Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Feeling a bit whiggish?

Fed up with the two main political parties? I am. One party seems to be hell bent on driving off the leftward end of the political spectrum and bankrupting the country with insane programs that can not be afforded whilst telling everyone how to live their lives. The other seems to have fallen under the control of a cabal of neo-con Protestant Evangelical theocrats, and tin foil hat conspiracy kranks. Oh, and it seems they are just as determined to drive the country into bankruptcy in pursuit of their own agenda (endless tax cuts for the wealthiest 1% and empire building in places we have no business being). Both parties have no compunction about trampling constitutional liberties and doing whatever it takes to stay in power. And both have sold their souls to the various special interest lobbies.

So what is a self described (constitutional) monarchist with moderately libertarian sympathies living in a republic to do?

Well, this situation has existed before. In Britain when government was perceived to be getting out of control it was the Whigs who stood up for a sensible middle ground and who refuted absolutist rule. In the United States when Andrew Jackson sought to massively expand executive power, even going so far as to defy the Supreme Court, the Whigs once again stood firm for constitutionally restrained government and legislative superiority. Men like George Washington, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Henry Clay and Abraham Lincoln were affiliated with the Whigs.

And then they died out, being effectively extinct by the end of the Civil War. Until now.

It appears that I am not the only one revolted by what is going on in our country's polity. A few years ago a number of US military veterans of our various recent wars got together and after expressing their shared disgust with the state of American politics, decided to revive the Whig Party. Although still small it is gaining traction and favorable press. In the two years since the Whig revival began it has become the fastest growing political third party in the country of whom several thousand members are current or former military. Unfortunately electoral laws in most states are designed to make it extremely difficult to register as a member of any political party other than Republican or Democrat (what a surprise). But around 30,000 have registered their support on the Modern Whig's official website.

So what do the Modern Whigs stand for? You may view many of their positions here.

Their policy proposals appear to stake out a position as the party of the radical center. They take what they see as the best ideas of the GOP and the Democrats (which they do not consider to be mutually exclusive) and build on them. While disdaining the hyper-partisanship of the last couple of decades they see nothing wrong or incoherent in a party that is fiscally conservative, socially libertarian, strong on national defense, but disinclined to meddle where we have no clearly defined interests. They support policies on the environment, taxes and business regulation, immigration, the 2nd amendment and many other issues that seem almost calculated to make hard core right wingers foam at the mouth and cause the radical left to start spinning their heads and regurgitating pea soup.

In short, I like them.

Do I agree with all of their positions? No. But I agree substantively with probably a majority of them. And even on the points where I don't agree; their positions are non-extremist with little I would call a deal breaker.

There are practical problems of course. Political centrists don't get excited the way the angry right or left tends to. That can create problems. Their very moderation and non-vitriolic approach to politics is likely to be a massive handicap in winning elections. Great and successful political campaigns are all about marshaling a visceral hatred for "the other." Successful political parties also need a hard core of "purists" that they can count on come election day. The GOP and the Dems have them in spades. The Libertarians are notorious for their armchair political theorists who disdain getting their hands dirty with the actual business of running for office and governing but who routinely look for the slightest hint of heresy among would be libertarian sympathizers. By contrast the Whigs are almost the anti-purist party.

Another problem is their size. However impressive their growth rate; they are still only the fastest growing party in the lower tier of third parties. OK OK. They have only been around for two years. And yes they are getting a lot of attention for a new (old) minor third party. But they are going to have to actually break through the legal barriers designed to obstruct and cripple third parties that have been erected by the Democrats and Republicans in most states. In short they need to start registering a lot of voters and getting their party on the ballot. They also need to get people to run for office.

And finally, they need money. Sad as it is, no political party can hope to compete without a serious pile of dead presidents.

For now, I am impressed with what they have accomplished in two years. But that was the easy part. I will be keeping an eye on the Whigs and may even lend my support where I can.

17 comments:

Bradley Wogsland said...

Er ... Abraham Lincoln wrote the book on massively expanding government power, especially of the executive branch. His opponents in the press and state legislatures were imprisoned or had war declared on them. That effectively killed the Whigs in America.

Milton T. Burton said...

Washington, Adams, and Franklin were not affiliated with the Whigs. Washington is usually assumed to have had Federalist sympathies, but he had no affiliation of any sort. Indeed, a Whig party did not exist in this country until 1833, long after these three men were dead. Clay, yes. Clay is the Ur-Whig, the fountain of all subsequent whiggery. Lincoln was the Uber-Whig, taking wiggery beyond even what Clay dreamed of. The only problem was that the Whigs discorporated under his feet in 1856 and he had to morph into a Republican, adopting (in a half-assed and highly political fashion) the decidedly un-whiggish sentiments of the Midwest small farmers and Kansas Free Soilers who were incorporated as necessary adjuncts by the Eastern money interests that have, until recent times, dominated the Republican Party.

Milton T. Burton said...

A note here: James McPherson makes the point in "Battle Cry of Freedom" that the eternal problem of the Republican Party since its inception has been that it had to incorporate elements alien to its central philosophy in order to achieve a majority. In the 1850s it was abolitionists and freehold farmers. Today it is the Christian Right and Tea Baggers.

Milton T. Burton said...

In Shrub the Republicans seem to have found an sort of genetic and philosophical mutation, a single individual who combined the mindless greed of the Money Power with the imbecility of the Christian Right.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Milton,
Thank you for your comment. You are correct that W A & F were not American Whigs. That said they were closely allied to and in general sympathy with the Whigs in Great Britain. The British Whigs were of course sympathetic in their own right to the complains of the American colonies until the Revolution broke out. Some remained openly sympathetic even after the fighting started to their great risk.

Of course my sympathies would not lie with either. To the extent I have been able to discover the existence of collateral ancestors here from that time period, they all appear to have wound up in Canada after being hounded out of the colonies for their Tory sympathies.

Yours in ICXC
John

Milton T. Burton said...

However I do agree with most of the rest of your analysis. However, Wogsland (what a name!) is correct about Lincoln. He was both the consummation and the end of Whiggery as such.

Milton T. Burton said...

Right you are, John. They were not true whigs but many prominent whigs like Burke supported their cause. This give them an emotional attachment to British Whiggery.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Milton,
With respect to your subsequent comments you will get little argument from me. Bush Jr. (for whom I am embarrassed to admit having voted for in 2000) has been one of the greatest political disappointments I can think of. A couple of years ago I ranked on this blog the Presidents and I put Bush near the bottom. I am convinced he will be recorded as one of the worst presidents in modern political history.

-John

Milton T. Burton said...

He will be near the bottom. And Eisenhower's stick will continue to rise, as well it should. Mencken said the day would come when a downright moron would occupy the White House. I think that day came in 2001.

Milton T. Burton said...

I'm a Raiders fan even though I am a native Texan.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Indeed. I think I rated Ike in the top five. He remains one of my favorites.

Milton T. Burton said...

Would to God that we had someone of his solidity and common sense today. As Fred Reed said, "Ike was a brilliant man hiding behind a lot of intentionally garbled syntax." We could use a Sam Rayburn hack in the Speaker's chair as well.

John (Ad Orientem) said...

I recall reading that Ike would have lunch every Thursday with the Speaker without any aids or staff. And they would discuss what was coming up in Congress and make sure as far as possible that no huge battles accidentally broke out. They had an excellent and very cordial relationship.

Milton T. Burton said...

John, you might enjoy this little essay a good friend asked me to post on his blog a couple of years ago:

http://notesfromacommonplacebook.blogspot.com/2007/12/burton-on-burke.html

John (Ad Orientem) said...

Milton,
Thank you for the link. I will read it over tomorrow as the hour is growing late here. Thank you also for your many comments which I have enjoyed.

Yours in ICXC
John

Milton T. Burton said...

Rayburn and Eisenhower had excellent relations. They were both more interested in governing the country well than they were in petty party squabbles. It should be noted that neither was an ideologue.

Milton T. Burton said...

I enjoyed it myself.