I cringe every time someone describes themselves as a “die-hard Republican” or “committed Democrat” or some other phrase that shows an allegiance to a political party.

Joining a political party is, to me, a surrender of independence, an unwillingness to think on your own and a dependence on the agenda of others. I worked inside politics for a number of years but I never joined one party or the other.

I’m not a Democrat.

I’m not a Republican.

I’m an American.

There is a difference.

I find it disheartening that members of each party question the patriotism of the other side because they don’t agree on issues.

This nation was founded on the concept of freedoms: Freedom of speech, freedom to choose, freedom to have differing opinions.

Political parties want to stifle those freedoms by demanding adherence to lockstep beliefs based on ideologies that limit freedom. Both parties have become dominated by extremists. There’s no room for bipartisanship, no room for coalition building, no room for compromise.

“My way or the highway,” my granddaddy used to say. That may be OK in a totalitarian world but it has no place in a democratic republic.

That’s why this nation is in the mess it faces right now. Compromise is a dirty word. So is listening to opposing points of views. Debates become shoutfests and become brawls.  Anyone who questions is branded as “unpatriotic” or worse. Reasoned thinking is replaced by buzzwords and insults.

Look at the signs waved at any rally, be it a Tea Party gathering or a rally by liberals.  The words on too many signs are the same: Mean, filled with hate and disregard for the views of others.

Yet in a free society, we must tolerate the hate along with those who seek a more balanced solution. That’s why the Supreme Court was right to rule that a fundamentalist church that uses hate of gays to dishonor veterans who died in war is free speech. What they are doing may be disgusting but it must be allowed in a free society.  And that’s why we have the Patriot Guard, a determined and dedicated group of motorcyclists — mostly vets — who attend the funerals and act as human shields to keep those demonstrators out of the view of the families who suffered the loss.

Sadly, both political parties promote hate as part of their agenda. Both use stereotypes to try and destroy their opposition.  Both contribute to a system that is flawed and out-of-control. Neither puts America first because doing so conflicts with the agendas of both the right and the left.

It’s all about power.

It’s all about control.

It’s all about suppression of freedom.

George Washington, in his farewell address as President, said:

I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the state, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party, generally.

This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.

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.

Without looking forward to an extremity of this kind, (which nevertheless ought not to be entirely out of sight,) the common and continual mischiefs of the spirit of party are sufficient to make it the interest and 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 find a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions. Thus the policy and the will of one country are subjected to the policy and will of another.

There is an opinion, that parties in free countries are useful checks upon the administration of the Government, and serve to keep alive the spirit of Liberty. This within certain limits is probably true; and in Governments of a Monarchical cast, Patriotism may look with indulgence, if not with favor, upon the spirit of party. But in those of the popular character, in Governments purely elective, it is a spirit not to be encouraged. From their natural tendency, it is certain there will always be enough of that spirit for every salutary purpose. And, there being constant danger of excess, the effort ought to be, by force of public opinion, to mitigate and assuage it. A fire not to be quenched, it demands a uniform vigilance to prevent its bursting into a flame, lest, instead of warming, it should consume.

Our first President recognized the danger posed by politics and the parties that control the process.

Too bad our current elected leaders — and those who support them — vow allegiance first to a political party and not to a special place called America.

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