DINOs Outshining RINOs

April 18, 2005

For more than a decade we’ve heard about a political animal called the RINO (Republican in Name Only), but most species of RINO have become endangered or at least threatened. Republicans in Congress have learned to close ranks and vote as a block.

On the recent bill restricting the rights of those who would file class action law suits, Republicans in the House voted 229 to 1 in favor of it, and in the Senate 54 to 0, with two not voting. On the latest increase in war spending, Republicans in the House voted 226 to 3 in favor. On the bankruptcy bill, restricting the ability of individuals and families to get out of debt, Senate Republicans backed it 56 to 0, and House Republicans 229 to 0. The RINO is missing in action.

But the same votes point to a population increase for, and increased attention being paid to, the DINO (Democrat in Name Only). Many Democrats are voting like Republicans, and advocacy groups are challenging them on it.

In the class action vote, 147 Democrats and one Independent voted no, but 50 Democrats voted yes, with the Republicans. In the Senate 26 Democrats voted no, but 18 Democrats and one Independent voted with the Republicans.

On the war spending increase in the House, 39 Democrats and one Independent voted no, but a majority of Democrats (162 of them), voted with the Republicans.

On the bankruptcy bill, 24 Democratic senators voted no, but 18 and one Independent voted yes, while one Democrat did not vote. In the House vote this past Thursday, 125 Democrats and 1 Independent voted no, but 73 Democrats voted with the Republicans and the credit card companies.

We hear about RINOs because individuals and organizations on the right noisily call them RINOs, and even call the majority of Republicans RINOs when a right-wing bill wins only limited support. Often on the left, organizations have been unwilling to challenge Democrats on one issue for fear of losing their support on another. But that may be starting to change.

There are signs that we’re going to be hearing more about DINOs. MoveOn.org, the online activist group, which only last month was taking heat from anti-war activists for abandoning its opposition to the war, has not only launched a petition demanding of Congress an exit strategy for Iraq, but has also taken a position on the bankruptcy bill that goes beyond what many advocacy groups have done. MoveOn has asked people to contribute money for “radio ads in the hometowns of representatives, both Republicans and Democrats, who vote wrong on this bill.” This request quickly brought in over a half a million dollars. What is remarkable about it is the willingness to attack Democrats, including much of the Democratic leadership. MoveOn later announced that it would run ads against House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer.

The signs of DINO-spotting come not just from MoveOn, which joined the bankruptcy bill fight two days before the House vote. In the three weeks leading up to that point, a broad coalition of organizations, drawing on grassroots anger over the Senate vote, formed a website at DebtSlavery.org, flooded House offices with phone calls and Emails, and organized protests, led by Progressive Democrats of America, outside the district offices of Democrats who had professed their intention to vote yes. Three of those Democrats changed their votes, and one chose not to vote. Others changed their vote as well, and the 73 who voted for the bill were fewer than the 90 who had voted for a nearly identical bill two years ago.

On April 13, this coalition of labor unions, consumer groups, women’s groups, and civil rights advocates held a press conference on Capitol Hill. Only two congress members came and spoke, Congressman John Conyers and Congresswoman Barbara Lee. The leadership in the House was AWOL. The minority leader and minority whip had refused to take any steps to build opposition. In fact, the minority whip voted for the bill. Twenty Democrats had sent a letter to the Speaker of the House supporting the bill. Others had signed on as co-sponsors. The so-called New Democrats (specifically Congress Members Ellen Tauscher, Ron Kind, and Artur Davis) had been promoting the bill and taking credit for it. Democratic Congressman Joe Crowley had met with corporate lobbyists and encouraged them to lobby Democrats for the bill.

And yet numerous organizations that are liberal in their positions but often conservative in their lobbying strategies, stood with Conyers and Lee in open and forceful opposition to a bill aimed at benefiting enormously profitable credit card and lending companies at the expense of working people. That alone should give us all reason to hope for a Democratic Party worthy of the name. But so should the leadership of the Progressive Caucus, of those 50 or 60 Democrats whose consistent votes for the interests of the majority of the public place them consistently in the minority in the halls of Congress. A hundred and twenty-five Democrats voted against the bankruptcy bill. The leadership came not from the leadership but from progressive members like Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey who spoke against the bill at the Democratic Caucus the day before the vote.

The future of the Progressive Caucus, whether its members are Democrats or Independents, is the future of progressive politics in Washington and of the Democratic Party. The New Democrats have nothing new to offer.

David Swanson is a board member of Progressive Democrats of America.