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America Starts Whigging Out

Harbingers of political third parties.

By Petrarch  |  November 14, 2013

We've been warning that the Republican party's inability to effectively fight for what it claims to believe will  lead to its demise.  We've also worried about conservative anger and cautioned that it takes a lot of effort and time to stand up an effective third party, time America no longer has.

Yet there comes a time when one has to face facts no matter how unpleasant: the outrageous cave that ended the government shutdown shows that the Republican Party is finished, once and for all, and we might as well come to terms with that.

It never occurred to us, though, that the "coming to terms" would be so fast!  Not one month after we wrote that last article, an enterprising fellow in Philadelphia made history by becoming the first elected Whig since the Civil War:

Voters in Philadelphia have elected a Whig to public office for what the victor believes may be the first time in nearly 160 years.

Robert "Heshy" Bucholz, a member of the Modern Whig party, campaigned door-to-door and won 36 votes to his Democratic opponent's 24 on Tuesday to become an election judge in the city's Rhawnhurst section...

Previously an independent, Bucholz said he joined the Whigs three years ago because of their fiscally conservative but socially liberal views. They represent a sensible "middle path" between Democrats and Republicans, especially in light of the recent government shutdown, he said.

As the proud possessor of a not-very-exalted office, Mr. Bucholz's detailed policy views aren't worth the bother of the mainstream media to report.  That's a pity; from the minimal detail given, it sounds like he's something resembling a Libertarian, believing that government should stay out of both your wallet and your bedroom.

The actual Whigs from the first half of the 18th century would certainly have agreed with the idea that government should, in general, be small.  Not a single American politician of that era could possibly have imagined that our Federal government would grow to such a gargantuan size, or that the states would tolerate the almost total loss of authority over their own affairs.

At the time, the word "Whig" meant someone opposed to tyranny; it first cropped up in American politics in reference to patriots opposing King George's "tyrannical" rule that led to the revolution.  Whigs also felt that Congress should be more powerful than the president, a question which our recent government shutdown shows has never been fully resolved to this day.

But, is slavery tyranny which ought to be opposed, or would the Federal government be tyrannical in trying to eliminate it over the objections of the states?  It was over just that question that the Whig party broke up and collapsed: they couldn't make up their minds, and the individual members went their separate ways into other parties.

The name of "Whig" as a reference for what today would be mainstream Republicanism lived on for many decades even after the party itself became irrelevant.  It would seem that at least some people believe that name still has power and is a banner worth marching under.  At least for Mr. Bucholz, that turned out to be right.

By the old journalistic standard of "Two makes a trend", we can't help but also note that the Libertarian gubernatorial candidate in Virginia reached a record high of 6.5% - though to be fair, he did it with millions of dollars from rich Democrats executing their customary dirty tricks.  We'll never know whether the Sarvis campaign cost Cuccinelli the governorship, but it can't have helped.

The true test will come next November.  The Tea Party has announced the list of centrist Republicans they intend to target in the primaries; in something of a first, center-left Republican groups are returning the favor against solid conservatives.

A house divided against itself cannot stand, and that's exactly what the Republican party has become.  How long will it be before the Tea Party decides to go it alone, and people like Bucholz with "fiscally conservative but socially liberal views" re-don the once-proud name of Whig?

Meanwhile, the Democrats laugh on as we plummet off the cliff.