I am currently reading Revolutionary Characters: What Made The Founders Different, by Gordon Wood, which is a compilation of biographical essays. I heartily recommend it. Gordon Wood is a national treasure.

In his essay, "The Greatness of George Washington," Wood describes the first president's frustration with American politics at the end of his long public career. Wood writes of Washington's exasperation with the diminished importance of character and virtue in politics. Decrying the "new" spirit of party, Washington complained, "[i]f the members of the Jeffersonian Republican party set up a broomstick as candidate and called it a true son of Liberty or a Democrat or any other epithet that will suit their purpose, it still would command their votes in toto!" But even worse, Washington understood, the Federalists were no better. This was the disadvantage of the party system.

Watching great Democratic statesman dance around the primary election in Connecticut, exhorting Democratic primary voters to return eighteen-year Senate veteran, Joe Lieberman, to Washington, while at the same time hedging their bets and making it clear that they will support whoever receives the party's nomination, I understand Washington's lamentation.

American politics is cyclical. We are once again in a cycle in which party trumps personality. Our elections are rarely about integrity and "distinctions of character;" they are, to borrow a phrase from Wood, "a world in which parties, not great men, [have] become the objects of contention."