Valley Voices

The excesses of political parties threaten the American experiment

Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters before he and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., try to bring up the legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018.
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., speaks with reporters before he and Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., try to bring up the legislation to protect special counsel Robert Mueller, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2018. AP file

The senatorial posturing, preening, pontification and performance aside, the Kavanaugh hearings above all reflected the baneful ills of faction. When asked on “60 Minutes” if he would have insisted on the FBI investigation if he were running for re-election, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona) emphatically said no, he could not.

What has happened to people doing what they believe is right?

Madison in Federalist 10 foresaw today in observing that “Enlightened statesmen will not always be at the helm.” But we can do better, we have done better. It requires that Americans and their leaders study the examples of our enlightened statesmen and heed their teachings. All the checks and balances that the Founders built into our institutions teeter on Americans and their leaders knowing the history of America, its institutions, and its leaders. Sadly, a recent poll from Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation found that about two-thirds of Americans could not pass the citizenship test. About 76 percent were unable to correctly answer why the colonists fought the British; 12 percent thought Dwight Eisenhower served in the Civil War; 74 percent of people over 65 would pass, while only 19 percent of those under 45 would.

jamison
Daniel O. Jamison is an attorney with Dowling Aaron in Fresno. Fresno Bee file

All Americans should imprint on their hearts these words from Washington’s First Inaugural Address:

“There is no truth more thoroughly established, than that there exists in the economy and course of nature, an indissoluble union between virtue and happiness, between duty and advantage, between the genuine maxims of an honest and magnanimous policy, and the solid rewards of public prosperity and felicity… the preservation of… liberty, and the destiny of the Republican model of Government, are justly considered as deeply, perhaps as finally staked, on the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.”

It is an annual tradition for a senator to read in legislative session Washington’s Farewell Address, but Washington’s prophetic warning goes unheeded:

“Let me now ... warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally ... The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge … 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 … turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty… [T]he common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the … duty of a wise people to discourage and restrain it. It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

Sadly, in 1979 the House discontinued its annual tradition for a Member to read this address.

As Edmund Burke maintained, legislators should generally seek the good of the whole based on the reason of the whole. They are elected to represent their constituents for sure, but also to exercise their judgment and conscience. Their constituencies are not foreign nations at war. Congress is a deliberative body of one nation.

What to do? First, vastly improve U.S. History and civics education for grades kindergarten through college. Second, use innovative new communication technologies to reduce the influence of money in politics and reduce the need for candidates to bind themselves to party for money. The amount of money required to mount a contested congressional campaign is patently absurd and undermines “the experiment entrusted to the hands of the American people.” Third, lengthen the short mandatory orientation for new representatives and senators to include at a minimum reading and discussion of not only Washington’s Inaugural and Farewell Addresses, but James Thomas Flexner’s condensed single volume, “Washington: The Indispensable Man.” All incumbents should also be required by congressional rule to read that biography and the two addresses.

Daniel O. Jamison is an attorney with Dowling Aaron Incorporated in Fresno. He can be reached at djamison@dowlingaaron.com

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