Like many tea partiers, I’ve frequently used the disparaging term “RINO”–Republican in Name Only–to describe Republican politicians who fail to support constitutional conservativism, free markets, and fiscal responsibility. The term “RINO,” however, is not really accurate. Those who we call “RINOs” are actually supporting Republican Party principles that characterized the party from its earliest origins just before the Civil War, to the era of Ronald Reagan in 1980.
When we call someone a RINO, we’re really saying they’re not supporting the principles of free markets and fiscal responsibility that Ronald Reagan publicly supported.
This is an important difference, and one we need to honestly acknowledge.
Historically, the Republican Party has supported anti-free market principles in a number of areas. Consider, for instance, the high protective tariff. This anti-competitive policy was a Republican staple from the post Civil War period to 1930, when a Republican dominated Congress passed the disastrous Smoot-Hawley Tariff promoted by the Republican President Herbert Hoover.
While we’re talking free markets, let’s remember that it was Republican Richard Nixon who imposed the anti-free market wage and price control policies, with predictably disastrous results.
As to fiscal responsibility, it was the Republican controlled “Billion Dollar Congress” that passed a bill in 1890, signed by Republican President Benjamin Harrison, that increased Civil War pension payments so greatly that they took up 41% of all federal expenditures that year.
And let’s not forget that the first President to have consecutive budgets where federal expenditures exceeded 4% of GDP was Republican Herbert Hoover, whose FY 1932 and FY 1933 budgets were 6.7% and 8% of GDP respectively. When FDR’s FY 1934 budget increased federal expenditures to 10% of GDP, he was merely expanding public works and relief programs pioneered by Hoover.
Too far in the past you say?
Try looking at the domestic expenditures of George W. Bush, whose pharmaceuticals benefits program was a dramatic budget buster. Bush’s $400 billion deficits, though mere precursors to Obama’s $1.7 trillion deficits, were no beacon of fiscal integrity.
And government interference in free markets didn’t begin with Democrats, though we can all agree they have brought this reprehensible practice to new heights of statist bullying.
It was Republicans, after all, who allowed one of the founders of the Central Pacific Railroad Corporation to write the 1862 Pacific Railway Act, which kept out competitors in the state of California and gave low interest loans to two politically connected corporations. The owners of those corporations promptly stole at least a third of the $50 million loaned to the companies by the federal government. Dozens of Republican Congressmen were implicated in the subsequent Credit Mobilier – Union Pacific scandal.
But it’s not the illegal graft that’s the most troubling in the history of the Republican Party, it’s the legal theft they’ve been a part of as well. While it’s true that the unholy alliance of big business and government began in Woodrow Wilson’s World War I executive agencies, it was Herbert Hoover, acting as Secretary of Commerce, who encouraged industry-government cooperation through associations that eventually morphed into price fixing “cartels” whose purpose was to keep competitors out.
Woodrow Wilson and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt can take a bow for creating the RCA-General Electric-Westinghouse monopoly of the early radio industry, but it was Hoover’s policies that set the stage for General Electric President Gerard Swope’s 1931 plan that became the basis for FDR’s 1933 unconstitutional National Industrial Recovery Act.
It wasn’t until 1964, when Barry Goldwater was named the standard bearer for the party that the concepts of individual liberty and support for free markets came to characterize the Republican Party. But the truth is, both Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan were anomalies within the Republican Party leadership. The natural state of Republican leadership is to expand government spending as well as government control in markets, just not to the degree of the Democratic leadership. Indeed, it was that natural Republican tendency, combined with Democratic control of the House of Representatives, that kept Ronald Reagan from succeeding in his attempts to balance the budget. It was Republicans, after all, with former Tennessee Senator Howard Baker in the lead, who scuttled Reagan’s plans to abolish the Department of Education.
So when we see a Fred Upton introduce an amendment to ban the incandescent light bulb, we can call him a RINO, but what we’re really saying is he and others like him represent the pre and post Reagan Republican Party. A new definition of RINO, then, is probably in order.
I recommend RRINO–Reagan Republican in Name Only.
So in the interest of accuracy, I offer this correction to the record. Fred Upton, and others like him in the Republican leadership, aren’t really RINOs. Instead, they’re traditional Hoover-Nixon-Bush Republicans. Or, put more simply, they’re RRINOs.
Michael Patrick Leahy is the editor of the Voices of the Tea Party e-book series and co-founder of Top Conservatives on Twitter and the Nationwide Tea Party Coalition. His new e-book, I, Light Bulb: A Death Row Testimonial, was published earlier this week. His new book, Covenant of Liberty, will be published by Broadside Books in spring, 2012. He can be reached on Twitter at @michaelpleahy .