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The GOP divide

A crack 160 years in the making

The GOP divide

(Krieg Barrie)

Washington halls are alive with the sound of musings about a coming GOP crackup. That may come, but let’s admit that the Republican Party from its start has had a crack that never disappeared.

A Grand New Party grew in the 1850s from the alliance of a toddler and a geriatric. The toddling Free-Soil Party’s slogan was “Free Soil, Free Speech, Free Labor, and Free Men.” Free-Soilers were mid-19th-century compassionate conservatives. “Free soil” out West would let more Americans become farm owners rather than hired hands. The three other “frees” were an attack on slavery.

Whigs made up the geriatric party. They often favored major banking and manufacturing interests. As Whigs split over slavery, Northern Whigs saw the Republican Party as their horse to ride. Southern Whigs often joined the short-lived Know-Nothing Party, which railed against immigrants.

During the 52 years from 1860 to 1912, Americans elected to the presidency one Democrat, Grover Cleveland, and eight Republicans. Republicans initially emphasized help to African-Americans and to the poorer and middle classes. Even after Republicans abandoned ex-slaves, one magazine in 1882 still called it the PMP (“Party of Moral Principle”). But a different principle gained favor during the late 19th century: Those who accepted Charles Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” theories often applied them to humans as well as animals.

The real divide is between the entitled heart—I grabbed it; I built it; I deserve it; it’s mine—and the grateful heart.

Social Darwinism infiltrated Republican ranks. William Graham Sumner, an Episcopal priest who abandoned faith in Christ, became a Yale professor famous for his “acidic style” of characterizing opponents and the poor: He said “a man has no more right to life than a rattlesnake; he has no more right to liberty than any wild beast; his right to pursuit of happiness is nothing but a license to maintain the struggle for existence.”

The original Republican Party crack between Free-Soilers and Whigs grew wider. Meanwhile, Democrats also had their crack: Some Northern Democrats fought social Darwinism by becoming social universalists in favor of big governmental welfare programs. Some Southern Democrats used a sharecropping system and armed intimidation to re-enslave many African-Americans.

Let’s cut to the present. Late last month Speaker of the House Paul Ryan spoke of how he used to differentiate between “makers” and “takers” in our country—“but as I spent more time listening, and really learning the root causes of poverty, I realized I was wrong. ‘Takers’ wasn’t how to refer to a single mom stuck in a poverty trap, just trying to take care of her family. Most people don’t want to be dependent. And to label a whole group of Americans that way was wrong.”

Ryan once had his staffers read Ayn Rand, the 20th century’s most influential social Darwinian novelist, but his street-level encounters with poverty in recent years—under the tutelage of my friend and teacher Bob Woodson—seem to have overcome the makers vs. takers bipolar thinking that Rand propounded and both Ryan and Mitt Romney echoed in 2012.

The real divide is between the entitled heart—I grabbed it; I built it; I deserve it; it’s mine—and the grateful heart. The entitlement vs. gratitude divide cuts through the hearts of each of us; but when we believe in God, we remember that we don’t plan our births, choose our parents, or pick our brain sizes, looks, or athletic abilities. We do have personal responsibility not to squander what God gives us, but the ability to use well His gifts also comes from God.

WORLD is in one sense a Free-Soil magazine. We update the four “frees” by reporting on ways to help the four “uns”: the unborn, the uneducated, the unemployed, and the unsung good Samaritans among us. We’re for compassionate conservatism in its 1990s goal of reducing government. We’re for street-level programs that really help the poor, not suite-level ones that create new plantations.

This year’s GOP presidential campaign has been gruesome, but maybe it’s reminding us to put no trust in princes, only in God. Could a new Republican Party bring in millions of Democrats not through fear but by showing that social universalism’s tender mercies are cruel and only approaches consistent with the Bible work?



  • Brendan Bossard's picture
    Brendan Bossard
    Posted: Thu, 04/21/2016 02:22 pm

    Insightful editorial.  I have been reconciling myself to the possibility that the Republican Party may die, just as the Whigs did.  But sometimes one must let go of the things one loves the most, in order to find something better.  Maybe it is time for a new party to be formed, centered around one unifying idea, just like the young Republican party was.  An anti-abortion platform has a certain ring to it, but I don't think it would gain enough backing at this time.  Maybe a platform centered around economic independence would be good.  "No man has the right to eat bread made by the sweat of another man's brow," could be its guiding principle, just as it guided the first Republican president.

  • Nate T
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    @ Florida Cracker, I would argue that it is precisely because social universalism is inconsistent with the Bible that it does not work. The same God who inspired its words created the world we live in according to certain principles, any philosophy which contradicts it will fail to work. Social universalism promotes actions inconsistent with human nature as defined in scripture. Man is designed to work, social universalism creates dependence and disincentives to work. Marriage and the family are also essential, social welfare programs, no fault divorce, and our cultural understanding of individual autonomy discourage two parent homes. There is an overwhelming correlation to these issues and poverty within the United States. To say that the Bible has nothing to say about human flourishing and what works is to fail to read the Bible for all that it is worth and apply it to our lives.

  • mizpahlady's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    I agree- Would join such a party and abandon independent status.   Gruesome is the right word.  Time for a change, but not in the same sense as that word has been used by O or by Trump.

  • D Oliver
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    Ultimately, governments work primarily through compulsion of incarceration - in some cases death.  These are very blunt tools for "compassionate conservatives."  How can governments become compassionate without encouraging massive gaming of the system - as we see in "obama phones" and medicaid/medicare fraud?  I am becoming convinced that the least offensive position may be that of the libertarians, who seek less government intervention. 

  • tpthinks
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    This was a good editorial, and I learned some new approaches to old ways of thinking, thank you!

  • Neil Evans's picture
    Neil Evans
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    "...only approaches consistent with the Bible work?" Absolutely, but only people who really believe the Bible will recognize the fact.  And even then, we (everyone, including Believers) seem to be ever searching for workable alternatives to God's ways.It seems that the great misunderstanding of American history is that civil unity has been our general characteristic.  We have assumed that "One Nation ..." was an accurate description of ourselves.  I don't think our selfish human nature is capable of extended unity apart from the personally transforming power of God.  Thus, for followers of Biblical Truth to seek and expect any significant unity apart from a Biblical foundation is unrealistic.  Of course we should support those politicians with whom we agree but not expect that civil unity to be either long lasting or truly affecting the Biblical character of our nation.  True unity is experienced only as individuals submit to God and our Savior as He reveals Himself in the Bible.

  • William Peck 1958's picture
    William Peck 1958
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    very good. re: "Could a new Republican Party bring in millions of Democrats not through
    fear but by showing that social universalism’s tender mercies are cruel
    and only approaches consistent with the Bible work?"- I don't think Donald Trump is the leader we're looking for, but he does seem to be the Pied Piper, and for the Tea Party types, imo. And the people who are mad at the Dem's and the Republican's far outweigh those who like what's going on, also imo.

  • nevertheless's picture
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    "Ever new lover and friend, sing me that love song again" Bruce Cockburn. Hope is the evidence of things unseen, indeed!

  • Florida Cracker's picture
    Florida Cracker
    Posted: Mon, 05/02/2016 04:23 pm

    I'd be happy to settle for approaches that work without reference to their being "consistent with the Bible." It is a very big assumption to think that the Bible has teaching with which such approaches can be consistent. The problem with "social universalism" approaches is not that they contradict the Bible, but that they don't work.