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An American flag flies over Capitol Hill in Washington. 

Political parties “...become potent engines by which cunning, ambitious, and unprincipled men...will subvert the power of the people...” — George Washington

It is time for all patriotic citizens to dump their political party and register and think independently.

The primary aim of both parties is to stay in power, not to do the people’s will. George Washington was a seer when he said in 1796 that we should discourage the spirit of parties because “ opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passion.” Yup. The Russians have hacked us and the parties are finger-pointing at each other, but the father of our country is right: the problem is in the whole idea of party. Politics in a democracy requires compromise, a concept totally lost on both major parties.

Neither party has earned our loyalty and yet we root for them as if they were a football team. Are we incapable of thinking for ourselves? Are we satisfied to watch the daily circus of wrangling and counter accusation while our health care is a mess, no budget can be passed, one party seeks to undo what the last one did, and our infrastructure crumbles along with our confidence that this country is governable? This can’t end well.

The seven deadly sins are lust, envy, covetousness, anger, gluttony, pride and sloth. The mnemonic device for remembering them is: list enumerates character attributes guaranteeing political success. That used to be a joke. Unfortunately our president owns the whole list in addition to being a serial liar, a misogynist, a cheat and a blowhard. Can we support him simply because he has hijacked a party label? Do we really think he represents what has been great about America? Is he what we stand for? What we strive for? And to be realistic, have Hillary or any of the leaders foisted upon us by political parties earned our trust?

The reform we need is a moral awakening. It starts with the willingness to trust ourselves. We can gather the facts about most issues. Sure, some of them are complex and require experts to guide us, but we should require that they demonstrate expertise, not just political ties. We can demand that we be told the truth, and we can define truth as that which is verifiable. We can be proud of our country and critical of its missteps. We can vow to do better, to stay involved, to help our neighbors. We have proved that we can shoot each other; can we learn to trust each other and to recognize that the pursuit of happiness in the Declaration of Independence is collective, not individual?

Oregon has shown that it can be a leader for other states with the beach bill, the bottle bill, statewide land use planning, vote by mail. Why can’t Oregon be a leader by not paying for political party primaries, by changing all of our statewide and federal offices to nonpartisan, by having a Legislature that decides issues on their merits rather than by party loyalty?

The parties will not willingly cede power. It is up to us, the citizens, to become the caretakers of our country—to take back our right to make collective decisions for the common good, and to reinstill reason, fairness and compassion as the way we do business. Mark Twain had it right: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.”

John Frohnmayer was chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts during the first Bush administration.  He ran as an independent for the U.S. Senate in 2008.


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