This is something I’ve been pondering for some time. I started writing this piece a couple months ago but stopped because it didn’t seem that relevant and I didn’t really care too much. Now I think it’s different. First and foremost is the emergence of the so-called drone memos and the Rand Paul filibuster follow-up which has served to expose some serious hypocrisy in both political parties. The other is the increased (and perhaps overuse) of the term “false equivalency” by the left. There’s no question that the media tends to “report the debate” and often gives an impression of equivalency, but understanding the structures of both parties might better help to explain why such a false equivalency might exist.
Since emerging as a term in 1992, “RINO” or “Republican in name only” has become increasingly common in right-wing political discourse. With the emergence of the Tea Party and the recent rejection of their candidates in the last election, the term has become even more meaningful as a troubled party tries to redefine itself. Politicians or pundits often get called RINO’s if their positions don’t live up to the hardline stance of the party. Any Republican compromising with Democrats is now viewed as a RINO by many on the right.
RINO vs. Blue Dog
On the other side, you have the term “Blue Dog Democrat” to denote Democrats that lean conservative. Unlike RINO, the term was created within the party by a coalition of Democrats to describe themselves. Already that’s a huge difference as “Blue Dogs” is not the least bit derogatory and held up with pride by those in the coalition. This might be changing as Blue Dogs have pretty much died out as a Congressional group in recent years. However, as I’ve mentioned before, the Democrats are essentially a centrist party and therefore still have plenty of representatives in their conservative wing.
This chart shows my estimated center of each party on the political spectrum. The distribution is based on national self-identified polling with some heavy assumptions.
Why not DINO?
This brings up the interesting question of whether the term DINO could emerge. There’s no doubt that some have been throwing it around in forums, social media, blogs for quite some time, yet it’s never really caught on. I argue that this is precisely because the Democrats are a centrist party. Whereas RINO denotes Republicans that stray from a hardline conservative stance, DINO can’t possible denote Democrats who stray from a hardline liberal stance because it would then include the vast majority of the party. What about switching it around then? Could DINO mean Democrats that are too liberal? Well no, that would just be silly and nonsensical for the political narrative. Democrats represent the left so how could liberals be Democrats in name only.
RINO vs. LINO
So now that the Blue Dogs are almost gone and DINO doesn’t really make sense if used either way, what’s the analogous term for a RINO on the left? It has to be LINO. On the right, RINO is essentially saying that a person is a conservative in name only, and so on the left Liberal in Name Only seems most appropriate. Therefore the focus on the left are not moderates claiming to be Democrats, but Democrats who claim to be liberals. That’s an important distinction between the parties because it says that while Republicans speak for conservative values and are judged for it, Democrats do not speak for liberals. Instead the Democratic party is a loose coalition of often conflicting groups from all over the political spectrum. Whereas the GOP’s homogeneous character readily allows for the RINO label for those differing even slightly, the Democrats heterogeneity makes any labeling like that impossible and those that don’t conform to the party wear their ideology as a badge of honor like the Blue Dogs.
Because the Democrats are a center-left coalition, centrist politicians who try to appeal to the liberal base often run into more problems. This situation occurred after Obama’s election in 2008. He won the primary running on a relatively liberal agenda yet lost a large amount of liberal support when he set up a centrist administration and agenda. The outrage from the left eventually boiled over into OWS. Democrats do not run as centrists and then turn left once elected. Compare that with George W. Bush, who ran as a centrist and then moved swiftly to the right once elected. One of his few centrist policies was immigration reform, from which Republicans gave him a heavy beating.
When Republicans appeal to their base during an election and turn their backs during their tenure they get called RINO’s. As the Democratic base is more varied, the only appropriate term could be LINO to designate a centrist that appeals to the liberal wing of the Democratic party. In conclusion, the structure of the Democratic party varies enough from that of the GOP to the point where there can be no equivalent term for RINO. The ideological core of the Democrats is much more centrist than the ideological core of liberals and therefore any criticism from the liberal base against centrist Democrats must come in the form of LINO rather than DINO.