Reviving Washington: Third parties, factions and the power of the people

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In 1796 George Washington gave the first Presidential Farewell Address to the Nation. In his delivery, he took the opportunity to give the nation advice that, with the upcoming election, would do it good to heed. One of the main things he warned against was political factions.

Washington said, “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…”

George Washington. (Photo courtesy of Mike Fitzpatrick on Flickr Creative Commons)
George Washington. (Photo courtesy of Mike Fitzpatrick on Flickr Creative Commons)

Washington warned against political factions because they take away from the fair discussion and debate on which democracy is mounted. When people begin to take sides, it usually due to the polarization of issues by political leaders rallying for support. When this happens, it becomes hard to distinguish whether you support a party’s ideas, or the party leader’s oversimplification of the issues. Although the idea of our country slipping into the dark-abyss of despotism seems like a long shot, it is not impossible. To prevent this from happening, our government is set up the way it is: checks and balances via political branches and representation. The most important aspect of representation: voting.

  • “Voting doesn’t matter because it doesn’t actually determine the president.”
  • “I’m voting for [so and so] because [other so and so] is [insert critique here].”
  • “I can’t vote for [candidate of specific political party] because I’m a part of [opposing political party].”

Do any of these sound familiar?

Perhaps there is no such thing as an actual deciding vote, because more goes into elections than just counting the decisions of American citizens. However, that should not take away from the process that is the defining quality of democracy. Voting is your voice and your opinion. Everyone has the ability to make an informed decision in an election. In order to have a functioning society, everyone must use this ability regardless of whether the candidate you support wins.

Many believe that voting for a third-party candidate is a waste of time because it takes away from the election between the two popular parties. This is the exact mentality against which Washington warned. People become consumed with the idea that their parties are the best, and even when they do not agree with how the faction is composing itself, voting for another political party would seem like a compromise. The point of democracy is to exercise your right to vote and do so in an informed manner. In today’s age, politics are too complex for every voter to be fully republican or fully democratic. Therefore, it takes real consideration to figure out your position.

It would be folly to believe that we could do away with political parties after so long. However, it is not folly to think that political parties can one day see the boundaries they have developed which keep them from being receptive and productive.

Mt. Rushmore. (Photo courtesy of Camelia TWU on Flickr Creative Commons)
Mt. Rushmore. (Photo courtesy of Camelia TWU on Flickr Creative Commons)

Vote for the candidate that you believe will make as great of an effort for the common good as they can. Vote for a candidate based on their judgment, respectability and character. Consider your position, consider the ideas of the candidates and become informed. When you travel abroad will you have to apologize about this candidate? Are you voting for someone because of superficial qualities like gender or race instead of their ideas? Are you voting for a candidate because they make grandiose promises and appearances without realizing they are unrealistic and staged? More importantly, are you voting for someone because you do not want to cast a vote for another candidate?

I am not writing to persuade you to vote for anyone specifically. Not Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump nor Gary Johnson. But I am here to persuade you to vote, even if the choice is difficult. Become informed about the candidates whether they are republican, democrat or third party. Erase the party lines and analyze who the candidates are as people and politicians. It is not stupid or pointless to vote for a third-party candidate if that is truly who you support. It is pointless to go to the poll and put a checkmark next to a name you know nothing about because of some entrenched societal trend like party lines. Do not be at a loss. You have a voice and an opinion. Make an informed decision and be proud. Go vote.

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