In 1831, Henry Clay formed a new political party. He called it the Whig Party. His goal was to ensure Jeffersonian democracy and fight President Andrew Jackson, a Democrat. Over the course of the next 20 years, the Whig Party achieved several presidential victories. But as slavery assumed more and more national importance in the political debate, the Whig Party began to shatter.As Shapiro goes on to explain, the Whig Party was gone by 1860. The anti-slavery members in the North left to form their own party, and the pro-slavery members in the South left to form their own country. And now, seven score and twelve years later, Shapiro wonders if the unrecognizable modern-day descendant of that upstart Northern party is in the early stages of a Whig-like demise:
The center of the Republican Party cannot hold. With Mitt Romney's victory in the Florida primary, it's clear that large swaths of the Republican establishment have rejected the Tea Party; it's similarly clear that the Tea Party has largely rejected Romney and his backers. . . . On what basis will the party unite? On fiscal responsibility? Romney and his cohorts have said nothing about serious entitlement reform; the Tea Party, meanwhile, calls for it daily. On taxation? Romney has a 59-point plan that smacks of class warfare; the Tea Party wants broad tax cuts across the board. On health care? Romney and much of the establishment aren't against the individual mandate in principle; the Tea Party despises the individual mandate as a violation of Constitutionally-guaranteed liberties. On foreign policy? Paleoconservatives want a Ron Paul-like isolationism; neoconservatives want a George W. Bush-like interventionism; realists want something in between.To recap, we have four issues identified as signs of the growing rift within the Republican Party:
There is the very real potential for the Republican Party to spin apart in the near future. It could easily become a set of regional parties knit together by opposition to extreme liberalism. Chris Christie and his followers don't have all that much in common with Rick Perry and his followers. Never has that chasm been so obvious.
- Entitlement reform. Tea Partiers won't shut up about it; Romney doesn't like to bring it up.
- Taxes. Tea Partiers favor "broad tax cuts across the board"; Romney has a convoluted plan including a number of prongs which, considered together, bear a vague resemblance to something that might, if you squint and the lighting is just right, be described as broad tax cuts across the board.
- Healthcare. Tea Partiers are staunchly opposed to the individual mandate at the federal level; Romney claims to be staunchly opposed to the individual mandate at the federal level.
- Foreign policy. Nobody can agree on anything.
But, much like a wildly off-target golf shot that rolls to a stop ten feet from the cup on an adjacent hole, Shapiro is at least wrong in a strangely accurate way. I doubt anything can save his central comparison—slavery demanded a level of humanitarian concern and moral outrage unmatched by any contemporary issue, with the possible exception of slavery—but if we're going to insist on trying to find the closest parallel, I think we can come up with a few injustices more appalling than high taxes and mandatory health insurance. How about:
- Denial of same-sex marriage rights
- The War on Drugs
- Mandatory minimum sentences
- Torture and indefinite detention
- Capital punishment
- Restrictions on access to abortion and contraception
1. Would it surprise you to learn that the Whig Party has been revived? Me neither. And I more than welcome this development, if only because it carries with it the possibility—however remote—of "Whiggery" re-entering the lexicon.
2. At least, that's what Shapiro says. Skeptical, I went to Romney's website, and I can see how he missed it—you have to go all the way to page 142 of "Believe in America: Mitt Romney's Plan for Jobs and Economic Growth" to find the section on entitlement reform. Shapiro must've given up somewhere around the chapter on "Human Capital Policy", which sounds a lot like a phrase a computer would produce in a valiant—but ultimately unsuccessful—attempt to pass the Turing test.
3. I'm sure this goes without saying, but, of course, all libertarians have exactly the same set of beliefs and priorities, and thus it's perfectly appropriate to broadly characterize them as one single-minded entity.