There used to be a Whig Party in the United States. William Henry Harrison and Zachary Taylor were elected President as Whigs. In practice, the U.S. Constitution only allows for two dominant parties to exist at any given time for reasons involving the make-up of the U.S. Congress and the Electoral College system.
The Constitution also generally seems to push both parties away from the edges of radicalism as much as their attack ads would suggest otherwise.
Of course if the nation drifts to the left or to the right both parties will shift in that direction even if outflanked by the other. Consider that Republican Richard Nixon praised Keynesian Economics and that free trading, welfare reforming Democrat Bill Clinton declared big government to be a thing of the past.
This system should be praised for its stability even if it generally leaves politics to be a little bland as compared to the parliamentary systems seen in other parts of the world.
Once in awhile political parties undergo a massive overhaul and sometimes political parties even die. Teddy Roosevelt was a progressive Republican when he was president. Woodrow Wilson seized a type of progressivism for the Democrats.
This led to a sea change in which Democrats became the more progressive party and Teddy Roosevelt’s 1912 insurgent candidacy against William Howard Taft as the Bull Moose Party candidate led to a certified shift in positions between Democrats and Republicans. After all, the Party of Lincoln, abolition and Teddy Roosevelt’s conversationalist movement is not the home of civil rights or environmental voters today.
1912 Type Rift for 2008 Democrats?
I do not see a shift on economic positions or cultural positions occurring anytime soon even if Governor Schwarzenegger’s vision of the GOP is highly different from what has been seen since 1980. However, one possibility for a 1912 style split does exist for the Democrats in 2008. Imagine if Hillary Clinton creates enough doubt about Barack Obama that the convention either nominates the New York Senator or someone other than Barack Obama as a compromise candidate.
This scenario remains unlikely, but if it does occur Obama has a massive organization of enthused and often new voters at his disposal. He has been able to raise money like no one before. He is also friends with fairly progressive New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg who is currently and independent, a former Republican and a former Democrat. Bloomberg’s $1 billion and Obama’s social networking community could launch a new version of the Democratic Party that might get a name such as the Labor Democrats or the United Democrats or the Innovative Democrats or … This group could fund and field their own candidates and at sometime between now and 2012 a reunion would have to occur or else GOP victories would mount vs. the divided progressives.
Who Might Join
Nancy Pelosi has been a subtle but strong supporter of Obama. Many younger politicians have endorsed Obama including PA Senator Bob Casey and Virginia Governor Tim Kaine. Casey and Kaine, like Obama, use religious categories for critiquing society. Such a splinter Democratic Party might prove to be less tone deaf on moral issues and arguments than Senator John Kerry proved to be. My guess is that if a broken convention occurs and the party splits that within 4 years the United Democrats (Obama’s wing) would swallow what is left of Bill Clinton’s old “New Democrat” approach to triangulation and governing.
Unlikely to Happen, but It Might be Fun
My last column talked about how the Obama-Clinton race was killing my interest in politics. Why prolonging the fight for another couple of years interests me strikes me as being odd at first glance. The thing is such a debate would allow the Democratic Party to actually debate what it ought to look like. Hillary is beating Obama up on gun rights in Indiana? This is a short term step that might win her a primary, but does such a move win any votes in November? Many of the voters and states deciding the Democratic nomination are not likely to vote Democratic in November. A real debate about the Party might actually result in a coherent platform. My dream would be to see a Democratic Party less hung up on the abortion issue and more focused on bread and butter economic issues while also having a bend toward promoting new green technologies as a way to reinvigorate blue collar jobs while also building a more sustainable economy. If the party falls apart that will be the faction I back.
Indiana and North Carolina Could Make All of this Moot
If Obama wins both states, this race is as good as over. If Hillary were to win both states, the Obama movement may be done. If they split however, each candidate will have enough to go forward and press his or her cause. Doing so will only increase the odds if only slightly that the party falls to pieces in Denver. Then again, I can always vote Whig in November. They seem due for a comeback.