In the 1850's the issue was the extension of slavery into new states and territories. The Democrats were for compromise. The Whigs had a compromise wing and a wing that followed Abraham Lincoln's position that the nation could not "endure, permanently half slave and half free." When it became clear that the Whig Party would not stand firmly against the extension of slavery, a new party was formed: the Republican Party. Because the Whigs were unable to meet the challenge of slavery, the Whig Party dissolved after 1856.
Is the United States in a similar crisis situation today?
Governor Sarah Palin seems to be the main political commentator speaking in these terms. She likens the Republican Party's current situation to that of the Whig Party in the 1850's.
"In the next two years, if all we end up doing is adopting some tax hikes here, some Obama-agenda compromises there, and a thousand little measures that do nothing to get us out of the economic mess we’re in, the same voters that put the GOP in office will vote them out in the next election. If that happens, the story of 2012 may well be that of the GOP going the way of the Whigs. No, the American people are expecting us to be bold and big in our economic reform to allow the private sector to create jobs and soar!"The crucial issue today is economic. Can the United States survive a continuation of adding/expanding entitlement programs and the consequent soaring debt? Even the Congressional Budget Office and President Obama recognize the seriousness of the nation's debt crisis. But, prior to the Tea Party movement no one had the political will to make a roll back of bad policies rather than various forms of compromise the central issue.
Lincoln's warning on compromise with slavery has an eerie application to current economic compromise.
"The new year of 1854 found slavery excluded from more than half the States by State Constitutions, and from most of the national territory by congressional prohibition.Sarah Palin more than any major political figure urged the Tea Party to use the primary system in the Republican Party to address the pressing economic crisis facing the nation. Others shrieked or pouted about establishment candidate primary losses. Winning control of the Senate this election was central to them. Thus, all the pundit hand wringing over Delaware, Nevada and Colorado. None of the crying was over substantive change to avert economic disaster.
"Four days later, commenced the struggle, which ended in repealing that congressional prohibition.
"This opened all the national territory to slavery, and was the first point gained."
. . .
"Put this and that together, and we have another nice little niche which we may ere long see filled with another Supreme Court decisions declaring that the Constitution of the United States does not permit a State to exclude slavery from its limits."
. . .
"Such a decision is all that slavery now lacks of being alike lawful in all the States. Welcome, or unwelcome, such decision is probably coming, and will soon be upon us, unless the power of the present political dynasty shall be met and overthrown. We shall lie down pleasantly dreaming that the people of Missouri. are on the verge of making their State free, and we shall awake to the reality instead, that the Supreme Court has made Illinois a slave State. To meet and overthrow the power of that dynasty is the work now before all those who would prevent that consummation. This is what we have to do."
Palin looked beyond that short term vision and encouraged contested primaries as the best means to develop candidates able to confront the nation's central issues.
"Competition in these primaries is good. Competition makes us work harder and be more efficient and produce more. And I hope you'll get out there and work hard for the candidates who reflect your values, your priorities. Because despite what the pundits want you to think, contested primaries aren't civil war. They're democracy at work, and that's beautiful."Palin's role in keeping the Tea Partiers in the Republican tent was not just a matter of speaking to their conventions and underlining their concerns. Palin gave them a plan of action to influence public policy.
Palin's plan: vote in good people in Republican primaries and change the course of state and national government. Use the political power structure of the Republican Party to reverse the nation's economic crisis.
That's what Tea Party winners and losers were all about. Not taking and holding this or that political seat, but effecting substantive change of course in a nation heading for economic disaster.
What's sad is that, like the 1850's Whigs, so many old guard Republicans and pundits don't get the seriousness of the nation's crisis and that little compromises "adopting some tax hikes here, some Obama-agenda compromises there, and a thousand little measures that do nothing to get us out of the economic mess we’re in" is the recipe for disaster for the Republican Party as well as the nation.