Rob Christensen

Whigs rise again

Staff WriterApril 26, 2009 

Tired of Democrats and Republicans? Do Rush Limbaugh, Keith Olbermann, Ann Coulter and Rachel Maddow leave you cold?

Well, it may be time to bring back the Whigs.

You remember the Whig Party from your old U.S. history courses? They were very big in the 1830s and 1840s.

The Whigs were the party of such 19th-century giants as Henry Clay, Daniel Webster and Abe Lincoln, before he became a Republican. And let us not forget President Millard Fillmore, one of four Whig presidents.

In North Carolina the Whigs produced such governors as Edward Bishop Dudley, John Motley Morehead, William Alexander Graham and Charles Manly.

Now, after 160 years in hibernation, the Whig Party is stirring.

I got wind of the resurrection last month, when I received a news release from a John Moore, the chairman of the Modern Whig Party of North Carolina, announcing that the Whigs have "returned to the State of North Carolina after a long absence."

I thought, what next -- horse-drawn carriages, hoop skirts, war with Mexico?

But my curiosity was piqued, in part, because I am reading "American Lion," Jon Meacham's biography of Andrew Jackson, and I am immersed in the age of Whiggery.

Moore, it turns out, is on the level. He is a 26-year-old Raleigh golf pro, an N.C. State graduate originally from Carteret County. A self-described moderate, Moore was not comfortable with either the Democratic or Republican parties.

Last fall, Moore met with friends at Raleigh's North Regional Library on Harps Mill Road.

"We were talking about the general dissatisfaction with the way the two-party system is working out overall," he said. "Basically, the same two points of view are continuously heard. I started looking around and found the Whig Party Web site."

The national New Whig Party, as it calls itself, was started in the most unlikely of locations -- the deserts of Iraq and the mountains of Afghanistan by U.S. troops.

The party's chief founder is Mike Lebowitz, who saw the need for a new party while serving as a paratrooper in Iraq.

"We saw how ideology on both sides was getting in the way of common sense," Lebowitz, 31, a Washington attorney, told me.

Lebowitz says he borrowed a name from American history because the Whigs were regarded as moderates.

There is nothing fringe about the New Whig platform. The party is pushing for energy independence, withdrawal of most troops from Iraq, more state power to spend federal money, tax breaks for American companies who remove operations from China and preservation of gun rights.

Lebowitz wants to build chapters in the states before running candidates. He says the party has about 20,000 members nationwide. He says that North Carolina, with its many independent voters, is a natural for the Whigs and that the Fort Bragg area is a hotbed of Whiggery.

In North Carolina, the party is pushing for alternative energy sources. It also wants to reduce the tax burden of lower-income people, and it supports more tax breaks for small businesses.

"We can appeal to both liberals and conservatives based on our platform," Moore said.

Who knows whether the Whigs will get off the ground? Maybe one day there will be a historical marker outside Raleigh's North Regional Library.

rob.christensen@newsobserver.com or919-829-4532

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