John Oliver’s excellent takedown of the country’s broken primary/caucus/presidential candidate nominating system on Sunday’s Last Week Tonight reminded me of a much earlier takedown of the entire political party system by someone who knew a thing or two about politics: George Washington. Here’s what he wrote in his farewell to the nation back in 1796, with admonitions and warnings that will seem all too prescient to American voters in the 21st century:
I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State …. 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 … 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 the interest and duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it.
They serve to organize faction, to give it an artificial and extraordinary force; to put, in the place of the delegated will of the nation the will of a party, often a small but artful and enterprising minority of the community; and, according to the alternate triumphs of different parties, to make the public administration the mirror of the ill-concerted and incongruous projects of faction, rather than the organ of consistent and wholesome plans digested by common counsels and modified by mutual interests.
If only we had listened.