Blogs > Cliopatria > Partisanship Run Wild

Feb 19, 2005 9:08 pm

Partisanship Run Wild

Reading Ron Chernow's biography on Hamilton has made me stop and think about the rampant partisanship of our times.

I couldn't help but think that maybe both Dems and Repubs have succumbed to the same demotic blind partisanship of the early Republic.

To read that Jefferson, with no evidence, persuaded himself that Hamilton wanted to destroy the government and replace it with a monarchy is to be reminded that politics can unhinge even highly intelligent people. When Jefferson went to George Washington with his concerns Washington sensibly stood by Hamilton. Jefferson went away thinking that Washington, now old, had become the unwitting tool of his treasury secretary.

We tend to look back on those early days in the history of American politics before the birth of political parties and smile condescendingly when we read that people Like Washington and Adams were demoralized by the partisanship. Oh, that's just politics, we say. The Founders were naive to think they could govern in such a manner as to stand above politics--as if politics was like the Revolution, one for all and all for one in a great glorious cause--with the dissenters playing the role of treasonous villains who could safely be cast as contumelious liars and thieves.

But it is impossible to read about the ordeal men like Hamilton went through at the hands of their political enemies and not think .... we should take a hard long look in the mirror.

I am personally just sick of the partisanship that marks American politics today. It is beyond the pale... and not much good will come of it.

There is embedded in our political traditions unfortunately a proclivity toward extreme partisanship. Periodically it has surfaced throughout our history, first in the 1790s, then again in the 1820s, then again during the 1850s, then again in the era of Reconstruction.

The common thread running through all of these periods is an inclination on the part of people on all sides to think that 1. they alone should be able to define what it means to be an American and 2. their enemies are out to destroy the America they love.

In their common approach to politics partisans demonstrate that they have more in common than they would care to admit. But this is hardly surprising. We have all been shaped by the Revolution and the Revolution taught an enduring lesson, often overlooked, that politics pits friends of liberty against enemies of liberty and that the struggle between them is the struggle for the soul of America.

I do not take comfort from this history. Knowing that the charge of treason runs through our history like a powerfully flowing blotchy bumpy ugly vein does nothing to lessen the effect of the horrid eyes-averting sight.

But it does make me wish for politicians who will find a way to escape this history. As President Bush said in 2000, we need a uniter not a divider.

He was right.

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HNN - 2/18/2005

I hope to be setting a good example.

Van L. Hayhow - 2/18/2005

We see the same thing on this web site. Posters and writers from both the left and the right implying that the other side of the issue, any issue, is immoral etc. etc. Its a shame.