In 1798, at the end of his second term as the first President of the United States George Washington gave a foretelling public address in which he pointed out what could befall our nation if we were not cognizant of the dangers posed by party politics. Specifically, he highlighted the danger to personal liberty in our political system. He stated in his address that while “political parties may now and then answer popular ends, they are likely in the course of time and things, to become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and to usurp for themselves the reins of government, destroying afterwards the very engines which have lifted them to unjust dominion.” Wow, sound familiar? Unprincipled men (or women) subverting the power of the people…I sure think so. While some may say it is far too late in our history and political development as a nation to change this two-party status quo, I say there has never been a better time in our history to do so since Washington gave his prophetic speech.
President Washington’s warnings are more applicable now than ever before. Many of you reading may charge that it is far too late to change the power structure created by political parties over the past 220 years. I hear often that we must accept that the two parties of our system hold the power and we can only select from the lesser of two evils. Truly this year, select between a crook and a cretan. In a nation of 300 million people, 235 million voting aged, with universal suffrage, the two political parties nominated one candidate under federal criminal investigation to run against another candidate that is a playboy egomaniac. Both of which promise emphatically to increase the roll of the executive branch of government beyond the Constitutionally given authority, increase the federal budget deficit and national debt, and steer away from personal liberty and responsibility. Yep, I think it’s safe to say something isn’t working quite right.
So did Washington merely offer an unrealistic and idealistic vision that can’t possibly be achieved by calling us to avoid party politics? Isn’t it natural for like-minded people to band together to pool their power for the common good? Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson certainly thought that was the most pragmatic way to achieve political ends in our system. After all, they founded the first two major political parties, the Federalists and Democratic-Republicans and no one would call them unpatriotic. I do not believe that Hamilton or Jefferson intended to subvert liberty in our government by trying to consolidate power for what they saw as the greatest good. I also do not believe that, in general, the Democrats or Republicans of today intentionally do so. However, Washington’s wisdom has been shown to be very profound in this case, because it is indeed necessary for the parties to maintain their power in order to consolidate their vision in governance into the future. In so doing, they must violate at least some of the things they “stand for” or stood for in the past to “answer the popular ends” of the day. What do I mean by that? Well, as Washington said, the parties must by definition shift to the popular opinion of the day in order to win elections with votes. As I have stated in previous posts, this creates a friction between the strategic long term interest of the United States that our elected representatives are bound by oath to be looking out for and the ability for one party or the other to control either house of congress and the White House for the next election cycle to try and get returns for their most loyal party supporters and donors. If you don’t get the votes your party gets left out. So, we have created a system in which neither party or it’s “supporters” can or will back out of their affiliation because doing so would ensure a victory for the other party, a classic prisoner’s dilemma. The other party being in power is so unpalatable that we will overlook the parts of our own party that we don’t like, hold our nose and vote the party line. At least that’s what the party bosses hope we will do.
So how can we break these chains of the two-party system? It will not be easy. Like-minded people must still collaborate for the greater good of our Republic, but we must not be mindlessly bound by it. More people, rejecting the party status quo with their money and vote is required. Self-education of voters is required. People must be given the confidence and means to know that they alone know what is best for them and their families, not a political party blanket of protection. We must have a candidate that is principled but pragmatic and unbound by party to do what is right for the country. As more people have access to more information than ever before in history, the time is right to begin this shift away from selecting the lesser of two evils to truly selecting the best for the country.
Washington’s speech also hits on many other topics that we currently face today beyond the potential detriments of political parties. Please read his words: http://millercenter.org/president/washington/speeches/speech-3462 He knew the risk of our nation being in debt. He pointed out the importance and necessity of morality and responsibility in self-government. He called for amending the Constitution if the need arises but cautioned against changing by usurpation made possible by too much political party influence. His ideas are not outdated! They are even more applicable and important today than when he spoke them in 1798 because we have the collaborative tools and networking power that he lacked. We no longer need political parties to aggregate our ideas and power. We can do it right here! We can vote for a leader unbounded by party pressures to do what is right to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to protect and the defend the Democrat or Republican chance of picking up a seat next cycle.
Washington proposed the First Way in his 1798 farewell address; let’s resurrect his ideas with the New Third Way. Challenge the status quo; let’s have a debate about what we value in the leader of our nation’s executive branch next election instead of a debate about how bad the other party’s candidate is. Let’s talk about things like leadership, character, compassion, and resolve instead of particular policies that play on the heartstrings of the electorate but that the President really has little true power to change. This is how we can break the cycle; get more people to join the movement. Like Washington, I choose not to be in a political party but instead to be part of a movement that espouses personal freedom and responsibility, responsive self-government and compassionate leadership to strengthen our republic. Thanks for reading.
4 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be…in a Political Party”
What happens if no one who is principled, pragmatic and free of party ties presents themselves as a candidate. For example in the current election I would argue that even within the 2 major parties primary races none of the candidates fit the criteria you speak of, so it comes down to the lesser of 2 evils, how do you avoid that?
Thank you very much for your comment. I think this a long-term battle. In the current model we must continue to each do what we think is best within the confines of the structure we live in. However, I think we should also be convincing people that the two parties are not the only way. That’s why I started this blog, I am trying to aggregate a following of people here that, like me, are looking for a New Third Way.
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