WASHINGTON, October 17, 2012 — The vice-presidential and two presidential debates have proven mostly satisfying for the supporters of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, but not everyone else has enjoyed them.
The spectacle of Joe Biden barking and chortling like a man in desperate need of an exorcism was horrific, but Paul Ryan seemed very young and inexperienced on that stage (he may have only been worried that Biden might start chewing on his leg). Charges of lies and counter lies have flown about the debates, and the last one came perilously close to a roller derby in suits, but dirtier.
If you haven’t found this edifying, have you considered voting Whig?
It’s relatively easy to write about Democrats, Republicans, and Ron Paul. They’re all easily characterized by lists of positions: pro-life, pro-choice, pro-same-sex marriage, anti-Federal Reserve, and so on. While all have some intellectual and theoretical apparatus underlying many of their positions, it’s easy to follow their laundry lists without a shred of thought. Critical thinking is anathema to true believing Republicans, Democrats, and Paulians. Debate and free-thinking on core issues are scarcely tolerated.
The Whigs and Mr. O’Hara are much harder to write about. They don’t fit easily into the neat boxes of modern political thought. It’s difficult to define them on the basis of specific policy positions. On the other hand, they aren’t difficult to define in terms of outlook: They’re in favor of critical thought.
More to the point, process is more important to them than results. What matters most aren’t the policy prescriptions we arrive at, but the means by which we arrive at them. If we’ve reached impasses over tax policy and abortion rights, it’s because we approach them as religious battles in a war between right and wrong, not as problems that have solutions that can be hammered out if we sit down together and ask the right questions.
This might make Whig thinking seem too idealistic to be useful, but in fact the party is all about pragmatism. They don’t provide a detailed tax plan for the simple reason that it creates fixed positions that turn into cement. A detailed tax plan turns into either a weapon against opponents or a rigid ideological fortress, and in any event it will never make it through the political process. Any tax plan that gets through Congress and is signed by the president will be the result of negotiation and compromise, so it’s better to start with a set of principles that should inform discussions also informed by economics, finance, and good business sense.
If the goal of tax policy is to redistribute wealth, then let’s design a law to do that effectively. If the goal is to promote economic growth, then let’s design it to do that regardless of distributive effects. If the goal is to raise government revenues, then let it do that efficiently. If it has more than one goal, we should understand how the goals compete with each other and produce ineffective policies.
Hence the Whig approach to tax policy would most likely be first to decide what it is we want the policy to accomplish, then to set about crafting it to do that with minimal collateral damage, taking the best of what each side brings to the table. Arguments over taxing the rich more or less are intellectually incoherent because they’re based on confused and conflicting goals.
Robert Evans, the Whig Party’s national chairman since 2010, takes considerable pains to make clear the Whigs do not approach politics from the perspective of ideology. “We’re looking for more than just different approaches to liberalism or conservatism,” he said. The Whigs favor open debate to find collaborative solutions to our country’s problems. He added, however, “Whigs don’t believe in compromise just for the sake of compromise, but understand that we live in society, and so we have to work together and compromise.” That is, after all, almost the definition of “society.”
He offered as an example education reform. “You have a wonderful idea, and so do I. Let’s put our ideas together, see which parts will work together and which won’t. That’s what our Founding Fathers did.”
When asked whether he felt as Ron Paul’s supporters do, that the media freeze out third-party voices, Evans commented, “Alternative voices need to be covered. The media should feel a responsibility to let the American people know of alternatives.” He understands that the media are a business and need to pay the bills. He insists, though, that “no party or candidate should be privileged” with regard to media coverage. Since the American people own the electromagnetic airwaves, the FCC should guarantee that those airwaves aren’t monopolized by the Democratic-Republican political duopoly.
Evans is excited about a project the Whig Party is pursuing, “Whig roundtables.” The idea is to bring together people in both online and physical settings to discuss the issues. “We’re not going to tell you what you need to think. We’ll only provide the tools to help you think.” The emphasis is on the process. “If what we promote doesn’t work, we’ll change it. Policies should be changed, but not because of opinion polls. Keep what works, throw out what doesn’t.”
T.J. O’Hara is endorsed by the Whigs, but he declines to join the party. It’s central to his view of the problems of our political system that the president should not be beholden to any political party. As the titular head of a party, a president’s incentives are shifted so that he doesn’t serve just the American people, but rather the people and the party. That’s toxic.
Part two of this article will focus on O’Hara’s core political stands, including the importance of an independent president and the serious need to reform campaign finance so that presidents spend more time working than fundraising.
James Picht is the Senior Editor for Communities Politics and teaches economics at the Louisiana Scholars’ College in Natchitoches, La., where he went to take a break from working in Moscow and Washington. But he fell in love with the town and with the professor of Romance languages, so there he stayed. Now he teaches, annoys his children, and makes jalapeno lemonade. He was astonished to learn that Whigs were back, and pleased. He tweets, hangs out on Facebook, and has a blog he totally neglects at pichtblog.blogspot.com.
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