- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The New York Times has written in explaining why the political parties have lost the confidence of the public: “Their machinery of intrigue, their shuffling evasions, the dodges, the chicanery and the deception of their leaders have excited universal disgust, and have created a general readiness in the public mind for any new organization that shall promise to shun their vices.”

The New York Evening Post, in explaining the same condition has written that the people “saw parties without any difference contending for power, for the sake of power. They saw politics made a profession, and public plunder an employment. … They beheld our public works the plaything of a rotten dynasty, enriching gamblers, and purchasing power at our expense.”

The dates of those articles were November and December 1855 (See “The Origins of the Republican Party” by William E. Gienapp, Oxford University Press, 1987).

When those words were written, the Whigs and the Democrats were the two great parties. The Whigs soon went extinct, the dominant Democrats went on to lose every White House election between 1860 and 1912 except for the elections of Grover Cleveland. The Republicans came into being and won all the those elections the Democrats lost.

I have a sense that we may be in the early stages of a similar transformation of our party system as 155 years ago, when the Jacksonian party system failed.

Of course, with the exception of immigration and corruption, the issues are almost completely different today. At the national level back then, the danger of the spread of slavery to Western territories was the dominant issue.

Even more tellingly, in the period 1853 to 1855, state politics were overwhelmed by a witch’s brew of issues - temperance, corruption, immigration, public school policy and funding, and Protestant-Catholic hostility. It was those issues that drove the Whigs out of business - even though they thought the pro-slavery Kansas-Nebraska Act at the national level would guarantee their success for the foreseeable future. The anti-slavery issue eventually drove the creation and success of the Republican, not the Whig, Party.

What is the same today? Unlike in most elections, the public in 2010 - as in the 1850s - sees Washington corruption not as something to be lived with, but as a bipartisan, potentially fatal blight to be fought actively by citizens.

What also is the same is that new, big issues are emerging for the first time in generations - and neither major party is seen as having the answers or the will to advance the solutions.

The GOP is very, very likely to win very, very big in November.

But how each party charts the next two years -and then the next four years - may determine whether one or both of the parties go the way of the Whigs and whether a new major party comes into being, as the Republican Party did by 1856.

The 2010 Republicans have the opening advantage in 2011 of being generally on the right side of the election-driving issues of excessive deficits, constitutionally limited government, low taxes and job-creating policies.

Both parties are suspect on the issues of corruption and immigration.

The GOP has a policy advantage over the Democrats on the issues of middle-class virtues and cultural issues - although GOP practices reduce that policy advantage.

The Democrats have the strategic disadvantage - if current trends continue - of having the reputation of the Obama administration as a millstone around their neck, as they did with Jimmy Carter and as the GOP did with Herbert Hoover.

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