In 1850, the hottest topic in politics was slavery. But an awkwardness developed in the political parties. The Democrats were pretty clearly the pro-slavery party, or at least the conservative maintain the status quo party. But the Whigs, their opposition, were internally split on slavery. What that meant was that there was no obvious home for the voters who were against the expansion of slavery into the territories, or more radically, were for slavery's abolition. A Free Soil third party emerged, but the US has always seemed to seek out a two-party equilibrium. In just a few years, the Whigs collapsed, and the anti-slavery wing merged with the Free Soilers to form the Republican party. In the end, having no real contrast among the two major parties on the major issue of the day was unstable.
The only faint hope from this election for libertarians, particularly those concerned with economic freedom issues, is that it may finally highlight to lack of choice we have on these issues between the two major parties. A few examples like Jeff Flake notwithstanding, the Republican party under GWB and McCain have become virtually indistinguishable from the Democrats on most economic freedom issues. While I might have had hope 15 years ago that the Republicans could reinvent themselves as classical liberals, I now think this is demonstrated to be hopeless. Unfortunately, an 1850's style breakup of the party seems unlikely too. So I guess I don't have much hope after all.
Postscript: Remember, it was Republicans who did this:
The chief executives of the nine largest banks in the
United States trooped into a gilded conference room at the Treasury
Department at 3 p.m. Monday. To their astonishment, they were each
handed a one-page document that said they agreed to sell shares to the
government, then Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. said they must
sign it before they left.
"They weren't allowed to negotiate.
Mr. Paulson requested that each of them sign. It was for their own good
and the good of the country, he said, according to a person in the
At least one banker objected. "But by 6:30, all nine chief
executives had signed "” setting in motion the largest government
intervention in the American banking system since the Depression."