NEWS FLASH: The next president of the United States, like the last 29, will be a Republican or a Democrat.
That's not news, you say? But surely it must be. Haven't we been hearing for months from accomplished and influential people — people like former Disney CEO Michael Eisner, private-equity investor Peter Ackerman, and former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman — that the post-partisan hour was finally at hand? Weren't legions of Americans said to be ready to turn their backs on the old two-party system, with all its divisiveness and ideological rigidity? Haven't tens of millions of dollars been donated to Americans Elect, the widely praised anti-special-interest reform group intent on anointing a genuinely bipartisan ticket — a presidential candidate from one party and a vice-presidential running mate from the other — and setting up a three-way race for the White House in November?
All quite true. And all quite irrelevant. Americans Elect has plenty of money, an elegant web presence, and such organizational savvy that as of last week it had wrote John Adams in 1780. His great rival Thomas Jefferson agreed: "If I could not go to heaven but with a political party, I would not go there at all." Yet all their anti-partisan pieties didn't keep Adams and Jefferson from competing vigorously against each other as nominees of the first two American political parties, the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans.
More than 225 years later, Americans by the millions follow the Adams/Jefferson pattern, lamenting partisanship in the abstract while sustaining it in practice.
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