As Washington’s second term as president was coming to an end, candidates began vying for his office. Their supporters started to band together and give themselves names. Supporters of John Adams called themselves Federalists while supporters of Thomas Jefferson called themselves Democratic-Republicans.
It was the birth of the party system in American politics and Washington saw trouble, so much so that he issued a warning in his farewell address when he left office.
“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 perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism,” warned Washington. “… It serves 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, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”
Washington wrote this in 1796, but he described our current political conditions in 2017 perfectly.
Washington added, “Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind 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.”
Yes Washington warned us, but we haven’t listened.
In every election cycle since Washington, things have grown a little more partisan.
Now we face a crisis in this country. No longer does the leadership in our nation’s capital think of we the people. Instead, they think of Democrat versus Republican.
If Democrats propose legislation, good or bad, the Republicans feel they must oppose it. Likewise, if the Republicans propose legislation, good or bad, the Democrats feel they must oppose it.
Party “whips” move through the aisles and along the hallways making sure that legislators vote the party lines instead of what we who elected them desire. Republican and Democrat national committees control hundreds of millions, if not billions, of dollars to reward those who toe the party line or to punish those who don’t.
Gone is the time when, as former Tennessee Sen. Howard Baker said, you listened to what the other person had to say because, for all you know, they may be right.
Now instead of working together for the greater good, the two parties spend a ridiculous amount of time in hearings on Capitol Hill trying to damage each other’s reputation and dig up dirt for the next election.
In the middle of it all, it is we the people who suffer.
However, I believe that with the wisdom of George Washington and the framers of the Constitution, along with some common sense ideas, we could get our country back on course.
First, all who run for public office should run unaffiliated. No Democrat, no Republican, no Libertarian, just their name. Eliminate the political parties so that, as Washington wanted it, you would vote for the person and they would represent us, not toe some party line.
Second, we keep the Electoral College but change it to where each state has the same number of votes. This is how many of the framers of our Constitution wanted it, but the larger states objected. The resulting compromise of what we have today was reached instead, with states awarded votes based on the number of congressmen and senators.
I believe by giving the states an equal number of electoral votes, say 10, then all states would have an equal say in the election. No more “flyover” states and no more “battleground” states. The states of Montana and Rhode Island would be equal to Texas and California. Plus, it would have the additional effect of making all voters equal as each person would be deciding on how 10 electoral votes would be distributed regardless of what state they were voting in.
Third, all states would have their primaries on the same day. The top five candidates getting the most electoral votes nationally would then advance to the main election.
OK, I admit that this third idea is mostly mine. But I think many of you would agree that our primaries go on for far too long, burning out any enthusiasm most people would have for our electoral process.
Fourth, no president — vice president tickets. The candidate with the most electoral votes in the main election is president with the runner-up being the vice president.
This is how our presidential elections used to be. John Adams was George Washington’s vice president not because Washington picked him, but because he finished second in the voting to Washington.
Having the runner-up in the vice president’s role puts an alternative voice in the executive branch of the government. Instead of someone in lockstep with the president — same political party, same political beliefs — you have someone who will question the president and offer a different viewpoint representing different political beliefs.
To sum up, we need to heed Washington’s warning and get back to the roots of our political system before we lose our democracy and our freedoms.
Ned Jilton II is page designer and photographer for the Times-News as well as the writer of the “Marching with the 19th” Civil War series. You can contact him at [email protected]