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OPINION

A new name for members of a Grand Old Party

Three possible choices: The Real Mothers, The Mensheviks, and the BSers.

Bumper stickers featuring former president Donald Trump were for sale at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando, in 2021.ERIN SCHAFF/NYT

One mistake committed by the political party No Labels is denying that an ideological designation can be a useful guide for choosing candidates or parties about which the voter is not fully informed.

But only if it is true.

The harm inflicted by misleading labels is exemplified by voters who disagree with nullifying elections, banning abortions, rejecting climate science, denying racism, and bashing the LGBTQ community but are persuaded to vote for self-styled “moderates” who, on being elected, will utter mild protests before likely acquiescing in all of the above. (I understand the appeal of anti-extremist Republicans, having voted for Frank Hatch for Massachusetts governor and Ed Brooke for US Senate in 1978 and Bill Weld for governor in 1990.)

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But to guard against anyone being duped into doing that today, I am contemplating forming a group to be called New Labels, dedicated to telling truths about my fellow politicians that they are attempting to disguise. Priority one is picking an accurate description for Republicans who disavow support for the hard-right agenda but, by one path or another, wind up voting for it.

Three possible choices: The Real Mothers, the Mensheviks, and the BSers.

The first is inspired by King Solomon’s response to the petitioners with competing claims to a baby. In my telling, legislative victory is the prize. The real mother is, collectively, the Republicans who believe in the importance of governance. Unfortunately, this weakens their bargaining leverage against the false claimant — right-wingers faithful to Ronald Reagan’s dictum that government is the problem, not the answer to it.

As in the biblical version, when the only way to avoid harming the infant is for one party to concede, the side that genuinely values it does so. Ownership thus goes to those whose feelings for the object of contention range from indifference to hostility.

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While the parallels here are strong, in the end the argument for renaming the faux moderates the Real Mothers is flawed. The absence of an authority empowered to first make and then rescind the threat as soon as it has served its purpose explains why, in intra-Republican disputes, it is always carried out.

The next candidate comes from Russia. In the struggle for control of the Revolution in 1917 the more democratically inclined Mensheviks may have outnumbered the Bolsheviks, whose governance choice was dictatorship. But the latter prevailed, empowered by their superior discipline, organizational skills, and zeal.

The strategic weakness, tactical ineptitude, and greater inclination to conciliation of the non-right-wing Republicans do conjure up the Mensheviks. But applying that term here makes the Mike Johnson/Matt Gaetz/Marjorie Taylor Greene/Jim Jordan-led extremists the Bolsheviks, which, in a conclusion to which I rarely come, is unfair to them.

The MAGA faction’s indifference to people in economic distress, their tolerance of intolerance, and their refusal to respect the rules of democracy are grievous, profound errors. But these are not as morally deficient as the total repression of freedom, mass murder of their own citizens, and brutal subjugation of smaller countries that characterized Soviet rule.

This leaves the BSers — the Bait and Switchers who campaign on their independence from right-wing dictates only to obey them if elected. Their response to the proposals of the extreme right has three parts. First they protest. Then they acquiesce to what they protested against. Finally they spin implausible rationalizations for their acquiescence.

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This is a good description of very conservative politicians who inconveniently live in less conservative constituencies. Bait and switch accurately describes much of this activity. But it is unfair to Republicans who truthfully express centrist, or at least anti-extreme views, but then obey the hard line, not as a sign that they were lying but rather a reflection of the overwhelming pressure they feel from their leadership, Donald Trump, and the right-wingers who dominate their primaries.

Since not all of those who make the post-election switch are guilty of deliberate pre-election baiting, BSers do not meet the need.

After going 0 for 3 and being unwilling to join the ranks of pundits who call attention to a problem but leave it unresolved, I dug deep for a solution. In an example of metaphoric serendipity, I found it in my roots: specifically my upbringing in which the Yiddish-inspired preface “shm” was linguistically a constant presence.

Examples include the familiar “shmo” and “shmuck,” the more esoteric “shmatta,” and my favorite, the wonderfully descriptive “shmegegge.”

In addition to these stand-alone terms, “shm” is also used to make rhymes for preexisting words to express disdain for a person, object, or idea. “Doctor, shmoctor” was an uncle’s reaction to an unwanted suggestion that pain might warrant medical attention. “Expert, shmexpert” was an older cousin’s dismissal of a contradictory opinion.

Since “shm” has long since permeated conversation in much of America, no objection can be raised that its use here is cultural appropriation — which in any case, I regard as a well-intentioned but wholly misguided concept.

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No other objection coming to mind, on behalf of New Labels I recommend that any Democrat contesting a swing district against a Republican running as a MAGA rejecter consider producing bumper stickers consisting of your opponent’s photo over the caption “Moderate, Shmoderate.”

Barney Frank is a former member of the US House of Representatives from Massachusetts.