Our nation has had only one independent president. That’s right, only one who stayed out of the partisan fray and refused to be locked into a political ideology. He certainly had his principles and stuck to them, yet he understood the value of moderation. While non-partisan, he was far from neutral on the issues and was known to gather information from all quarters before making his independent decision.
This man was president during our most vulnerable time as nation and endured vicious and dishonest attacks by the partisans and the press.
One of his greatest fears of which he warned all Americans in his brilliant farewell address was the emergence of political parties.
“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetuated the most horrid enormities, is itself frightful despotism…. It served always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, ferments occasional riot and insurrection….There being constant danger of excess….”
This independent president’s name is George Washington.
How ironically tragic that our capital city that bears his name has become synonymous with corruption, dishonesty, dysfunction, and party-induced division.
Our present reality makes Washington seem to be a prophet.
Consider the ineptness of our elected leaders. It has been several years since Congress has approved an official budget, instead relying on continuing resolutions that allow funding to go be maintained for a few weeks at a time. Even when school children are being slaughtered by mentally ill individuals with assault-style rifles, our president and many of our representatives seemed hesitant to act. Our healthcare system is astonishingly inefficient. Our highways, bridges, and airports, inadequate. Family supporting jobs, a rare find. Our nation which was a world leader in so many areas has quickly fallen behind because of internal political gridlock.
The two-party system unfortunately enforces compliance and conformity while preventing, and even punishing creative, independent thinking. The parties’ purpose is not to promote the general welfare of the people of the United States. Their purpose is to amass money and power. They have become receptacles for huge donations from organizations and corporations that wind up being a shadow government that has no allegiance or responsibility to the anyone, but themselves.
The two major parties control the election process. They have gerrymandered districts so there are Republican and Democrat districts where only a more extreme Republican or Democrat could possibly win against an incumbent. They control the money since it takes almost two million dollars to run an effective campaign for the House of Representatives and that funding is conditioned on lockstep compliance.
The result is that legislators’ opinions and votes become reflexive rather than reflective and functioning government is stymied.
The systematic solutions to our political mess includes moving political parties into a more appropriate role by eliminating their control over how elections are run and who gets on the ballot. Removing their ability to draw up congressional districts and in making committee appointments. Lastly, limiting the amount of money spent on elections and having open primaries in which the top two vote getters, regardless of party, would continue on in the general election would be a huge improvement.
On a more personal level, everyone has a right to an opinion. Hopefully, it is our personal, well-reasoned opinion, and we are not simply hitching our wagon to the packaged agenda or a political party or their media outlets. We would be wise to remember the parties’ motives: money and power, and to recall Washington’s warnings about how they ferment tribalism, revenge, and despotism. They weaken the ability of government to be representative of and effective for the people while inciting Americans to hate each other.
One party isn’t right all the time and the other consistently wrong. They each have some good ideas and some bad ones. Usually, they are too extreme when taken alone.
Finally, there is a relational aspect to being freed from the partisanship that has enslaved our nation. We can have insightful conversations with people with whom we disagree, and learn from them. We can move forward out of partisanship, division, cynicism, and loathing into functioning government and civil conversation.
This post is from my recent column in the Kenosha News.