I’m a Catholic. I’m a farm kid. I’m an athlete. I’m an engineer. I’m a teacher. I’m a traveler. I’m a son, grandson, brother, uncle, and godfather. And, most importantly (within the context of this blog post), I’m an American.
I’m also a Republican. But that is different than those other identities I listed. More specifically, I am a RINO: Republican In Name Only. The difference is that every one of those labels I mentioned earlier is more important than the label of Republican.
All of those other aspects of my life help to define me, because they have shaped and molded me. Because of the totality of their influences on me and my worldview, I find myself more closely aligned with the philosophy espoused by the Republican Party. But being a Republican does not define or shape me. I chose to be Republican based on my values. I didn’t choose my values based on my being a Republican. That is why my Republican identity is subservient to all those other identities. It is why I put country (and family and faith and many other things) ahead of party. It is why I am proud to call myself a RINO.
However, RINO has become a pejorative. It is an insult hurled at Republicans who do not adhere strongly enough to party orthodoxy and leaders, as judged by those who believe themselves to be correct on all things with absolute certainty. And the most egregious offense, worse than any small difference in economic or social policy, that we RINOs can commit is to consider Democrats as fellow Americans. God forbid we listen to the other political party with respect or (gasp) try to find common ground with them.
The concept of a RINO, and what it means to be a “True Republican”, has been around for generations, ever since the intraparty fight between William Taft and Teddy Roosevelt. But the vitriol has greatly increased over the past 25 years as hyper-partisanship has taken hold of our national discourse.
This kind of intraparty ideological fight is not unique to the Republicans, as can be seen now in the Democratic party, between the traditional wing and the “Democratic-Socialist” wing. And such debate about the ideological direction of a party is both healthy and necessary. However, the false choice fallacy of “you are either with us or against us” is ludicrous and only serves to tear people apart. Honestly, does that mindset work in any other functioning part of society? Why do we reward it in politics?
A Stanford study showed that Americans now identify with their party more strongly than other social groupings such as race and religion. There is an understandable reason for this in that we more actively choose our political party than other identities according to the study. By itself, this strong party identification is not necessarily a bad thing. However, when you allow your party identification to define your values rather than the other way around, and when you ostracize and demonize those that don’t agree with you or don’t agree strongly enough, that is when it becomes dangerous.
To be fair, there are plenty of craven politicians and others who continuously change their positions and party identification depending on what will work best for their career. Their “beliefs” go whichever way the political winds are blowing. They have no moral conviction other than a lust for power. They will sell out their supporters and “principles” for whatever is in their own self-interest. These hypocrites should rightly be held to account.
That said, my being a RINO doesn’t mean that I lack convictions. Just the opposite in fact, it means that I take ownership of my political beliefs and stand by them. I am not going to sign over my conscience to whoever happens to be leading the Republican Party at the time out of blind loyalty. My convictions and integrity mean more to me than my political label.
According to Gallop, currently, 25% of Americans consider themselves Republican, 34% Democrat, and 39% Independent. That means that no matter what your personal political leaning, THE MAJORITY OF THE POPULATION DOES NOT COMPLETELY AGREE WITH YOU!
There are two ways to deal with that reality. One way is to recognize that there is a variety of opinions and then try to work across those differences while still staying true to your deepest convictions; and on those points of deep differences in conviction, you work to respectfully persuade others, and hope for a breakthrough; all so we can continue to function as a free society. The other way is to hold fast to the belief that your way is the only way, and that others must either agree with you or be ground into submission; establishing a tyranny of your minority.
Obviously, I chose the former. If you choose the latter, even if I happen to agree with you on most specific policies, I will oppose you on principle. Because while I consider myself a Republican, that is just a political label, a name. I am a Republican in Name Only; my true identify is American.