Here's both my qualifier and my bona fides for the opinion that follows: I earned my Republican stripes working for a GOP U.S. senator, for Ronald Reagan's first successful presidential campaign and for Newt Gingrich.
Since those days, I've occasionally branched out and suggested some policy or position that doesn't reflexively mirror some bedrock conservative outlook. Often some readers of this column, whom I deeply respect and appreciate, will call me out for this or that view by dismissing me as a "RINO" -- a "Republican in Name Only."
Of late, some of my friends are being labeled RINOs because they voted to approve the START anti-nuclear weapons pact with Russia. U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., did so following private briefings the rest of us weren't privileged to hear.
Isakson is such a RINO that he chose to first run for the Georgia state legislature as a Republican in 1974. That's when Richard Nixon had all but destroyed the Republican Party, and Democrats still ruled Georgia as all but a one-party state. To this day, Isakson's ratings as a conservative are almost always near the top.
Now he and a dozen of his fellow Republican senators, including a former presidential candidate, have chosen to act in good faith and sober reflection to pass a treaty to help limit nuclear arms. Even many of their detractors can't seem to fully articulate why they find fault with this.
Doubtless the treaty has warts. It makes little difference to me. In my years overseas in the advanced study of international relations, I learned foremost about treaties that they are made to be broken. Remember the Camp David Accords of Jimmy Carter? They were useful, even admirable. But they have hardly paved a road to a permanently peaceful Middle East.
I'd love for some of the conservatives who revere the Federalist Papers to actually pick up a copy of that body of work and read it. They might be startled to learn that the constitutional framers sagaciously designed America's lawmaking process to include a U. S. Senate that was elected not by direct vote by the people, but by state legislatures. This ensured that excessive public passions didn't drive the making of important laws and policies. I still believe the 17th Amendment, which provides for the direct election of senators, to be one of the most damaging political actions in our nation's history.
All this as it may be, I still believe that President Obama in his heart remains a stout redistributionist of wealth. If he could have kept enjoying a Congress ruled by Democrats for another two years, the lot of them might well have seriously jeopardized our free market system. Even after the Democrats' stinging defeat in November, damage continues to be done to our liberties by the president's legions of bureaucrats and policy czars.
Yet none of that can dissuade me from defending the many maligned Republicans who labored in the political vineyards a generation ago, when being a Republican meant having no more influence than the president of the local Elks Club. These brave men and women took the GOP from being all but irrelevant in Washington -- and from being too liberal under Presidents Nixon and Gerald Ford -- to today's world, in which the GOP represents the governing philosophy of at least a large plurality of Americans.
Many people are unhappy that the lame-duck Democratic Congress won some final victories before exiting stage left. But Republicans are like us all: They have to play the hand dealt them. I believe they've largely done that.
As for START, among other things it calls for onsite inspections of nuclear facilities. I'm only too happy to allow Russian inspectors stateside in exchange for our own inspectors being allowed access to nuclear facilities in the Russian regions of the old Soviet Union -- a potentially unstable place and situation. I learned in my long-ago studies that treaties are only as enforceable as the parties who enter into them are willing to make them.
As for those who like to use the label "RINO" like a political bludgeon, allow me to ask this question: Have you ever been pelted by rotten fruit and eggs as you rode in a parade, only because you were a Republican? Have you ever been an active Republican in a state overrun by little else but Democrats? I have. So has Johnny Isakson.
Sometimes it seems the only way to shed the dreaded "RINO" label is to forget about pragmatic lawmaking and instead just appear on radio or TV, selling CDs, books or other trinkets, and telling everybody only what they want to hear. And that's too bad, for conservatives and everybody else.