Monday, July 18, 2022

Confessions of a RINO

by Rod Williams, July 15, 2022- I have always been a conservative and a Republican.  I was raised by parents who were Republican. My dad was a fundamentalist Christain conservative and a lot of my early values were tinged with that perspective.  You would have to be of my generation to know who these people were, but when my dad drove me to school each day we listened to the Reverend Carl McIntire, almost every day.  I also remember occasionally hearing the Reverent Billy J. Hargus and the Christian Crusades on the radio and reading his newsletter and a book by him. Also, my dad being in the ministry as a gospel singer, most of his associations were with other religious conservatives. As a youngster, I traveled with him often on the weekend and I often went to town with him where I would hear his conversations with colleagues and acquaintances. These conversations were most often not political, but when they touched on current events or politics, I knew which side my dad was on. These were some early influences.

While these conservative voices from the religious conservative fringe were some early influences, by no means were they the only influences, however. I also remember listening to Paul Harvey on the radio.  We subscribed to Knowville's afternoon newspaper, The Knoxville Journal, which had a conservative editorial policy. In those days, papers routinely carried nationally syndicated editorial columnists and I regularly read Joseph Alsop, James J. Kilpatrick, Jr, William F. Buckley, and others whose names I cannot recall.  

Neither of my parents even finished high school but both were smart, stayed well informed and read the daily newspaper and watched TV news and issues of the day were discussed around the dinner table. Also, I was taught solid values, which while not necessarily exclusively conservative values are essential values valued by conservatives, such as morals, respect for institutions, respect for the military and law enforcement, honesty, the importance of hard work, responsibility, and the importance of family, and love of country.

In high school, I became more and more interested in politics and was captivated by the 1964 candidacy of Barry Goldwater.  The Conscience of a Conservative was an influence on me. I was so disappointed when my father, who in many ways was a staunch conservative, concluded Barry Goldwater was too reckless to be elected president. We disagreed.

The first campaign I worked on was for the election of a Republican as the local sheriff. My dad was his campaign manager. Really, dad was campaign manager in name only.  Dad was a gospel singer of some renown and dad did some work for the candidate and put on a rally and performance on the courthouse square but was not in effect a manager of the campaign. Nevertheless, I did attend some campaign strategy sessions with my dad and was around local active Republicans during that campaign.  I was only seventeen but worked for the guy, putting up signs, and doing other campaign activities. That was the first of many campaigns on which I have worked.

While still in high school I began educating myself in history and political philosophy, beyond what was just taught in the classroom or assigned reading.  I started reading serious books. As soon as I began earning money, I started sending money to causes and organizations in which I believed and getting newsletters from these conservative organizations deepened my understanding of issues and grounded me in sound conservative beliefs. 

Also, however, I was getting influenced by the more bombastic and sensationalist conservative personalities and organizations.  The mid 60's was a time when the radical right was a big influence within the Republican Party and the conservative movement.  Much like the Tea Party period of a few years ago, enthusiasm brings out the fringe.  While I never joined the John Birch Society, I read and was influenced by the organization.  Later, after more mainstream conservative influences and learning of the nutty JBS grand conspiracy theory, I moved in a more mainstream conservative direction.

Another early influence was reading Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. I was 18 when I first read it.  Much of the book was over my head at the time, but it stirred in me a passion for individualism, private property rights, limited government and freedom. I saw the distinction between those who see man as existing to be a slave to the interest of others and those who see that one’s obligation is to seek one’s own happiness. I saw a difference between those who wish to tamp down the human spirit and those who want to celebrate it. I clearly saw the distinction between those who lay claim to the wealth of others and those who are the creators of wealth and claim a right to what they create. The efficacy of the marketplace was clear, but so also was the moral argument for capitalism. 

After reading Atlas Shrugged, I  read other books that leaned in the libertarian direction. While I never became a libertarian, this early strain of political thought became one of the building blocks in my political development. I was always too pragmatic to be a real libertarian but nevertheless, I incorporated some libertarian ideas into my belive system. 

It was while serving in Vietnam in 1968 that I was first given a copy of National Review. While having a political discussion with other airmen, one asked me if I read National Review. I had never heard of it. He gave me a copy, I read it, and then subscribed.  NR has been a major influence on my political development and I have subscribed almost constantly since reading that first issue and still subscribe today.

After military service, I enrolled in college and studied political science and economics. I was one of those students who the professors would often call on to explain a point and to challenge me to disagree with him.  Although most of my college professors in political science (but not in economics) leaned left, they seemed to like having me in their classroom.  I was a serious student. While attending college, I also established and led a chapter of Young Americans for Freedom and wrote a regular conservative column for the college newspaper.

My education did not stop with college.  My political engagement continued as did my education.  I have been a life-long learner and have deepened my knowledge of history and philosophy. A lot of political books by politicians who are thinking of seeking the presidency are actually pretty shallow. I read serious books by serious thinkers.

I have remained active in politics and ideas since college.  In the early 80's I ran for Metro Council, won, and served for ten years where I was a leading but lonely conservative voice on the Council. Then, as now, there were few conservatives serving in the Metro Council.  

Serving on the Council, I advocated for lower taxes and was an advocate for privatization of government services and government modernizations that saves money. I also was a critic of the Department of Human Relations, which then, as now, serves no purpose except to advance a liberal agenda.  A tight budget year and a director of the department who went too far in his advocacy and even angered some of the more moderate liberals on the Council, led to successfully defunding the department for several years.  

I also led the unsuccessful effort to stop Nashville from having auto emission testing. I successfully led an effort, along with my friend Roger Bissell, head of the Davidson County Libertarian Party at the time, to stop a gas tax to fund mass transit.  This gave the two of us an opportunity to advocate for privatization and non-government solutions to public problems.  We each appeared on several news reports, spoke at public forums and had a chance to advance a conservative agenda bigger than just the issue of a small additional tax on gasoline. 

Over the years I have also worked in many campaigns, working the polls, working phone banks, knocking doors, putting ups signs, and doing what needed doing. I also worked for the local Republican Party. In the 2010's I established about a dozen republican breakfast clubs across the county, teaching volunteers how to conduct meetings, securing locations, recruiting speakers, and coordinating activities.  Since 2007 I have published The Disgruntled Republican hoping it contributes to the conservative cause. 

I have also financially supported conservative causes ever since I was a teenager.  I have experienced periods of poverty in my life and at times my financial contributions were meager but I always supported causes I believe in.  In recent years, as I am more financially secure, I have increased by giving and currently give in excess of ten thousand dollars a year to causes and candidates I support.  While there are many who give more, for a man of my modest means, that is significant.

I have said all of the above not to pat myself on the back but to establish that I am not a Johnny-come-lately to Republican politics or the conservative movement. I am a bonified Republican and have paid my dues. For most of my life, those who know me would have called me a staunch conservative. 

Recently, I find myself at odds with many other Republicans.  I do not feel I have changed my positions or beliefs. There have always been fringe Republicans such as those who follow Alex Jones or members of the John Birch Society.  They were fringe, however, not the mainstream. Staring with the Tea Party we began seeing a lot more tolerance for the fringe. We began seeing fringe positions become mainstream and even succeed in fringe theories given platform planks in the Republican Party. Then, when  Donald Trump came on the political scene the Party changed even more.  Both in tone and substance, the Party has changed. Republicans used to be moderate in tone and quite frankly, sometimes boring. Republicans were the party of reason. Republicans were the adults at the table. Republicans defended institutions and advocated balanced budgets, smaller government, and a strong national defense. 

America has become more polarized in recent years and both parties, in my view, have embraced the fringe. Along with the polarization has come a lot of anger.  It seems the more angry and bombastic a commentator or Republican leader becomes, the more popular they become. Compromise is a dirty word and to many Republicans, Democrats are not the loyal opposition who may be nice people but simply wrong; they have become the enemy. I also think many Democrats view Republicans much the same way. 

Republicans also seem intent on pushing people out of the party rather than welcoming them in.  I have always believed the Republican Party should be a "big tent" party. There should be room for various points of view as long as we agree on the big stuff. 

As I witness the Republicans embrace the fringe, it is not, in my view a more conservative party.  It is a more populist-nationalist party. In fact, many of the tenants of the modern Republican Party are at odds with conservative principles.  Republicans have not only embraced the fringe but in many ways have moved left. 

Many Republicans now embrace industrial policy and reject the traditional laissez-faire of the recent past. Also, Republicans seem to be embracing a pro-family welfare state. Free trade was a long-time principal of the Republican Party but more recently, Republicans are turning to protectionism.  Instead of opposing state power, Republicans now seem to embrace it. They just want to use it for different ends. Republicans seem okay with state power if it is used to remake the economy and society into something they desire. In Tennessee, we saw an example a few years ago when Republicans moved to deny employers the right to tell employees firearms were banned on their premises. The former Republican Party supported the Second Amendment but did not support micromanaging businesses and the old Republican Party supported property rights. 

As I have expressed opinions that deviate from the position of many contemporary Republicans, I have often been denounced as a liberal. The most common epithet thrown my way, however, is that I am a RINO. I guess most readers of this blog know what RINO stands for.  It is, "Republican in name only." The current party has "RINOs" and "Real Republicans."  RINO is a handy epithet to throw at any fellow Republicans with whom you disagree. You don't have to disagree on many things, just one or two will do. 

In my view, it is the modern Republican Party that is the party of RINOs. It is the fringe and the advocates of increased state power and rejection of traditional Republican principles that have become dominant in the Republican Party.  Republicans of a previous generation would not recognize today's RINO Party. 

Everyone wants to claim the Reagan mantle but Ronald Reagan would not be welcome in today's Republican Party.  After all, it was Reagan who enacted amnesty for illegal immigrants and gave away the Panama Canal, supported an assault weapons ban, and took other positions that today's Republicans would not like. Reagan would be denounced as a RINO.  

Richard Nixon? It was Richard Nixon who created the Environmental Protection Agency. RINO! Even our most recent presidential and vice presidential candidates are denounced as RINO. Mit Romney: routinely denounced as RINO. Paul Ryan: RINO! John McCain: RINO! Sarah Palin: not a RINO.  She has characteristics that make her not a RINO but a "Real Republican."

I think today's "Republicans In Name Only are actually the current crop of Donald Trump worshipers and not the party's former mainstream activists and not the party of our former candidates for president and vice president. However, the majority, or at least the dominant perceived majority, are calling the shots. So, given that the fringe is now the mainstream, they get to decide who is a RINO.  

I have been denounced as a RINO time and time again, on social media and sometimes in person.  While I think I am a Real Republican and the current populist-nationalist in charge are the RINOs, I have decided to embrace the term. So, based on who is in charge now and who is defining the terms, I confess to being a RINO.

So what makes one a RINO?

If you do not believe the 2020 presidential election was stolen and Trump won by a landslide, you are definitely a RINO. Despite no evidence of a stolen election, it is an article of faith among Real Republicans.

If you have not embraced the Trump cult of personality, you are a RINO. 

If you are a well-read and educated person or respect well-read and educated people and value study and reflection you may be a RINO.  Resentment and distrust of educated people is nothing new among populists.  Anti-elitism is a mainstay of populist movements. During the days of George Wallace, he denounced "pointy-headed intellectuals." 

If you read or reference conservative news and opinion sources like  National Review, The Spectator, The Dispatch, or The Wall Street Journal, you must be a RINO. In one Facebook exchange, I had someone call National Review a liberal publication.  RINOs read sources like these conservative sources cited above; Real Republicans get their insight from Tucker Carlson and Shane Hannity. 

If you even read mainstream or liberal news sources, well, you must be a RINO. I read a lot of sources. I know they have a liberal bias but just because something is reported by AP, or The New York Times, or The Washington Post, or NPR does not mean it can not be true. Maybe you read The Atlantic or Vanity Fair from time to time to know how the other side thinks. If you do, know that you are a RINO. Real Republicans get all the news they need from Fox news. Real Republicans only want to hear what is in the echo chamber.

If you think rather than simply emote you are likely a RINO.  If you depict reality as it is and defend timeless conservative values you are likely a RINO. 

If you support arming Ukraine and believe that if Ukraine falls it will lead to more Russian aggression and you think that is a problem, you are probably a RINO. If you think America should be "the arsenal of Democracy," you are probably a RINO. If you believe we must increase military spending to be able to counter Chinese expansionism, you may be a RINO. If you support NATO and believe we should absolutely honor our commitments, you might be a RINO.

If you think people who disagree with you on some political issue have simply reached another opinion but can still be decent honorable people, you are probably a RINO. 

If you are not absolutely certain of the correctness of your opinion you may be a RINO.  I myself sometimes study an issue and reach a certain conclusion after I have weighed the pros and cons and concluded the pros outweigh the cons. Maybe it is close and I am only 51% certain of my position and if presented with new facts or am persuaded by another's argument that I have mistakenly weighed the factors in reaching my decision, I may change my opinion. That is what RINOs do. Real Republicans never rethink an issue.  Their motto is, "my mind is made up, don't confuse me with facts."

If when discussing an issue, you ever say, "on the other hand," you may be a RINO. If you disagree with another's point of view but understand it, you may be a RINO.

If instead of supporting letting our roadways crumble or funding roadway maintenance with general revenue funds, you support letting those who use the roads, including those traveling through our state, pay for roadway maintenance in the form of a user fee, collected in the form of a gas tax, then you are a RINO.  User fees used to be the preferred conservative policy, but that has all changed.

If you support free trade, you are now a RINO.  The theory of comparative advantage advanced by Adam Smith explaining the benefit of free trade used to be an accepted conservation principle.  Now, if you think Trump was wrong to ban steel imports from Canada, well, you must be a RINO.

To accept climate change as a reality and to argue that certain steps should be taken to address it, makes one for sure a RINO.  I am not talking about embarrassing climate change alarmist solutions grounded in fairy dust and Kumbaya and turning the clock back to before the industrial revolution. We have made so little progress in addressing climate change because the realist and those who understand economics have not been at the table. Only liberals have been advancing climate change policy. Advancing relatively conservative solutions such as a carbon tax with a cross-border tariff adjustment, increased fracking to produce more natural gas to replace dirty coal, advocating for nuclear energy, or advocating for research and development to bring hydrogen to market as a major energy source will get you branded a RINO. Even suggesting that it is time to begin adaptation and accommodation to a changing climate gets one labeled a RINO. Real Republicans believe climate change is a hoax,

If you do not believe that everything from shady sidewalks, to bike lanes, to reintroducing wolves into the wild is part of the Agenda 21 plot to kill 97% of the world's population, then you might be a RINO.

If you recognized that America is an outlier when it comes to mass shootings and do not think that we need to just accept this as normal, you might be a RINO.  One does not have to be an enemy of the Second Amendment to earn the epithet. Simply believe that reasonable steps should be taken to keep guns out of the hands of crazy and violent people and you are a RINO.

Believe that the First Amendment also applies to Muslims and they have a right to build a mosque and you might be a RINO. 

I confess, I am a RINO. 

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  1. Check out Russell Kirk you may find him a refreshing source of nurturing and pragmatic American conservative thought

  2. A much shorter version of your essay would read “If you think critically and don’t accept what Donald Trump and Fox News tell you is the truth blindly, you are a RINO.”

  3. Don't agree with everything here but respect you for writing it. The GOP could use more thoughtful voices like yours.--Donnie