Column: Keys Disease

(Not THAT kind of party…)

The recent headlines in national politics have got me thinking (yet again) about political parties in general. Our first president, founding father George Washington, simply abhorred the idea of political parties, fearing what they might do to the young republic. These are his words from his Farewell Address in 1796:

“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. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”

Washington was afraid that an individual hell-bent on control and power might somehow bypass the checks and balances of our system and threaten the newly won liberties that the people had just begun to enjoy. While he was more worried about the potential divide between North and South, his words strike an eerily familiar chord today.

More Washington on the idea of political parties: “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.” Does that sound like any websites or cable news channels you know?

Even more Washington, as true today as it was 219 years ago: “It is important, likewise, that the habits of thinking in a free country should inspire caution in those entrusted with its administration, to confine themselves within their respective constitutional spheres, avoiding in the exercise of the powers of one department to encroach upon another. The spirit of encroachment tends to consolidate the powers of all the departments in one, and thus to create, whatever the form of government, a real despotism.” Maybe Congress and the Judicial branch will truly declare their independence anew from the Executive branch. I don’t care who the President is — our system of checks and balances ensures that our chief executive will never become a dictator. It also ensures that Congress and the judiciary do not exceed the powers granted to them under our Constitution.

And so we come full circle to local politics. It seems that a person can’t become a higher-up in local party machinery without pledging a loyalty oath to that particular party. This loyalty oath — and I’m not sure whether both parties have them (but I bet they do) — prohibits those members and officials from even being seen at an “opposition” event. Additionally, they are only allowed to support candidates from their party. Since the ultimate measure of support is that person’s vote, a straight-ticket vote is required if the loyalty oath is to be strictly followed. One might argue that anything goes in the privacy of the voting booth, but remember, those officials sign these oaths.

And that’s why I’ll never become a “loyal” party official.

While I am liberal on most social issues (especially about government interfering in people’s private lives — but isn’t that a truly conservative idea as well?), I believe that government must pay for itself without taxing citizens to death or exponentially increasing the national debt. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas or the best candidates; similarly, wackos and nutjobs inhabit the recesses of the two main parties as well as the myriad smaller parties and the non-party affiliated. Sometimes it seems that the wackos and nutjobs — the real extremists — are the ones who control each party’s national agenda.

Perhaps instead of railing about our differences, we might start to build on the things we have in common. We might remember that we’re Americans first, and Republicans and Democrats second. Perhaps reasonable people of both parties can overcome the ignorance and bias of the extremes and start working together for the sake of our community and nation. As Benjamin Franklin once said, “We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately.”



John Bartus performs Friday and Saturday with Storm Watch at Boondocks, Wednesday at Tarpon Creek at the Holiday Inn Express, Thursday at Sparky’s Landing, and Sunday and Monday evenings at the Lighthouse Grill at Faro Blanco.


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