How Broderism Led To the Rise Of A Third Party; By Destroying An Existing Party

Matt Yglesias has a great post on how historically ignorant Broderism and its drive for a compromise, issueless pragmatism is. As Yglesais shows, Whiggery led to to the rise of an ideological partisan Third Party - the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln:

I feel like it's worth mentioning here how little time third party enthusiasts ever seem to spend thinking about the rise of the Republican Party -- the only actual precedent for anything of the sort. They often seem to talk as if Abraham Lincoln was just some kind of somewhat disaffected dude sitting around somewhere with this really insightful speech about a how divided against itself, threw his hat in the ring, and -- bam! -- tired old Whig and Democrat ideologies are shunted aside in favor of a bold new era of pragmatism and bloody civil war. One can't do justice to the actual origins of the Republican Party in a blog post, but suffice it to say that it didn't work like that. The history of meaningful third party anti-slavery politics goes back to the abolitionists' Liberty Party in 1840. They later moderated their agenda somewhat, added the support of many breakaway anti-slavery Democrats, and became the Free Soil Party starting in 1848. This party had some very substantial adherents, but still didn't do very well. Then, as the national debate over slavery grew ever-more-intense, breakaway anti-slavery Whigs joined the movement that was now further reconfigured as the Republican Party. This new party did well enough to become a "second party," polling 33 percent while the Whigs got just 21.5 percent.

Matt has written a great concise post that does not, obviously, delve into the complete history of the rise of the Republican Party and the demise of the Whig Party, but I want to explore how Broderism was at the heart of the demise of the Whig Party. To wit, Broder has it backwards - his approach killed a dominant political party and led to an NON-Unity, partisan third party. I'll explore this history on the flip.

Howard Fineman has said:

Using a historical reference he has employed before, Fineman asserted that if Democrats cannot win the 2008 election, they "deserve to go the way of the Whigs, which is a political party that disappeared ... because it couldn't deal with the biggest issue of the time, which was slavery." He added, "[T]he issue this time that could render the Democrats useless to history ... is terrorism" and that "unless the Democrats can figure out an answer on foreign policy, then there is a chance that they could blow it."

Of course, Fineman misunderstands the point, misapplies the Whig analogy and basically is all wet, as he often is, and as Media Matter points out in that post. But it is interesting on how he stumbles upon the demise of the Whigs as a relevant point in history to today's politics.

What does Fineman misunderstand? That the demise of the Whigs was NOT due to their failure to find some "unifying" position on slavery - it was their cowardice in taking a strong stand on slavery that destroyed the Whigs. I feel confident that Fineman's idea of of an "answer" on terrorism for Democrats is some sort of Republican Lite "unifying position" that David Broder could embrace. Call it John Warnerism for short. Another phrase for it would be, well, Whiggery. What Democrats need of course is a confident strong and "non-unifying" (in Broder/Fineman terms) message on Iraq and the War on Terror; a confident critique of the abject failures of the Republican Party and Bushism on Iraq and the War on Terror. For it was the failure of the Whigs to provide a confident contrast to the disastrous Democratic position on slavery from the mid-1840s to the rise of the Republican Party that primarily led to the Whig demise. I think the Wikipedia article on the subject describes it well:

1852 was the beginning of the end for the Whigs. The deaths of Henry Clay and Daniel Webster that year severely weakened the party. The Compromise of 1850 fractured the Whigs along pro- and anti-slavery lines, with the anti-slavery faction having enough power to deny Fillmore the party's nomination in 1852.

Attempting to repeat their earlier successes, the Whigs nominated popular General Winfield Scott, who lost decisively to the Democrats' Franklin Pierce. The Democrats won the election by a large margin: Pierce won 27 of the 31 states including Scott's home state of Virginia. Whig Representative Lewis Davis Campbell of Ohio was particularly distraught by the defeat, exclaiming, "We are slayed. The party is dead--dead--dead!" Increasingly politicians realized that the party was a loser. For example, Abraham Lincoln, its Illinois leader, simply walked away and attended to his law business.

In 1854, the Kansas-Nebraska Act exploded on the scene. Southern Whigs generally supported the Act while Northern Whigs strongly opposed it. Most remaining Northern Whigs, like Lincoln, joined the new Republican Party and strongly attacked the Act, appealing to widespread northern outrage over the repeal of the Missouri Compromise. . . .

. . .In contemporary discourse, the Whig Party is usually mentioned in the context of a now-forgotten party losing its followers and reason for being. Parties sometimes accuse other parties of "going the way of the Whigs."

(Emphasis supplied.) Broderism suggests that "going the way of the Whigs" is the way to success for a third party movement. Of course, history demonstrates the exact opposite. Indeed, Broderism is the way to destroy an existing political party.

There is much more to say on this subject and my desire to further discuss this subject is high. I will likely write another post on this subject later tonight.

< Lawyer Geoffrey Fieger Indicted, Gerry Spence to Defend | Taking On California's Prison Health Care Crisis >
  • The Online Magazine with Liberal coverage of crime-related political and injustice news

  • Contribute To TalkLeft

  • Display: Sort:
    The Obsession with Ending Politics (4.50 / 2) (#7)
    by BDB on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:33:34 PM EST
    The Beltway's obsession with getting away from politics is ridiculous.  Creating a political party that isn't partisan?  Doesn't that make it NOT a political party?  The whole point of uniting behind a poltical party is to be partisan.

    But it isn't just Broder and political parties.  Today Obama announced a New Orleans plan (and I'm all for New Orleans plans) that has as one of its feature a political appointee FEMA head "insulated" from political pressure.  As if that's desirable or even possible.  I won't go into my rant here, since I already did that here, but since nobody is going to read it there, let me give a shorter version - political appointees are never going to be immune from politics, they can only be made immune from accountability and the last thing we need is more folks immune from accountability.

    I presume Sam Nunn and Chuck Hagel and all the other Unity08 idiots are doing this for self-promotion.  But Broder is old enough to now that there never was a Washington where everyone sat around, held hands and sang campfire songs.  Jeez.

    Exactly (5.00 / 1) (#8)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:41:05 PM EST
    It's Made Even Worse (none / 0) (#17)
    by BDB on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 08:44:11 PM EST
    by the fact that many folks, like Broder, seem to define "partisan" as "criticizing Republicans."  There was nothing more partisan or divisive than W's post-9/11 policies, partisan in the worst sense of the word since it was putting one party's interest ahead of the national interest, and there wasn't this much hand wringing over "partisanship."  

    Your subject and first paragraph (none / 0) (#14)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:57:25 PM EST
    would be great as a letter to the New York Times.

    Without delving into or even analyzing (4.00 / 1) (#1)
    by kovie on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 04:31:22 PM EST
    too deeply the specifics of today's political situation in comparison to the one that existed in the 1840's-1850's, there seems to be a natural fault line these days between pro-war (or war-tolerant) corporatists on the one hand, and anti-war progressives and populists on the other, that crosses party lines (Lieberman, Breaux, Clinton, Nelsons, anyone?) and indicates the potential for a viable third party to emerge, that would tap both parties and stand a chance of eventually replacing one of them--clearly the GOP, of course.

    I often find myself wishing that the more hawkishly pro-war and pro-corporatist and conservative members of the Democratic party formally broke with the party, sided with the more "moderate" (i.e. non-wingnut and primarily pro-corporate and pro-M-I complex) wing of the GOP, and formed such a third party, which in many ways already exists in virtual form (e.g. voting for Alito, MCA, supplemental bill, FISA bill, etc.). The numbers probably already exist, or would soon exist, to allow it to compete favorably with either of the two existing parties.

    Of course, this would be politically disasterous for the Democratic party in the short term. But it would probably be even more so for the wingnut wing of the GOP, who have even fewer active members and supporters than the "Democratic wing of the Democratic party". And instead of replacing the GOP with a more socially liberal version of itself, it might well create a situation in which we had an actual three party system, with a powerful corporatist centrist party dominating two weaker partisan parties on either flank. So we might have less "values" nonsense in our lives, but also fewer prospects for progressive legislation.

    I'm neither advocating for or against the rise of such a party, just pointing out that the makings for one are there, in terms of policy, politics, and punditry support--and of course corporate, power and money support--and that it might well happen once we get past the Bush era. And if it does happen, how it will play out in terms of its effects on the existing main parties is anyone's guess. Maybe it would be a good thing--let the corporatists have their party, the Jesus freaks and gun lovers their party, and us tree huggers our own party.

    But considering the law of unintended consequences, maybe this wouldn't be such a good thing. I don't know. I'm just thinking out loud here.

    Thinking out loud (none / 0) (#13)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:44:16 PM EST
    Me too.

    Sounds (none / 0) (#16)
    by tnthorpe on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 08:38:28 PM EST
    like a return of the Know Nothings, kovie:
    See this from Wiki:
    The Know Nothing movement was a nativist American political movement of the 1850s. It was empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to American values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. Mainly active from 1854-56, it strove to curb immigration and naturalization, though its efforts met with little success. There were few prominent leaders, and the largely middle-class and Protestant membership fragmented over the issue of slavery, most often joining the Republican Party by the time of the 1860 presidential election.

    I wonder how long such a center would hold now?


    The third party that I was speculating on (none / 0) (#21)
    by kovie on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 11:03:14 PM EST
    would be the exact opposite of the Know Nothings, since it would be inherently corporatist and non-ideological and thus for globalism, free trade, immigration (legal and illegal, whatever works) and whatever's best for itself, not Americans. It would be anti-populist, whereas the KN's were populist (in their own warped way). If a KN-type party did emerge, it would likely be from whatever was left over from the GOP once the corporatists left it to form their own third party, and those Reagan Democrats who were too dumb to go back to their roots.

    The scenario that I outlined would have two populist parties--a reactionary nativist one on the right, and a liberal progressive one on the left--and a free trade corporatist one in the center. In a sense we already have such a setup, with the GOP containing all of the right-wing and most of the centrist party, and the Democratic party having all of the left-wing and some of the centrist party. My scenario would have this artificial setup split along these inherent fault lines. I'm not saying that this WILL or SHOULD happen, just that if it does happen, this is how it might happen. Or not. Like I said, just thinking out loud.


    Interesting art selection ;-) (none / 0) (#2)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 04:52:30 PM EST
    That the demise of the Whigs was NOT due to their failure to find some "unifying" position on slavery - it was their cowardice in taking a strong stand on slavery that destroyed the Whigs.
    This took me a minute to process, but I think you're on to something. Some issues lack a middle ground and will not go away.

    Oops, auto text makes an error (none / 0) (#3)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 04:53:09 PM EST
    The subject should just have been "Interesting."

    in NOT takling a strong stand (none / 0) (#12)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:43:44 PM EST
    would have worked better.

    Despite the requirements of the CW (none / 0) (#4)
    by Alien Abductee on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 05:05:14 PM EST
    and the Broderite pundits, some are actually trying to rethink Iraq and the War on Terror as a banner issue:

    When you travel to the world's trouble spots as a United States Senator, much of what you see is from a helicopter. So you look out, with the buzz of the rotor in your ear, maybe a door gunner nearby, and you see the refugee camp in Darfur, the flood near Djibouti, the bombed out block in Baghdad. You see thousands of desperate faces.

    Al Qaeda's new recruits come from Africa and Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Many come from disaffected communities and disconnected corners of our interconnected world. And it makes you stop and wonder: when those faces look up at an American helicopter, do they feel hope, or do they feel hate?  

    We know where extremists thrive. In conflict zones that are incubators of resentment and anarchy. In weak states that cannot control their borders or territory, or meet the basic needs of their people. From Africa to central Asia to the Pacific Rim - nearly 60 countries stand on the brink of conflict or collapse. The extremists encourage the exploitation of these hopeless places on their hate-filled websites.

    And we know what the extremists say about us. America is just an occupying Army in Muslim lands, the shadow of a shrouded figure standing on a box at Abu Ghraib, the power behind the throne of a repressive leader. They say we are at war with Islam. That is the whispered line of the extremist who has nothing to offer in this battle of ideas but blame - blame America, blame progress, blame Jews. And often he offers something along with the hate. A sense of empowerment. Maybe an education at a madrasa, some charity for your family, some basic services in the neighborhood. And then: a mission and a gun.

    We know we are not who they say we are. America is at war with terrorists who killed on our soil. We are not at war with Islam. America is a compassionate nation that wants a better future for all people. The vast majority of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims have no use for bin Ladin or his bankrupt ideas. But too often since 9/11, the extremists have defined us, not the other way around.

    When I am President, that will change. We will author our own story.

    We do need to stand for democracy. And I will. But democracy is about more than a ballot box. America must show - through deeds as well as words - that we stand with those who seek a better life. That child looking up at the helicopter must see America and feel hope.

    As President, I will make it a focus of my foreign policy to roll back the tide of hopelessness that gives rise to hate. Freedom must mean freedom from fear, not the freedom of anarchy. I will never shrug my shoulders and say - as Secretary Rumsfeld did - "Freedom is untidy." I will focus our support on helping nations build independent judicial systems, honest police forces, and financial systems that are transparent and accountable. Freedom must also mean freedom from want, not freedom lost to an empty stomach. So I will make poverty reduction a key part of helping other nations reduce anarchy.

    I will double our annual investments to meet these challenges to $50 billion by 2012. And I will support a $2 billion Global Education Fund to counter the radical madrasas - often funded by money from within Saudi Arabia - that have filled young minds with messages of hate. We must work for a world where every child, everywhere, is taught to build and not to destroy. And as we lead we will ask for more from our friends in Europe and Asia as well - more support for our diplomacy, more support for multilateral peacekeeping, and more support to rebuild societies ravaged by conflict.

    I will also launch a program of public diplomacy that is a coordinated effort across my Administration, not a small group of political officials at the State Department explaining a misguided war. We will open "America Houses" in cities across the Islamic world, with Internet, libraries, English lessons, stories of America's Muslims and the strength they add to our country, and vocational programs. Through a new "America's Voice Corps" we will recruit, train, and send out into the field talented young Americans who can speak with - and listen to - the people who today hear about us only from our enemies.

    As President, I will lead this effort. In the first 100 days of my Administration, I will travel to a major Islamic forum and deliver an address to redefine our struggle. I will make clear that we are not at war with Islam, that we will stand with those who are willing to stand up for their future, and that we need their effort to defeat the prophets of hate and violence. I will speak directly to that child who looks up at that helicopter, and my message will be clear: "You matter to us. Your future is our future. And our moment is now."

    Obama clothes it in Republican-lite hawkishness, as maybe he must to keep from being dismissed out of hand, but I think this is the heart of his vision on foreign policy, and it is a departure and contrast from the current twisted, Republican-dominated CW. The media emphasis on the "attack Pakistan" part side-tracked this essential message, and to his discredit he did seem content to let that happen.

    PS: You might want to link back to TalkLeft from commenting on Yglesias' post for those who don't know where you're writing post-Dkos.  

    Obama? (5.00 / 2) (#11)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:43:07 PM EST
    I think you should not bring him up in THIS discussion.

    Very Whiggish is dear barack.


    Well (5.00 / 1) (#18)
    by Alien Abductee on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 09:08:05 PM EST
    my point is that he's got real and substantive policy differences to offer re a new direction on the GWOT but he's frittering that away by not presenting it starkly enough as a true departure. I don't know if that makes him very Whiggish or not. I thought it was worth distinguishing policy from political style, following up on Steve Benen's point about Broder:

    The column reads like a daydream of a writer who believes a liberal independent and a very conservative Republican will join forces, solve all of our problems, and "get something done." Get what done? It doesn't matter; it'll be something.

    As if there are "problems" that simply have "solutions," and as if there's no such thing as ideology which will determine what one sees as a good solution versus a bad solution. Obama's trying to shoehorn his ideologically based solutions into a framework that doesn't suit them.

    Democrats like Kucinich who are willing to embrace ideology in choosing those solutions are turned into jokes by the punditocracy. It seems almost as if that's the function of many of the pundits now, of those not clearly associated with the right wing. Republicans are allowed to embrace ideology - in fact theirs is taken to be the norm and so is invisible even as being ideology - but Democrats are not. That's the essence of what Broderism accomplishes, and accepting it is what's destroying the Democrats as a party.

    Obviously I left a bit unstated in my comment above. I could rant on...


    Indeed (none / 0) (#15)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:58:37 PM EST
    He should be writing a newspaper column for us to criticize, not running for President.

    Exactly (none / 0) (#19)
    by Demi Moaned on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 09:18:19 PM EST
    America is at war with terrorists who killed on our soil.

    That concedes the whole right-wing frame there. You may win an election by default talking like that, but you will never effect substantive policy change.

    You may not even win an election (none / 0) (#20)
    by Alien Abductee on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 09:31:25 PM EST
    It would be so wonderful if one of the front-runners simply rejected this whole narrative and started talking in completely different terms along the lines of what Obama lays out in his speech - reject war and military solutions in favor of economic development and cultural solutions. But the stakes are so high, and it would take complete confidence in your vision, plus some reason to think your own party wouldn't immediately disown you and set on you like a pack of wild dogs. Good luck on that part, I guess.

    This took me a few reads (none / 0) (#5)
    by Maryb2004 on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 05:46:13 PM EST
    not to mention going back to Broder and TPM.  Not your clearest.

    But even if Broderism can weaken a party, can it actually destroy it unless there is already an established third party (without a lot of power but that is NOT a joke) ready and waiting to take the refugees?  Would Lincoln have started his own third party?  Would he have joined a third party that hadn't already existed for a number of years? If there is not established third party that the refugees feel comfortable fleeing to - won't they just stay in the weakened party and, perhaps in 20 years or so it will strengthen?

    Interesting question (none / 0) (#6)
    by andgarden on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 06:28:34 PM EST
    One party could be held together for a pretty long time with money, even if it is mediocre. But as between the Democrats and the Republicans, which one blinks first?  

    That was another point (none / 0) (#10)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:42:20 PM EST
    A party also requires party discipline. the Whigs were notoriously bad at it.

    Very Broderistic on the point. Lieberman would have been a Whig.


    Well (none / 0) (#9)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 07:41:30 PM EST
    My next one will be Peabody material . . .

    The Moderate Republican Identity Crisis (none / 0) (#22)
    by john horse on Sun Aug 26, 2007 at 11:43:08 PM EST
    What I find interesting is that Broder doesn't advocate that moderate Republicans reform the GOP.  By advocating third party he tacitly recognizes that the GOP is a lost cause.  Whereas once they were the dominant group within the GOP, moderate Republicans have become an impotent minority.  Increasingly the values of the GOP are in conflict with the values of moderate Republicans.  Iraq, the takeover of the party in many states by fundamentalist Christians, and Bush's abuse of power has pushed them away from the Republican party.  

    They can't go back, can't stay where they are, and they are reluctant to leap forward and join the Democrats.  Too bad for Broder and the moderate Republicans.  As the election of 2006 demonstrated they are facing extinction unless they successfully adapt.  Unfortunately, Broder's third party scheme is not the way to go.  Third parties in the United States never attain actual power but they have their uses in introducing radical ideas that are later adopted by one of the two main political parties.  I don't see any ideas, radical or otherwise, in Broder's party.  It is the political version of the tv show Seinfeld, a political party that is about nothing.

    Broderism, a definition (none / 0) (#23)
    by chemoelectric on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 12:15:38 AM EST
    Broderism = a political system in which the ruling classes tell amusing anecdotes while eating, drinking, and smoking together.

    Republicans were not initially abolitionist. (none / 0) (#25)
    by Ben Masel on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 03:24:38 AM EST
    The initial program was a dedication to stopping the spread of slavery.

    You can't just postulate "political" (none / 0) (#26)
    by Deconstructionist on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 08:23:13 AM EST
     similarities between the eras and leap to expecting the rise of a third party.

      "Structural" impediments that exist now simply had no analog in the mid-19th century. These structural impedments are huge and include both the "governmental" (e.g., ballot access laws, laws requiring political appointments to reflect TWO party balance ,etc.) and rganizational/financial infrastructure. Ad to those the impediments that have always existed: "winner take all" as opposed to proportional representation system and the power of party caucuses in the legislatures and the likelihood of a successful (in the sense of becoming a majority capable party)  3rd party is very low.

      Personally, I think "politically" a centrist third party would appeal to an extremely large plurality and probably majority of voters-- and might actually be a good thing (but only if viable parties to the left and right maintained significance) but I don't see it happening.


    "Conflict free is content free" (none / 0) (#27)
    by lambertstrether on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 08:40:19 AM EST
    Je repete:

    "Conflict free is content free"

    Yep (none / 0) (#28)
    by Big Tent Democrat on Mon Aug 27, 2007 at 08:58:03 AM EST