One comment I saw recently, after Senator Bob Bennett lost the Republican nomination to retain his seat, approved the move by the Utah Republican Party, saying that Bennett is a RINO.
Those who discuss and debate politics are likely familiar with this term, which means “Republican in Name Only.” I’ve also heard this type of term, first used for Republicans in the mid 1990s, applied to Democrats (DINO), and even to Mormons (MINO). [The first Internet use I found is in a 2008 comment to a post about Harry Reid.]
I’ve been bothered by this term ever since I first saw it. I particularly dislike the MINO term. It assumes a definition of Mormon that is limiting, as if the only way you can be Mormon is to live our religion perfectly.
Of course, there is a possible accuracy to these terms. Sometimes members of a group are outside of the group norms. And there are certainly valid reasons why some groups have norms for determining who is a member and who is not. Most organizations have ways to define membership and many actively expel members who don’t agree with or don’t act according to the group standards. Mormons are generally familiar with the concept. We expel those who don’t meet specific standards, welcoming back those who change to again meet the standards. However, we also have some standards that, when broken, don’t lead to being expelled: Church members who smoke aren’t usually expelled, but those who join polygamous groups usually are.
Of course, religious organizations and political parties are quite different. While political parties do have some norms for what they believe–the party establishes a platform each election cycle–these norms are never binding as far as I can tell. Political parties have open membership–all you need to do to join a party is register to vote as a member of that party, or switch your registration to that party. These standards even have little or no control over politicians, except when they influence how the electorate votes. And since the electorate rarely has much knowledge of the party platforms, what it means to be a party member is reduced to public perception and is ill-defined, especially on the margins.
Of course, there are general perceptions about how to define a Republican and how to define a Democrat, but between the two, there is a certain overlap–“moderate” Republicans who are more liberal than “conservative” Democrats.
Given all this, can these “–INO” terms really mean anything significant? If anyone can join a political party, or get elected on that party line, and if the definition of the party itself is so fuzzy, how can we know if anyone really is a “RINO?”
Regardless of the definitional problems, it is the use of terms like “RINO” and “DINO” that is the problem. Given the fuzzy definitions of political parties on the margins, it seems nearly impossible to accurately define anyone as a “RINO” or “DINO.” Instead the way that the term is used, its clear that it is a pejorative term — a way of calling people names; of denigrating another. Its “I don’t agree with this fellow party member, so I’m calling him a RINO/DINO to discredit him.” Further, its “instead of arguing the issues, I’m going to call you names.” Perhaps that is typical for the political arena, but I have higher expectations of myself, and of most of my fellow Mormons.
In that religions context, I think calling someone a “MINO” is just as pejorative, although for slightly different reasons. Unlike in the political arena, defining a Mormon by what he should do is much clearer — in most situations the commands we should follow are very clear. Indeed, MINO could be a defined, accurate, clinical term, meaning roughly the same as “inactive” or “less active.” But even these latter the Church has tried to shy away from because of how members feel when they are characterized that way. And “in name only” carries a connotation implying that the person’s membership (Republican, Democrat or Mormon) is deceptive, which seems even more likely to offend.
And is use supports that contention. MINO is rarely used in a clinical, descriptive sense, that of someone who has strayed (unlike “less active,” which is used almost exclusively in a descriptive way.) Instead it carries the connotation that the “MINO” doesn’t belong, that he is less than other Mormons.
To be honest, you could be accused of being MINO simply for calling someone a MINO — because it is not a charitable or kind thing to do. I suspect that we are all MINOs — I doubt very much that anyone really lives up to their religious beliefs. We are all hypocrites. Why should we compound our hypocrisy through verbal attacks about others faithfulness?
Political arena or not, I can’t see any legitimate use for these terms. They aren’t going to change the target, nor will they change anyone’s mind about the target. They can only lead to defensiveness or verbal battles–the kind that no one wins.
I’d have to say that the use of these terms is KINO–kind in name only.