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Whenever I discuss electoral politics these days, I think it necessary to remind people that I do not believe in the present party system. The pre-eminent Founder and first President of the United States, George Washington, warned against "the baneful effects if the spirit of party" in the well-intentioned parting thoughts he shared with the new nation in his farewell address, because "they serve to organize faction" and "put in place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party." Washington held that "all obstructions to the execution of the laws, all combinations and associations, under whatever plausible character, with the real design to direct control, counteract or awe the regular deliberation and action of the constituted authorities ... serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party."
Foreseeing the events that would eventually give rise to the Civil War, President Washington warned first of all against "characterizing parties by geographical discriminations, Northern and Southern, Atlantic and Western." — to which, these days, we would have to add urban and rural. But even as he warned of their dangers, Washington acknowledged that the partisan spirit "is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind." When James Madison argued for the ratification of the U.S. Constitution he, too, stressed the fact that "the latent causes of faction are ... sown in the nature of man." Speaking of the defects of America's first confederate government, Madison wrote of the "unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations. In that context he offered his definition of faction:
A number of citizens, whether amounting to a majority or minority of the whole, who are united and actuated by some common impulse of passion, or of interest, adverse to the rights of other citizens, or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community. (Federalist no. 10)
Given their behavior in recent years, and the spectacle of rabid partisanship that has presently replaced civil discourse in the political arena, it makes no sense to deny that both the Democrat and Republicans parties now answer in most respect to Madison's description of parties driven by a factional spirit. Indeed, in the course of my lifetime, intellectual tools of that spirit shifted to redefine our politics in purely factional terms. So we talk of interest groups driven by particular ambitions and passions as the stuff of which the body political is made. Banished from consideration is the very idea of our common good, our common creed, our common dedication to the cause of right, as endowed with substance by the God who made us.
Contrary to this poisonous transformation of our political character, Washington concluded that "the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it." But under the corrupting influence of factional partisanship, what shred of their wisdom is likely to survive. Factional partisanship lives by fomenting passions and discouraging rational thought. The punch-drunk quality of our present political brawls is the most telling symptom of the fact that our nation has been heavily dosed with the poisonous spirit of faction. Not only the so-called news and information media, but our public and private educational institutions, at every level, have become syringes for its administration.
Reading Washington's farewell address these days ruefully tempts one to accept the destructively tendentious notion that the past is another country. The nation Washington addressed still countenanced slavery, but set its heart, and staked its future, on the imperative of righteous liberty — determined by our Creator, God, for all humanity. Today, we are becoming a nation in which people professed to hate slavery, but have set their hearts on an understanding of freedom swollen with the pus of distempered passions — irreverent, irreligious and irascibly hostile to the right use of freedom the God-endowed unalienable right of liberty requires. Continuing on our present course, it is the human race that will return slavery, under the rule of oligarchs who are already preparing to disdain the label.
This degradation of our national spirit already makes it difficult for some of our people to hear the advice with which Washington pointed Americans toward the source of the wisdom we require to identify and reject the poisonous spirit of factional partisanship.
Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. ... Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ... It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.
An assault against the Christian religion is now underway in the United States. It aims to preserve the "right" to murder nascent children in the womb and force people to defame the right vocation of human sexuality. If President Washington reasoned rightly, it makes sense for us to conclude that no one who encourages, joins or even tolerates this assault can be considered friendly to our nation's sovereign, constitutional self-government. And if they are unfriendly to our liberty, in this respect, how can they be trusted to hold office under the government it ordains?