"George Washington . . . clung to an unrealistic view of America in which a spirit of national unity and harmony would prevail, warning about the 'baneful effects of the Spirit of Party' in his Farewell Address . . .". From 7 Events That Made America America by Larry Schweikart, Sentinel, 2010.
Schweikart reports that President Washington was especially worried about sectional parties oriented around the issue of slavery.
So, from the beginning, party politics have had a negative effect on running the country. First, as just stated, we had slave states against non-slave states. Then, it evolved into the north versus the south; liberal versus conservative; big government versus small; don't spend versus we must pay our bills; war versus negotiation; international peace keeping versus mind our own business. As of today, we have ourselves locked into so many positions versus positions, that the government can no longer function.
Another item Schweikert pointed out was that back in the day, the elite in state and federal legislatures spoke for the common man. And how else could the states and the country have been run? We had the problem of travel. There was no internet. The likes of George Washington, John Adams and John Quincy Adams, Thomas Jefferson, etc., probably were the intellectually elite in our nation. So, wealth and learning did go hand in hand back then.
But by this time, we have a country filled with elite and learned individuals, many of whom could do a better job in government than many who are sitting in the chairs.
The definition of elite back then was land owners. Those were the guys that got to vote. There is a little of that elitist thinking today, as well. There are many making our laws who see wealth as the one and only indication of success. The wealthy are the elite in their opinion. It doesn't seem to matter to them if the big bucks were earned or inherited. Having the dollars, in their opinion, makes them superior.
But there are a lot of individuals out there practicing law and medicine or teaching in universities whose credentials are as good as or better than the credentials of our government officials. These individuals see knowledge and learning as the symbol of success. They sacrifice the big bucks in favor of seeking and sharing information.
Other people see success as caring for others and serving their fellow men. To each, his own goals.
I'd be hard pressed to pick which of these are the elite who should be making decisions for the "common man", wouldn't you?
The original authors of our country's laws traveled home great distances to learn what their constituents wanted and then travelled back to place their votes and enact our laws. Today we can pick up our phones or go on line and let our politicians know our wishes.
What was once an efficient method of making and implementing our laws has become a cumbersome system of bumbling partisan bickering and our "elite" representatives have locked themselves into destructive power struggles. Consequently we find ourselves in stalemate after stalemate, quarreling over how much to tax and whom -- how much to spend and why -- whether we should have big government or small (when none of them work very well anyway) -- and whether the lawmakers are the true elite or just the overachieving common man.
Whatever we should be, it should work. It does not. Why? We are too partisan. We are too stuck in our party positions. We are too dependent on the same representative sample of individuals saying the same things and voting the same ways and sitting in the same government seats, not doing their jobs well.
We need to regroup and start again. I'm sure all Americans are long past ready to experience George Washington's dream of a "spirit of national unity and harmony from which our government could move smoothly forward" -- unrealistic or not.