Wednesday Word of the Week: March 2

2 Mar

More Similar Than We Imagined

This week’s word is RHINOCEROS.

a large animal with very thick gray skin and one or two horns on its nose. It lives mainly in southern Asia and Africa – Macmillan Dictionary online

I have always been fascinated by rhinos. They are so large and yet so peaceful. I enjoyed pretending to be a rhinoceros when I was a child and have many toy rhinos as a result. My favorites are the two-horned varieties, the enormous black rhino and the relatively small Sumatran rhino (which is also fairly furry for a rhinoceros).

As you might imagine, I did a real double-take the first time I heard the acronym RINO: Republican In Name Only . Associating the Republican Party with my favorite animal leaves a bad taste in my mouth to start with; the disparaging tone of the label also seemed disrespectful. After the last election cycle, however, I’ve been thinking a great deal about the RINOs and their fate.

The concept of the RINO is a politician who does not adhere strictly enough to the national party platform. In general, as the Republican party has become more conservative, fundamentalist, and compromise-averse, this has meant that so-called moderate Republicans have been considered RINOs. Standard examples are Maine’s two Senators (Collins and Snowe), Florida’s former Governor Charlie Crist, and Delaware’s former Congressman Michael Castle. The stands these politicians take on abortion, the Iraq war, gay rights, the Federal stimulus, and other issues make the far Right look at them askance.

As the Tea Party has ascended in Republican circles, those politicians deemed insufficiently conservative have seen much more aggressive electoral challenges than ever before. Whereas once the Republican party would tolerate the seniority of someone like former Senator Arlen Specter (Flip-Flop, PA), many of these politicians faced stiff opposition in primaries.

Although statistically the number of incumbents who lost their seats in 2010 was not far from the average, the nature of those unseated is remarkable. Former Utah Senator Bob Bennett, generally considered a moderate, lost his primary. Specter switched parties to avoid a similar fate (to no avail, since the Democrats wanted a candidate of conviction, not of convenience.) In Delaware, Castle could have easily won the Senate seat, but his primary defeat by the colossally underqualified and incompetent Christine O’Donnell let the Democrats keep the seat. Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski also lost her Senate primary, although she kept the seat by going Independent.

In all of these cases, the moderate, experience politician was pushed aside by a strident, narrow-minded opponent bent on opposing everything the President does and adhering to a very strict conservative code. As a result, the chances of a collaborative Congress went down as the nation’s need for bipartisanship went up. All of this got me thinking, again, about my friend the rhinoceros. The two R(h)INOs have more in common than I thought at first.

  • They are generally peaceful (often opposing the Iraq war, for example)
  • They are slow moving (not quick to rush to judgment or escape a vicious target)
  • They may survive in a refuge (just ask Sen. Murkowski)
  • As far as I can tell, neither species is fond of tea

Most tellingly of all, however, if the Tea Party has their way, both seem to be headed toward extinction.

2 Responses to “Wednesday Word of the Week: March 2”

  1. Jay March 2, 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I have a great affection for elephants, which also have an unfortunate link to the Republicans.

    I’m (barely) old enough to remember when there were liberal Republicans–consider the wonderful Betty Ford, fierce champion of the ERA and reproductive rights, and a role model on coping with substance abuse and living with cancer.

    I think a big part of the problem is increasingly partisan redistricting of congressional districts. The Republicans are the worse offenders, but both parties, in most states, have bought into the notion of creating as many ‘safe’ districts as possible. This creates a dynamic where the incumbent often faces a bigger challenge in the primary than in the general election, which in turn favors candidates who appeal more strongly to the ‘base’, and minimizes the electability of moderates who frequently reach across the aisle.

    Congressional districts should be geographically coherent and drawn by nonpartisan commissions with the express goal of maximizing the number of competitive districts. Such a reform would bring the RINO’s back from the brink of extinction and would reduce the influence of hateful, ideologically ‘pure’, wing-nuts.

  2. webwordwarrior March 3, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    Thanks for the great comments, Jay. I am accustomed to debating the merits of term limits (which I oppose) and campaign finance reform (which I support but have yet to see in a truly meaningful form). Redistricting certainly makes sense as a significant part of the problem in most states. (In states with just one at-large Congressperson, all the national races are statewide, so there are no districtst to draw. I can imagine a trickle-up effect from local races that would still be beneficial.)

    Nice to e-meet another fan of the gentler megafauna. I’m also partial to tapirs, which have yet to assume a political role. 🙂

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