By Philip Foglia

The first known partisan caucus occurred in opposition to John Jay’s negotiated treaty with Great Britain in 1794. That was the unofficial birth of political parties In America. It has been downhill ever since.

What is abundantly clear is that political parties pretend an allegiance to what is best for the country but in reality only do what is the most efficacious method of maintaining their power and their government employment. All you need to know about our current democracy is that polling on term limits indicates that 75 to 80 percent of Americans want term limits for all elective offices yet we do not have it. The answer is quite simple: term limits would not serve the selfish interests of political parties.

It’s not like we weren’t warned. The perils of political parties operating within the government were a nagging concern to our founders. In 1787, while presenting the case for passage of our U.S. Constitution, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, in Federalist Papers number nine and ten, railed against the dangers of political parties and “factions”, believing unchecked, parties would be so divisive as to impair the operation of government. They were right.

Hamilton decried “party rage” while Madison warned that “the public good is disregarded in the conflicts of rival parties”. Madison hoped that elected officials “whose wisdom may best discern the true interest of their country, and whose patriotism and love of justice will be least likely to sacrifice it to temporary or partial considerations”. In a particularly prescient Federalist Papers passage Madison noted however, “It is in vain to say that enlightened statesman will be able to adjust these clashing interests, and render them subservient to the public good. Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm”. One would be hard pressed to draw up a list of enlightened statesmen. A post it note would be all you need for the list.

The venerable Benjamin Franklin thought “the infinite mutual abuse of parties, tearing to pieces the best of characters,” would discourage mature government. John Adams, always unabashedly direct, declared parties “to be dreaded as the greatest political evil under our constitution”.

George Washington was our greatest statesman. King George of England doubted the reports that Washington was retiring to his estate after the Revolutionary War saying, “if he refused becoming King he would be the greatest man in history”. Washington’s Farewell Address devoted a substantial part of the valedictory to the perils of political parties. He wrote, with the counsel of Hamilton and Madison, that political parties were dangerous and would “become potent engines, by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men will be enabled to subvert the power of the people and usurp for themselves the reins of government.” Sounds depressingly familiar does it not? Washington underscores his polemic predicting parties would “enfeeble the public administration.”

Washington’s plain language should have put the country on notice as to the trapdoor that party politics represent. But the warnings fell on deaf ears as the Federalist and Democratic Republican Parties quickly emerged and the Founders concerns realized.

Instead of just concerning themselves with elections, parties have made themselves into institutions of government function that was never intended. Nowhere in the Constitution is there a provision that parties control Congress. Yet they do. Congress has subverted Article 1, Section 5: “Each House may determine the Rules of its Proceedings,” in order to serve party interests. The majority party controls all chairmanships, committee assignments, member item funding and the legislation that will be considered. Instead of conducting the business of the country, they merely garner power for their own interests. Bipartisanship is rendered a cruel hoax.

The current crises underscore the carnage political parties have wrought. Party posturing, genuine hypocrisy and intellectual dishonesty have become the currency of our elected officials trumping the national interest to the disgrace of our body politic.

There is a place for parties in my view, but it should be limited to the electoral process not governing. It irks me when a representative is described as the Democratic Senator from Montana. Shouldn’t it be just the Senator from Montana who represents both Democrats and Republicans alike? Identification with a party should not color one’s judgement where the only consideration should be the good of the country.

When the combined wisdom of Washington, Franklin, Adams, Madison and Hamilton agrees, and is directly at odds with how our government is currently being conducted, one wonders how the country finds its way out of the morass.

We were warned by the best political minds in our nation’s history but fail to heed the message.

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