The Postpartisan Folly
THE SOURCE: “The Mirage” by Sean Wilentz, in The New Republic, Nov. 17, 2011.
Remember the last time Americans elected a "postpartisan" president? Why, it was only four years ago! It was Barack Obama who hoped to soar above the sordid political wars with “eloquence, rational policies, and good faith,” writes Princeton historian Sean Wilentz. After Obama’s first year in office, however, Gallup found that he was the most polarizing president in the history of its polling efforts.
The American yearning for a politics without partisan conflict is as old as the republic, Wilentz says. It’s also a snare and a delusion. President George Washington gave voice to it in his Farewell Address of 1796, famously warning that political parties were not “natural,” and that they were led by “artful and enterprising men” (which he did not intend as a compliment). Yet Washington’s deeds belied his words—the very timing of his speech was highly partisan. Having long before decided not to accept a third term, Washington informed his vice president and chosen successor, the Federalist John Adams, but delayed a public announcement until he delivered the Farewell Address in September of that election year, handicapping Adams’s rival, Thomas Jefferson.
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