the whitestick papers

looking at politics from a different perspective

Posts Tagged ‘Ronald Reagan

Flip your Whig

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Today’s offering is largely a history lesson.  However, under the warning that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it, you’re urged to follow this one through to the end.

Not to long after the American Revolution, and somewhat to the surprise of the Founders, political thought coalesced around two major political parties.  One, following Jefferson and a number of the more ardent Patriots, became known as the Democrat Republicans.  The name was deliberate; they recognized that this nation is a Constitutional Republic – as Jefferson noted, “The republican is the only form of government which is not eternally at open or secret war with the rights of mankind,” – that elected its representatives through democratic processes.  It was the form of government they thought most likely to protect their safety and happiness.

The other, a more moderate association, was called the Whigs.  The source of this odd name is found in British politics of the day.  During the Revolution, the Tories were in power, and so it became common to call those Colonials loyal to the Crown “Tory” in a spirit of bitterness and anger.  The major party on the outs at that time was, as you may have guessed, the Whigs.  If you checked a British General’s political leanings against whether they actively tried to quell the rebellion you’d make some interesting discoveries, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.

Now, we fast forward from the days of the Founders some seventy years to the late 1850’s.  The question of slavery is tearing the country apart, and the political parties have to deal with it.  The Democrats – they’d dropped the “Republican” from their name some time earlier – argued fiercely for the protection of slavery on a number of grounds, some valid and legitimate and others (remember, this is political discourse after all) not so much.  As for the Whigs; well, they kind of wanted everyone to just get along.  Being sensible, moderate and compassionate, they chose to avoid the controversy.

Into this one-sided political discourse came a third party, the Republicans.  They took a strong position against slavery, primarily on moral grounds, and started winning elections at the state and federal levels.  Their first Presidential candidate didn’t quite have what it took to win, but their second – a gangly lawyer from Illinois– caught the people’s minds and hearts with his clear logic and self-deprecating manner.  Even in this day of poorly-taught history, you probably know the rest of the story.

So, why the brief review of history?  Because today’s Republican Party has tended over the past generation or so to fall into the patterns of the Whig Party.  With notable exceptions in the early 1980’s and mid-1990’s, the word from our counselors and leaders has been to not take controversial positions and, at all costs, avoid taking a stand on moral ground.  The result – we’re in danger of going the way of the Whigs.

Leadership – true leadership – requires strength of conviction and a clear message of the right, as God gives you to see the right.  It most certainly isn’t seeking to avoid difficult questions or being vague about who you are and what you want to do.  If the GOP doesn’t shake off the ghost of the Whigs and rediscover its galvanizing roots, instead of taking advantage of the emotional outburst driven by Democrat over-reaching we could find ourselves watching a new party take the place that used to be ours.

Kind of like the Whigs a century and a half ago…


Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

16 January 2010 at 8:30 am

Runnin’ with the devil

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One of the givens in Republican campaigning is that you run toward the right in the Primary and then run to the center in the General.  The thinking goes like this; you need to appeal to the more conservative, particularly the social conservative, base to capture the nomination but then you have to appeal to the great centrist voting bloc to win in November.

Looking back over the past thirty years or so, I think a fair-minded person would admit the results have been mixed at best.  When you focus on the last decade, it would appear this way of thinking has reached the point of diminishing returns.  And yet, it’s still the conventional wisdom, and I think it’s high time to re-examine the assumptions and the merits.

After the Reagan revolution, Republican strategists locked on to one of his best-known admonitions – to not speak ill of a fellow Republican.  Somehow, the thought that we don’t need to tear each other apart got morphed into an assumption that conservatives would always support Republicans.   “After all,” goes the logic, “what are they going to do?  Vote for the Democrat?”

The flaw is, of course, the base has another choice – to not vote at all.  Oh, sure – some of the conservatives would support even a weak Republican in the face of Democrat control, but they wouldn’t be all that excited about it.  Since passion drives politics and an unexcited base makes for a lackluster campaign, an uninspired and uninspiring race usually ends up in the loss column.

Meanwhile, Reagan and, in the mid-1990’s, Newt Gingrich showed us how Republicans should run and will win.   They galvanized their base, motivated the middle and recruited support from across the aisle.  How?  By standing on conservative principles – even so-called “right wing” principles – and showing leadership.  They were hounded and mocked by the press and the left, and yet they won.  Big time!

So, what’s the lesson?  As long as our candidates abandon the base after the Primary and run to the center, we will lose more than we gain.  No one gets excited about “Democrat light”; if there’s a choice between someone who says what they’ll do and someone who says “me, too”, most people will take the original over the copycat, even if they don’t agree with everything.   Republican leadership and Republican candidates need to remember from whence they have fallen and either lead, follow or get out of the way.

With the mood of the country colored by the race toward socialism practiced in Washington and most states energizing a large and vocal foundation, those who soft-pedal conservative principles in this election cycle will find themselves dumped.  That’s true  regardless of their party affiliation.  A word to the wise is sufficient – and don’t say we didn’t tell you.

Written by Jeffrey S. Smith

14 January 2010 at 2:20 pm

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