The Forgetful Elephant: A Quick History Lesson for Today’s GOP


Some beliefs are hard to change.


Today, we have a major political party that believes the President of the United States is a tyrant and a dangerous man.  This major political party also believes that the president is abusing his political power and is not properly working with Congress, which best represents the American people.  They also believe that the government is overreaching and that this overreaching will ultimately lead to the demise of our great country.


This political party is doing everything it can to get the word out about these issues and concerns.  Its backers have major influence in today’s media.  This party is aided by its ties to the churches, who often implore their members to vote for this party.  This party has a wide variety of supporters from all socio-economic backgrounds; however, its opponents have been successful in casting this political party as the party of the wealthy.


Despite all this, this major political party is being pulled about by the major social issues of its day.  The broad coalition within this part is being torn apart and cannot seem to come to a consensus concerning major issues affecting today’s average American citizen.  At a time where the economy is doing fairly well, many of the best and brightest minds of the political party are opting for other, more lucrative careers rather than getting into politics.


Such is life here in 1850’s America.


Wait, what?


Yes, you read that correctly.  The issues of the Republican Party circa 2013 are eerily reminiscent of the Whig Party, which became a major political party in the United States from the 1830s through the early part of the 1850s.  The Whigs believed that “King” Andrew Jackson was a tyrant who was abusing the office of the presidency, much like today’s Republicans believe Barack Obama is doing.  The Whigs of the 1830s and 1840s controlled the day’s media, largely thanks to the efforts of Horace Greeley at The New York Tribune.  Today’s Republican Party has a massive media presence thanks to the Koch Brothers and Rupert Murdoch.  The Whigs of the 1830s and 1840s were made up of people from all walks of life, but Democrats were able to successfully paint them as the party of the rich.  The same idea holds true today with Democrats casting Republicans as the “party of the 1%”.


What caused the demise of the Whigs of the 1850s was the fact that they were unable to deal with the issue of slavery after the Compromise of 1850, which, oddly enough, was originally a Whig idea by Henry Clay from Kentucky.  Northern Whigs wanted to see slavery abolished while southern Whigs, many of them slave owners, wanted to see the institution of slavery continue.  Today’s Republican Party is unable to deal with the Affordable Care Act, originally a Republican idea from Mitt Romney and the Heritage Foundation.  As we have seen this past week, Republicans remain sharply divided about what to do with the law.  With the Whig party lost out on a central issue it had originally supported, its best and brightest members left the party.  With today’s Republican Party speaking out against The Affordable Care Act, we’ve seen the best and brightest member of the party speak out against the law by quoting Dr. Seuss, Ashton Kutcher, and Ayn Rand.


So, what happened to our Whig friends?


Despite the Whig Party’s influence in local and state elections and its ability to elect both William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor to the nation’s highest office, the party eventually became too fractured to continue to be successful.  When the fractured party ran General Winfield Scott in 1854, who ended up losing convincingly to Democrat Franklin Pierce, it was all over for the party.  Ironically, many Whigs in the north regrouped and joined the a new party that called themselves the Republican Party.  Chief among their ranks was a lawyer living in Illinois who had abandoned the party in the late 1840s.  His name was Abraham Lincoln.


Republicans, are you seeing any pattern here yet?


Fortunately for Democrats, Republicans have never been too keen on picking up on these historical patterns.  The truth is that today’s Republican Party is essentially the Whig Party reincarnated one-hundred and sixty years later.  The are deeply, deeply fractured.  We’ve seen that on full display this week via the antics of Ted Cruz, Sarah Palin, Bob Corker, and John McCain among others.  What was once a loose alliance based on wanting to make Barack Obama a one-term president has become an all-out civil war among the rank and file of the GOP and the Tea Party wing.  Having a national candidate get crushed in a national election and then experiencing very public in-fighting has not helped the Republicans in their efforts to rebrand their political party’s image.


And yet, as infuriating as it is to watch with Republicans toy with the idea of blowing up the global economy so that 12 million Americans have access to health insurance, it has brought to light just how rapidly the death rattle of the Republican Party is approaching.  The Republican Party is the Whig Party of 1854.  Their candidate just got shellacked in a national election.  They are currently against an idea that their own people first brought forth and proposed.  They have multiple factions competing for the future of the party.  They have no visible leader and the country as a whole is losing interest


As much as liberals are enjoying the Hindenburg that is today’s Republican Party, what it ultimately means is that there is hope for the two party system to re-emerge in a way that is vital for our democracy.  The Republican Party of the mid-1850s solved its issues on the Compromise of 1850 and eventually came out as strongly anti-slavery, a platform which eventually helped Abraham Lincoln become our nation’s sixteenth president and helped with the passage of the 13th amendment.  Imagine a new political party in 2016 that is against the Affordable Care Act but that is actually against it because a single payer system would be even better for the American people.


It is that kind of new Republican Party that could actually bring pride back to the party of Lincoln.




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