My fellow TNH colleague Theodore Kalmoukos often uses the word “tragicomedy” to describe phenomena that are pitiful and laughable all at once. It’s an appropriate word to describe today’s political climate, with both sides so frenzied that they leave common sense at the doorstep and on any given issue simply check their side’s CliffsNotes to see where they’re supposed to stand.
Although both major parties are guilty of this practice in droves, this week’s column focuses particularly on those within the GOP who call many of their fellow Republicans with any alternative views RINOs (Republicans in Name Only).
The RINO precursor was criticizing a Republican platform based on “pale pastels” rather than “bold colors,” as articulated by Ronald Reagan in his speech at the 1976 Republican Convention.
Reagan mounted a strong challenge to incumbent President Gerald Ford for the Republican nomination. Although Reagan ultimately fell short, it seemed more Convention attendees lamented Reagan’s losing than cheered Ford’s winning. That was telling, as Reagan won the two subsequent presidential elections in resounding landslides. In that 1976 speech, Reagan called for “a Republican party raising a banner of bold colors, no pale pastels, a banner instantly recognized as standing for certain values, which will not be compromised.” But Reagan meant that Republicans shouldn’t be like Democrats, not that they shouldn’t ever disagree among themselves.
A RINO is actually a Republican who otherwise does Democrat-like things, like raise taxes, spend wildly, go soft on crime, overreact to climate change and, yes, meekly blink when a powerful dictator tries to advance on the world stage. A person who believes Bill Barr’s analysis of the 2020 election more so than a pillow salesman’s is not what constitutes a RINO.
A Cold Warrior who deserves the lion’s share of America winning the Cold War against the Soviet Union, and without firing a shot, Reagan rejected the pale pastels approach of appeasing Russia with a nuclear freeze – a policy widely favored by Democrats and some GOP moderates – because he said that would leave the Soviets with an advantage. Instead, Reagan proposed a strong military buildup, and then not only a freeze but a reduction in weapons (START – Strategic Arms Reduction Talks rather than SALT – Strategic Arms Limitation Talks).
In fact, Reagan went as far as calling for a Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), a system that would neutralize nuclear missiles, thereby rendering them worthless. He urged Soviets to join in this effort and offered to share the technology with them and with all other nuclear nations, so as to truly rid the world of any threat of nuclear annihilation. The Soviets were flummoxed, outmaneuvered, and too broke to compete, and so 70 years after the Bolshevik Revolution, the mighty USSR crumbled quickly and finally disintegrated in 1990.
Though the Soviet Union was dismantled, its largest and most powerful nation, Russia, persevered. It’s now led by Vladimir Putin, a belligerent dictator with ambitions to restore Russia to its former glory as a superpower, who several months ago invaded neighboring Ukraine.
The invasion was widely predicted to have been a cakewalk for Putin, who’d flex Russia’s muscle on the world stage as if it were a bodybuilding contest. He was unpleasantly surprised, to say the least. To this point, Ukraine remains defiant and has most of the momentum – so much that Putin is floating the idea of possibly using nukes. Ukraine’s advantage surely stems from its own national pride, but also has a lot to do with American funding from both – yes, both – the Trump and Biden administrations.
Al Gore may not have invented the Internet as he strongly implied way back when, but he does get credit for coining the phrase “an inconvenient truth.”
Well, a supremely inconvenient truth in this era of absolutist partisan polemics is that rival administrations can actually agree on some things. Trump and Biden, like it or not (and I’ll bet neither of them does), have more in common than neatly fits the sophomoric media narrative. One of those things is militarily supporting Ukraine.
Trump, after all, kept Putin in check by providing key weapons to Ukraine when he was in office, despite histrionic tall tales that he was Putin’s puppet either because he admired tyrannical dictators or because Putin had incriminating photos of Trump in bed with Russian call girls. (The wacky right comes up with some conspiratorial doozeys, but the loony left is no slouch in that department, either.)
Many in the MAGA crowd now, contrary to Trump’s own policies, resort to calling any Republican who supports continuing to fund Ukraine’s military defense, a RINO. That’s rather hilarious, because that would include not only Reaganism – which was 40 years ago, so many of them even never heard of it – but Trumpism too.
To this point, Joe Biden is the worst president of my lifetime, and I haven’t said that about anyone since Jimmy Carter. But even though his bashers want us to believe everything Biden’s done is awful, that’s just not so. On Ukraine, he’s gotten most of it right.
I wouldn’t expect politicians to tell us otherwise, but at least those of us not on a campaign payroll should be able to think for ourselves and not be blind, absolutist sheep who think “right” vs. “wrong” in life is as simple as it is on an episode of Batman. And enough of the RINO calling. It would behoove all Republicans – those running for office and those supporting them – to pay heed to Ronald Reagan’s 11th commandment: “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” Reagan – you know, the guy whose opponents usually conceded the election to him before bedtime.
Tragicomic, isn’t it?