By nature, I’m a skeptical guy. So, when a few retired or defeated pols offered up a new centrist political party recently I wasn’t as quick to embrace it as you might think I would be.
The new Forward Party is the project of Andrew Yang, a wealthy tech entrepreneur and failed Democratic candidate for President and for Mayor of New York. He’s joined by former New Jersey Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and former Florida Republican Congressman David Jolly, now a Never Trumper.
Here are the principles Forward puts out there:
- Diverse Thinking Isn’t Just Welcome, It’s Required
The Forward Party will welcome new ideas and fearless conversations around the issues of the day. We won’t silence debate or refuse to adapt to the modern world.
- Bottom-Up, Not Top Down
The Forward Party will empower leaders to find solutions that work in their communities. We won’t dictate a rigid, top down policy platform and expect it to work for all Americans.
- No Purity Tests
The Forward Party will create a political home for everyone willing to set aside the partisan extremes and find practical ways to make this country better. We won’t be checking IDs to see if people are Democrats, Republicans, or Independents.
- More Listening, Less Talking
The Forward Party will ask you what we can do for your community. We will not ask what your community can do for us.
- Work Together, Not Against
The Forward Party will strive for collaborative solutions, make sure they work, and try something else if they don’t. We won’t ignore problems so that we can use them to drive wedges between Americans; nothing gets done when opposing views are treated like enemy positions.
- Grace and Tolerance
The Forward Party will approach each other with grace and tolerance, finding ways to pick people back up rather than knock them down. We won’t cancel people or cast them out of the party for not falling in line.
I gotta love that.
Forward doesn’t take specific positions on any issue, but the party does advocate for three systemic reforms: ranked choice voting, nonpartisan redistricting and open primaries. I would add “fusion”, which is the ability for a candidate to run on more than one party’s ticket and add together those votes.
Fusion is crucial because a lot of voters (like me) will be reluctant to vote for a Forward candidate if it means I’m taking a vote away from, in my case, a Democrat, even one that is much more liberal than I am. Because, while I have my differences with the hard-left in the Democratic Party, those differences pale in comparison to my disagreements with the hard-right in the Republican Party. (For this reason it would make sense for Forward to concentrate its efforts on the eight states that allow fusion voting: Connecticut, Delaware, Idaho, Mississippi, New York, Oregon, South Carolina and Vermont.)
And that is exactly the dilemma that Forward seeks to address. I think of myself as a nonpartisan Democrat. I vote for Democrats because I have no real alternative, not because I embrace everything that the party has come to stand for. I’m a realist, not a true believer. And, in fact, that’s what’s driving American politics today: negative partisanship. It’s not so much that most of vote for a party; we’re voting against the other guys. Wouldn’t it be great to have something to vote for again?
But, without fusion voting I still hesitate to be all-in with Forward. I don’t want to help elect Republicans. That’s negative partisanship at work.
And then there’s just the difficulty of forming a third party in our system. I thought New York Times columnist Jamelle Bouie did a good job of pointing out the pitfalls. His analysis is that in the rare cases in which third parties have been even somewhat successful, they haven’t been voices of moderation but rather places for “radicals” to go. He cites abolitionists and the formation of the Republican Party.
Also, though Bouie didn’t make this point himself, when you think about it, Donald Trump essentially formed a third party and took over the old Republicans — and he did it in a matter of months. That party used to be the party of business and free trade and now it’s the home of blood and soil populists who favor protectionism. It’s a new party under the same name.
My counter-argument is that what really happened with Trump wasn’t necessarily the pent up demand for new policies (Trump ran a pretty much policy-free campaign), but a frustration that neither party spoke for a critical mass of Americans. A large part of Trump’s appeal was that he didn’t sound like every other politician. Even when he said offensive and stupid stuff (which was most of the time), a lot of voters heard it as refreshingly different. Even his obvious lies sounded more genuine than the carefully parsed and focus group tested language coming out of everybody else.
My point is that Trump provided an off ramp for people fed up with the two existing parties, and it was so attractive that it actually resulted in the overthrow of one of them.
So, my hope for Forward is that it could provide an alternative route out of the existing two party choice. I’m hopeful (but not certain) that a lot of Trump voters didn’t vote for the guy because they like or respect him, but simply because he offered a way to express their displeasure at the establishment of both parties. They weren’t voting so much for any specific policies (which both candidate Trump and Forward shy away from) as they were for breaking away from the old political dichotomy.
And my further hope is that Forward might offer a better, more productive, more positive outlet for those of us who don’t much like either party these days. Forward plans to start running candidates in 2023. It’s a long-shot that they will be successful, but let’s give them a chance.
Finally, the whole project presents an interesting question that I’ve been thinking about for a long time: is it possible to motivate moderates on this kind of scale? After all, the point of being a moderate is to be reasonable, to see all sides of an issue. It’s the opposite of passion and it’s passion that fuels the two major parties and all advocacy groups. The very personal traits that would attract someone to a party like Forward might also mitigate against getting involved in the actual work of a political party. Passionate moderate seems like an oxymoron.