Letter: Reader cites forefather on partisan politics


As a general conversational rule, we don’t talk about politics. It’s a good rule if you want to avoid unwinnable arguments. People are entitled to their own opinions. However, I want to make an exception to the rule here, because of a warning from George Washington I came across recently that, in my opinion, is particularly relevant today.

In our daily lives, we can’t escape the political drama, with the constant reports of partisan disputes, party-line divisions, and gridlock between Republicans and Democrats in Congress on many important issues. Not to mention the extreme, no-compromise, factions within each party that sometimes are, in effect, separate parties.

Trying to follow it can be depressing, frustrating and exhausting. Like following the Washington Nationals, you know they can and should do better. Clearly, many have not read the “Teamwork Makes the Dream Work” memo.

So it may surprise you, as it did me, that George Washington foresaw some of this over 200 years ago. Here’s what he had to say about the “Spirit of Party,” or partisanship, in his Farewell Address to the American people in 1796 (with some spelling and punctuation changes to conform to our current usage):

“Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the Spirit of Party, generally.

“This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness and is truly their worst enemy.

“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. … [T]he common and continual mischiefs of the Spirit of Party are sufficient to make it in the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.

“It serves always to distrust 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 find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of Party passions.”

Amazing! A warning from 1796 that’s still timely today.

Our first president went on to recognize that political parties in free countries can be useful checks upon the administration of a government and can “serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty.”

As you can see, he was concerned about the potential danger and negative effects of hyper-partisanship on efficient government, national and community unity, public safety and even national security. I don’t have any solution to the partisanship problem. I do think it would take a major attitude adjustment.

On the positive side, some things still get done on a bipartisan basis. And most people are respectful of the rights and opinions of others. And we have days like the Fourth of July when it seems like everyone comes together to celebrate America, notwithstanding our differences. We just need days like that more often.

One final thought. If the Nationals can come back from a 9-0 deficit to win a game 14-12 (OK, it was against the Marlins), then anything is possible.

Jerry Hardiman
Bethany Beach