The Banality of the RINOs - The American Spectator | USA News and Politics
The Banality of the RINOs

I’m told we’re living in a Moderate Moment. After Mitt Romney lost the election, moderate Republicans started emerging from every corner of the country, from Northwest Washington, D.C. to Arlington, Virginia. It was time, they declared, for calm voices to prevail in the Republican Party. The Tea Party, the right-wing, the “Conservative Entertainment Complex” — all this must be cast overboard for the GOP to win again.

The latest iteration of this came in Wednesday’s Washington Post from columnist Kathleen Parker:

RINO, of course, refers to Republicans In Name Only and is the pejorative term used against those who fail to march in lockstep with the so-called conservative base. I used “so-called” because, though the hard-right faction of the party tends to be viewed as The Base, this isn’t necessarily so. My guess is there are now more RINOs than those who, though evangelical in their zeal, are poison to their party’s ability to win national elections.

Parker calls for a RINO uprising, a new faction on the right to counter the Tea Party. That’s all well and good. There are genuine differences of opinion on the right, and a little inward dialectic never hurt anyone.

But how would her brand of Republicanism differ from the conservative base she derides? This is the closest thing we get to a policy prescription in her column: “Most would like the country to rock along without drama — operating within a reasonable budget, with respect for privacy and the rule of law, compassion for the disadvantaged and an abundance of concern for national security, including border control but not necessarily drone attacks on citizens.”

Yes, if only there was a political movement calling for reasonable budgets, more privacy for the individual, upholding the rule of law, and concern for national security. She must imagine hordes of earthy Tea Partiers holding the Post in their gunpowder-stained fingers while recoiling and exclaiming, “Compassion for the disadvantaged?! This paper’s gone to the dogs!”

So Parker’s principles seem pretty similar to those of modern conservatives. But then what explains this urge to diverge into a moderate faction?

I’ve been curious about this question for some time. Since the election, we’ve heard a lot of nebulous chatter from self-styled moderates about how the GOP must reach out to the middle class, appeal to Latino voters, change, modernize.

But how exactly do we do that? So far the only concrete answer seems to be softening the conservative stance on immigration. But according to the Pew Hispanic Center, education, jobs and the economy, health care, and the deficit all rate as bigger concerns for Latinos than immigration. Well then, counter moderates, conservatives need to gear their message towards jobs instead of deficit reduction. But Romney talked about jobs constantly during the campaign (“Mr. President, where are the jobs?”). And many conservatives believe job creation is directly linked to reducing the debt and regulatory burdens on small businesses. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

I could go on. The more you examine the RINO critique, the more you realize there’s nothing there. You end up grabbing at air.

To understand just how vacuous the moderate stance has become, consider their embrace of New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. John Avlon praised the Garden State firebrand as a “Northeast Republican” with a “moderate record.” Joe Scarborough defended his accomplishments. Moderate donors pleaded with Christie to run in 2012.

Yes, Christie has offended some conservatives, most notably when he cozied up to President Obama after Hurricane Sandy. But a RINO hero? This is the governor who wooed Democratic State Senate President Steve Sweeney into supporting sweeping pension and health care reform. Then, when Sweeney’s Democratic legislature submitted a budget in the spirit of comity, Christie balanced it by taking his line-item veto pen and crossed out $900 million in spending. The cuts were painful and included AIDS funding, health care programs for the poor, and mental health services. Sweeney called Christie a “rotten prick” and said he “wanted to punch him in the head.” Christie was unapologetic.

Imagine if House Republicans made a move of equivalent aggression and audacity. Masticated filet mignon would fly from the horrified mouths of Washingtonians. Tablecloths would run red with spilled Merlot. Heads would be shaken and Republican Jacobins cursed. Locusts would descend on Falls Church.

Conservatives can’t even support sequestration without drawing condemnation from the center-right. But Christie cuts funding for AIDS patients and he’s the moderate Moses leading the GOP out of the electoral desert. Again, it’s pure air.

But let’s return to Parker. Beyond that one line about policy, her column is little more than a train of supercilious advice about how to distinguish RINOs from righties. Righties are “the fringe.” RINOs are “defiantly proud, aggressively centrist and unapologetically sane.” Righties carry “gigantic photos of aborted fetuses to political conventions.” RINOs are “too busy Being Normal to organize.”

Reading Parker’s piece, you get a whiff of T. Coddington Van Voorhees VII, the satirical East Coast Republican created by blogger Iowahawk who sits around with moderates like Parker and David Brooks, and laments conservative extremists in between badminton games and sips of champagne. Parker’s primary objection seems to be one of culture and temperament rather than substance. Those tri-cornered-hat-wearing Tea Partiers are embarrassing all the normal and well-bred people out there.

This is the dichotomy established by many moderate Republicans: shrill, rigid, movement conservatives on one side and open-minded RINOs on the other.

It’s a straw man argument and a cheap one at that. In reality, the conservative movement consists of traditionalists, libertarians, and hawks; politicians, writers, scholars, and radio hosts; angry and wonky, loud and soft, following in the tradition of Burke and the politics of Reagan, but disagreeing vibrantly on both issues and techniques. S.E. Cupp and Rush Limbaugh are currently feuding. CPAC-goers will come home with lit from the American Enterprise Institute and the Ron Paul campaign. This is no cartoonish monolith.

The RINO movement consists of…well, people who say they’re RINOs. They’re pro-library-voices and anti-tri-cornered hats and pro-middle-class. Beyond that it’s hard to tell. But the left seems to approve.

At any rate, let me offer some overtures to the RINOs. I’ll agree to doff my tri-cornered hat and stop firing musket blanks at my co-workers, several of whom have taken up my epistemic closure with the HR office. But I’m going to keep demanding smaller government and less spending, and I may occasionally even use an exclamation point.

We’re staring down tens of trillions in debt. If the RINOs have a better solution, I’m all ears.

Photo: UPI
Image courtesy
Washington Post.

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