House Republican should redefine RINO: Reasonable Intelligent Normal Outfit.

Catherine M Wallace

With Kevin McCarthy's departure from the race for House Majority Leader, we face the very real possibility that moderate House Republicans may elect a Majority Leader—and then govern—in collaboration with moderate Democrats. That would be historic, pundits say. But from a longer historical perspective, it's not "historic" at all.

       It's the return—potentially, the triumph—of ordinary moderate American mainstream politics. As a nation, we are notoriously moderate, tolerant, sane, reasonable, and pragmatic. Sociologists have been documenting that for decades. That's why there's such a solid majority of American's in support of any number of reasonable positions: cap-and-trade climate policy, comprehensive immigration reform, infrastructure repair, and, yes, paying the national debt as promised.

       And so I have a proposal. Republicans scorned on the Right as RINOs (Republican In Name Only) should claim that label proudly and then redefine it: Reasonable Intelligent Normal Outfit.

       From a longer historical perspective, there's a lot to fear from the alliance among fundamentalist Christians, radical-Right libertarians, militaristic Neo-cons, and anti-government nihilists. Scholars have been documenting this alliance for decades too. Like the famous hedgehog, these radicals know one fact and one fact only: they alone possess Truth, Truth that is beyond question by the rest of us. Because they have Truth, they don't need evidence, they don't need argument, and they don't need logic linking evidence to argument. All they need is the abject capitulation of everyone else.

       That's totalitarianism. It's the secular form of religious fundamentalism. It's as totalitarian as Stalin or Hitler, Pol Pot or the Kims, Gaddafi or Assad. In cultural terms, it's "modernist." As I explain in Confronting Religious Absolutism: Christian Humanism and the Moral Imagination,* such thinking has roots stretching back to the 1600s and Europe's desperate plight after 140 years of "religious" warfare like what's wracking the Middle East today. That bloodshed is not actually about leadership succession after the death the Prophet, just as European warfare in the 1500s and 1600s was not actually about the genuine theological disputes between Protestant and Catholic Christians. But in recoiling from horrific bloodshed, European culture backed itself into a blind alley—the Enlightenment dream that human affairs can be governed with the absolutist certainty of simple arithmetic.

       Post-"modernism"—that slippery term—is simply the recognition that there is no Truth Beyond Question. There's only reasonable, rational argument, honest evidence, and step-at-a-time solutions to complicated problems in a complex, paradoxical world. And so, give me RINOs over Tea-Party Purists any day of the week. I'm still a Progressive Democrat, not a Republican by any label. But at least we'd have a common basis for doing the job of governance.