Saunders: DINOs are an endangered species

bsaunders@newsobserver.comDecember 3, 2012 

They’re fixing to try to name a downtown building after Jesse Helms, a North Carolina political icon who, history will show, was usually wrong. Very wrong.

If you’re new around here, trust me: the late Republican U.S. senator earned that moniker “Sen. No."

But boy, do I miss him.

Why? Because, whatever else you say about Jesse, you never had to guess where he stood. If he was for you, you knew, and if he was agin’ you, you knew that, too.

Too bad residents of the 7th Congressional District can’t say the same thing about their congressman, Mike McIntyre.

That dude is supposed to be a Democrat, but looking at his votes and watching him campaign for re-election, it was hard to tell whether he or his tea-party-backed opponent, David Rouzer, was the real Republican.

McIntyre eked out a win against Rouzer, a win confirmed only last week when Rouzer finally gave up the ghost on his recount challenge. Some party faithful will rejoice that an alleged Democrat won, but there wasn’t a gnat’s eyelash worth of difference between the two.

That’s why I rooted for Rouzer to win – no, make that for McIntyre to lose – just as I did for 8th District Blue Dog Democrat Larry Kissell to lose; he did. Kissell was elected as a Democrat in 2008, swept in by the same winds that blew President Obama in. Once his district was redrawn to include a lot more Republicans, though, he pirouetted politically and became one of the bluest of the Blue Dog Democrats in Congress – opposing just about every major initiative put forth by the president.

That left many people in his district feeling blue. Like Antonio Blue of Dobbins Heights.

Blue, Democratic Party Chairman for Richmond County and a retired U.S. Army officer, told me Monday that he was once one of Kissell’s biggest supporters.

“We raised a lot of money for him, knocked on doors,” but then Kissell stopped returning his calls.

“When you can’t get a call returned” after helping someone get elected, he said, “you’re just saying you don’t care anything about us.

Once when he did catch Kissell on the phone and asked about his Republican-like votes, Blue said, “He told me he ‘voted his conscience.’ I told him his conscience didn’t put him in office. We did.

Blue went from raising money for Kissell to opposing him as a write-in candidate, taking 10 percent of the Richmond County vote. By running against Kissell, Blue said, he “made people aware that we no longer have to take anything, and you’re not going to just treat us any way you want.

Blue said many people in the district were disappointed but felt they had to stick with Kissell when he voted against the president’s signature piece of legislation, Obamacare, and voted with Republicans to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress. That changed, though, Blue said, when Kissell “said he wasn’t going to endorse the president for re-election. He was just slapping us in the face. … That made it crystal clear that he was only about himself, about getting re-elected.

Being a “good Democrat” or a “good Republican” doesn’t mean you have to march in lockstep with everything the party or the President says, but shouldn’t you share at least some core beliefs of the party? The same principle holds whether you’re going to the high school prom or to Congress: You’ve got to dance with what brung you.

Once elected, though, Kissell tried to change partners.

Nobody here is naive, right? We know the political realities, especially when gerrymandering puts a candidate in a different ideological and geographical ZIP code. Kissell’s new district was so gerrymandered and contained so many disparate constituents – about 30,000 Republican voters were added – that the only thing many of them had in common was that they breathe.

In such cases, we all understand a subtle shift to the left or right for political expediency, no matter how distasteful we find it.

That’s not what we’re talking about here. No, we’re talking wholesale jettisoning of one’s principles. Now, voters have jettisoned Larry.

One of the funniest things during the whole campaign season – aside from watching Mitt Romney change political stances every 15 minutes – was watching WRAL news anchor David Crabtree interview McIntyre and Rouzer on his “On the Record” news show a couple of weeks before the election.

Rouzer hammered McIntyre with his transgressions as an incumbent congressman, the worst being that he – as Rouzer repeated ad nauseam – supported Obama’s “failed stimulus plan.” McIntyre did, but I don’t recall him uttering a word in defense or explanation of his vote.

Harry Truman said it first, but Teddy Kennedy – as much a standard-bearer for his side as Jesse was for his – said it best: If you give voters a choice between a Republican and a Republican, they’ll pick the Republican every time.

Kissell foolishly tried to out-Republican a real Republican, and lost. McIntyre tried the same thing and got a scare. Those two represent a strain of Democrats known as DINOS – Democrats In Name Only. People who like representative democracy – note the little “d” – can only hope that their political counterparts, the RINOS, and they will, like real dinosaurs, become extinct, because democracy works best when voters have a real choice.

When that choice is between a Republican and a Republican, that’s no choice at all.

Just ask Larry.

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