  • Newt Gingrich (king of the RINOs, no less)
  • Paul Ryan (in the comments, but more than once and the assertion is based on the facts in the article)
  • John Boehner
  • Rand Paul
  • Mitt Romney (Romneycare/Obamneycare is the obvious lightning rod but the folks at rinolist.org seem to have a laundry list)
  • Barack Obama (a greatest hits list of liberals calling Obama a closet Republican)
  • Nancy Pelosi
  • Gavin Newsom (this may be legitimate; Newsom is very smart.)
  • Patrick Leahy (the noted DINO, no less)
  • Bill Clinton (I wanted to use Rachel Maddow's quote, but apparently she didn't use the word DINO. She called Clinton our «best Republican President» which is pretty much the same thing but not good enough to be an example. The linked example actually connects Clinton to the coining of the term DINO.)

Of course, this list wasn't meant to be a list of politicians who actually don't represent their own parties. To the contrary, they are all well-credentialed members of their respective parties. What I meant to illustrate is that more often than not, the terms DINO and RINO are used to express grudges about single issues where the politician (usually) wasn't extreme enough for the individual doing the namecalling.

My point (which I don't think you meant to challenge) stands: namecalling is a poor substitute for debate about issues.

I was amused by the Nancy Pelosi link. Brian Kelly paints almost the entire Democratic Party as DINOs, and I can't say I entirely disagree with him. Back in the good old days when I was alive, there was an extremely liberal young Democrat named Jack Kennedy. If you listen to his speeches about reducing taxes, spending, and big government, it is clear that today he would be a Republican--nay, a Tea Partier. That is how far our political spectrum has shifted to the left in my lifetime.

I concede that namecalling is a poor substitute for debate, but it is not the only fault of today's politicians. Last night I heard a Democratic Senator seriously state that President Obama's debt reduction proposal takes us back to an Eisenhower sized government, which should be far enough, but the Republicans want to take the country back to the Dark Ages. The moderator did not even challenge him, but a couple of facts should have been brought out. One, that the President has never even offered a plan. Two, that even the $9 trillion Coburn plan increases the cost of government, merely at a slower rate than GDP. Three, I know of no Republican who wants to take us back to any government earlier than 1776. :)

The Democrats aren't the only liars, of course. That was just the most recent example. I think I'd rather have the namecalling than the lying. Sometimes it is difficult to tell which side is lying, but it is usually obvious when someone is namecalling.

I would love to see a real debate on issues, but today's "debates" (can I call them DINOs, or Debates In Name Only?) have devolved into "Do you prefer thin crust or deep dish?" When I was in school there was a debating club. Each side had to respond specifically to their opponent's argument before they could offer their own. It was usually enlightening to watch, but I can still remember the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when I suddenly realized I was wrong. Not only wrong, but PROVEN wrong. (No, it didn't ever actually happen. Cough. Cough.) The winner was not always right, but at least he had presented his arguments more powerfully than his opponent. Today a debate is merely a "neutral" moderator asking different questions to each candidate and then listening to the candidate spend his 90 seconds talking about whatever else he wants to, often without ever referring to the question. No candidate ever challenges the other, because they spend their 90 seconds doing the exact same thing. Those of us who have heard all the talking points already consider these debates a total waste of time.

It is very difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff out there. I am sure I spend more time on it than the average citizen, but it is still difficult to know what is right. I do know it is wrong to spend $3.6 trillion a year when we are only taking in $2,4 trillion, but even I have doubts about all of the plans out there to fix it. The only plan that seems rational --the FairTax-- doesn't appear to me to actually have much chance of ever seeing the light of the Congressional floor, but at least it should allow our economy to grow enough to pay for our expensive government. Then we could have the debate over whether we should have such an expensive government without being distracted by the fact that we can't pay for it.

I have become an extreme term-limiter. I don't believe a federal government electee should serve more than one term. Right now, a lot of what is going on is campaigning and posturing for the next election. I believe if our representatives did not have to face reelection they might vote for what is best for the country, rather than what is best for their own reelection. They would also save a ton of money and actually have time in one term to accomplish something.

Dad

PS The only problem with the smiley is that it is a happy face rather than a smiley face. Most of the time when I use a smiley, it is to emphasize that I am joking, not necessarily happy.

I take the opposite view on term limits. I think they are a bad restriction on the electorate's ability to keep in office someone who is doing a good job. Or at least who they think is consistently the lesser of two evils.

I agree that most of them deserve to be one-term officeholders, but like many legal restrictions, the cure is worse than the disease. Imagine being faced with a decision (like a propoal for so-called Keynesian spending) that would bring prosperity for several years followed by a bubble collapse. If the crash is going to come on someone else's watch… well, I know you would do the right thing, but a politician might not. If that same politician is thinking she or he might be up for election when the economy crashes fifteen years down the line, we might have some better choices made. Short and limited terms lead to short-term decisionmaking.

1776? ITYM 1791. Any Republican who wants to repeal the Second Amendment is a RINO. wink

No, I think the biggest problem with these smileys is that they are ugly.

splicer wrote:

I take the opposite view on term limits. I think they are a bad restriction on the electorate's ability to keep in office someone who is doing a good job. Or at least who they think is consistently the lesser of two evils.

In the once or twice a century that a person is actually elected to Congress who does a great job, I agree it would be a shame to lose them due to a legal limitation. However, as I see it, the cost of that is far outweighed by the disadvantages of our current system.

First, an incumbent has an inordinate advantage over other candidates. Add to the name recognition the liberal use of the government printing office and franking privilege. Every piece of mail I receive from my congressmen is clearly a reelection campaign flyer, and I get more and more of these taxpayer-funded campaign ads as the election approaches.

I used to think that an incumbent should be handicapped by having to win by a percentage point for every year he has been in office, but no more. There are a couple of other better reasons for term limits, specifically for a term limit law that allows only one term per office. One is that candidates currently spend much of the time out of the office campaigning or fundraising for the next election. This is particularly true in the House where elections are every other year. The other is that incumbents currently overwhelmingly vote (and/or posture) in ways that they feel will help them get reelected. If getting reelected was not an issue, they might vote for what is best for the nation rather than for their own self-interest.

As for your claim that politicians would simply punt hard decisions down the road for the next group, you're right. Some would. But it certainly would not be any worse than it is today. That is how we got in the financial mess we are in today, decisions being put off by our politicians year after year into we are now in crisis mode, simply because they were afraid of reelection difficulties.

This country was founded on the principle of a citizen government. I think our founding fathers would be astonished at how many of our elected officials are career politicians who have never even held a job in the private sector.

Dad

Sir Scotten:

While I agree with the thrust of your reponse to Scotten Jr's post, I do have two things to add:

1. I know him to always be well reasearched, and I have, in fact, heard the people he named to have been called Dino/Rinos myself.

2. Having had many a political converation with Steve, I can say that while he has certainly grown wiser with age, calling him "occassionally misguided" shows your fatherly love [delusion?].

Heh.

I mean, how screwed up does a kid have to be to identify himself as a "Republican socialist"?

*sigh*

All we can hope for at this point, is that with the assistance of wiser minds, he may--at some point--be only seldom misguided.

For my part, I directed him to Volokh.com.

In Humor,

jason.the.mcclain™

 

Wait. Ok ::: Seriously now: I have one wish [which is often a plea] for my misguided friends in the Bay Area, and it is this: read The Federalist Papers before you vote again. That is all I ask. It would be nice if they understood why the rules are such, before they simply want to discard that pesky Constitution 'cuz it is, well, so darned pesky. If you can understand and explain why those rules were a good idea [and often still are rock solid] then I am more open to listening to why you/they/we think they should be changed.

Jason,

I am still working on Steve. He is slowly but steadily improving.

It's good to hear from another Constitutionalist. We seem to be a rare type.

Dad