“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.”
~ George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)
This election year, more than any other before, has increased my understanding of what Washington was saying here. In essence, he is saying that when mommy and daddy fight, no matter who “wins”, the kids are the real losers. Today, as we sink deeper and deeper into the nanny state, when the two major parties fight, no matter which one wins, the citizens lose.
Over the years, even in disagreement, I have rationalized a vote for the Republican as the right thing to do because I have always believed that a 60% conservative Republican is always better than a 100% progressive Democrat. But today…well, today is different. For the first time since I first voted in a national election (for Ronald Reagan), I feel like the child of that bad marriage described above.
I finally get what Washington was saying.
Washington was called the “indispensable Man” for a reason – and to borrow a line from Tony Stark about his father Howard (in Iron Man 2): “Dead almost 20 years, you’re still taking me to school…” The Indispensable Man has been dead over 200 years and he is still taking me to school. In the last line of his quote, ”…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 identifies the real battle. Sure, factions fight to win control but the real battle is between the excesses of government and the existence of the liberty guaranteed to every individual.
Dealing with the government is like hitting the tables in Vegas – the first thing you learn is that the house always wins and in politics, government is the “house.”
The Democrat and Republican factions today share two commonalities – they have become nothing more than carrion birds fighting over the same carcass and with the same weapons. They thrash at each other with beak and talon in an escalating war of mutually assured destruction, promising that government will do more, protect more, provide more and spend more in an attempt to secure the largest number of voters seeking largess of government. Every campaign has become about what the government can be made to do for you, not where the lines must be drawn to protect your right to do for yourself.
Membership in a faction is a seductive and intoxicating thing. Banding together to win a contest is seen as the affirmation of our views, the elevation of our beliefs to the level of truth and “rightness” – but we rarely stop to consider the collateral damage – and in a war where both sides use the same weapon (i.e. government), there will always be collateral damage. When we blind ourselves to the real battle between the collective and the individual, we are supporting a process that ends with two major factions indistinguishable from each other except in the means by which they choose to increase the scope and power of government and the manner in which they choose to use that power. In the words of Washington, it “…leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism.”