It is said, philosophically, that there are no new thoughts, no unexplored concepts – just new ways of expressing what has been previously thought. That is the historical equivalent of saying that History repeats itself only in different detail.

You see, for nearly as long as there has been representative government, people have gravitated toward factions or parties. We know England once had Whigs and Tories and is now dominated by a Labour Party and a Conservative Party. For the pre-Renaissance Florentines, there were the Guelfs and the Ghibellines. In time, the Ghibellines were driven out and the city was dominated by the Guelfs who, unable to live with success, internally feuded and brought partisanship to a new height with the formation of White Guelfs and their sworn adversaries: the Black Guelfs – so stark can be the differences of partisanship.

In the United States, George Washington eschewed party affiliation but soon Federalists did battle with the Democrat-Republican Party (yes a single party of that name). Later, National Republicans did battle with Andrew Jackson’s Democrat Party, before the National Republicans gave way to the Whigs and, in time, the Whigs would give way to the Republican Party we know today. No different were those natural tendencies of people to associate in adversarial ways than is the manner of Yankee and Red Sox fans today.

There are those, however, that believe that they can legislate away such a trivial human nature. Hence, the Open Primary. Today, California Republicans and Democrats hold primaries amongst themselves in June and the winners of those primaries face off in November. Democrat verse Republican – one set of views against another. Proponents of the Open Primary system prefer a system whereby one and all enter a single primary and, in November, the top two vote getters face-off – even if they are both from the same party and of similar views.

Proponents argue that modern day politics in California is simply too partisan, that the current system elects too many ideologues and therefore it is time we move away from the party system. It is, however, an argument without perspective.

In truth, partisanship, even bitter partisanship, is not a bad thing except in a vacuum of leadership. After all, the period from the American Revolution to the adoption of the Bill of Rights – and the writing of the Constitution in between – was the most bitter partisan period in our history. Led by Federalists, our Constitution was written and adopted – but not without virulent opposition. So partisan was the opposition that they did not bother to dream of some clever name for their faction; they simply wanted to be coldly against the drafters – the wanted to be an anti-party, they became Anti-Federalists.

And they were not kind in their opposition. They abused Washington. They labeled the drafters “traitors,” “aspiring despots,” and worse. And the goal of those traitorous Founders according to Anti-Federalists? A “deep laid scheme to enslave us,” a “Colossus of despotism,” or perhaps you prefer: “the most daring attempt to establish a despotic aristocracy among freemen that the world has ever witnessed.” Perhaps you may agree that by comparison, today’s rhetoric can be thought of as downright diplomatic.

Within that caldron of a faction and antifaction was written the greatest governing document in World History, modified with the help of a seething opposition that ensured the passage of our Bill of Rights.

How could that be? Should not such partisanship have failed us and the World? In a word, No. Why? Because leadership makes a difference.

In other words, with our political problems today it is not an age old process, but instead a problem of leadership.

Beyond the arguments of those that came before us, as a practical matter here today, an Open Primary in California would produce a bifurcated, more partisan state and here is why.

Keep in mind, that as you consider these examples, the lifeblood of representative governments is open and continuous discourse.

In San Francisco, by contrast, an Open Primary would guarantee that there would be just two Democrats on the ballot in November. The same could be said in most of Los Angeles. On the other hand, much of the Red portion of our state, the North, the Central Valley, Orange County and more would find nothing but Republicans on the ballot in the end.

Over time, the dynamic would reinforce itself such that neither Party would spend much time or money in the bastions of the other party – increasing voter flight to more comfortable confines. Insulated from such opposition discourse, rather than producing more moderate candidates, more partisan candidates would emerge because the minority voters within the regions would be left behind as the potential winners fight over their core voters. As a result, the system would tend to produce even more partisan legislators not less – the opposite of what the proponents intend. In statewide races, it would put an even higher premium on money because voters would have no easy indentifier.

Proponents are quick to point out that there are states with this system or some variant in play. But their observation however obvious is not persuasive. None of the states in question are anywhere near as diverse demographically or geographically. None have a population or land mass as large as California – nor as many media markets. Combined with the existing gerrymandering, as with many other issues, thoughtful observers simply wouldn’t extrapolate from a smaller state experience to such a large state – just as you cannot make generalizations about the about the dynamics of a small city government to that of a large state government.

In the end, it should be apparent that any effort to replace our system of governing ourselves has less to do with wisdom than false hope. In my view, we have had enough of that lately and far too little leadership.