Let’s Try Going Forward

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.

Forward’s platform and principles are a stripped down version of what appears here on YSDA’s Principles of Moderation.

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.

Published by dave cieslewicz

Madison/Upper Peninsula based writer. Mayor of Madison, WI from 2003 to 2011.

11 thoughts on “Let’s Try Going Forward

  1. Thanks for this post. I need to educate myself on fusion, my impression is that ranked choice voting could adequately address the problem of voting against rather than voting for candidates. Regardless, no third party is viable nor would any receive my support until the fusion and/or ranked choice and/or any other idea can allow us to vote in a way that doesn’t waste our votes.

    So, first things first. We need election reform (but not the kind that Republicans are after! I’m talking about increasing democracy, not decreasing it). We need some way, any way, that when you vote for a candidate you like, even if they’re not a D or R, you don’t throw away your vote. And we need some way, any way, that candidates who aren’t D or R to have a reasonable path to getting on the ballot and getting their message out to voters.

    How can this part happen? Is it possible to pressure Democrats to go for this even if it means less power for them in the long term? Is this something that can be stared at the County or Municipal level or would it have to be State?

    Once we can have that, positive things for the majority of the country will inevitably follow. Not without difficulty – because the minority of the country that has disproportionate power under the current paradigm are not going to just go along with this.

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  2. Forward is DOA. They won’t get anywhere by being nice. They’re going to have to take a truthful, controversial stand on something and then see what happens. That’s what Trump did (“Rosie O’Donnell is a fat pig”) and it was very risky but people were drawn to him because he told the truth, at least on that one obvious thing.

    Some suggestions: “Joe Biden is senile.” “Kamala…dumbest VP ever” “Fiat money is dead, Bitcoin is the future” “Rosie O’Donnell is still a fat pig “

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    1. Yeah, I’m in a way I’m trying to interpret your comment that this party doesn’t actually take a stand and stake a position in any issue (yet). They do have to do that and it’s weak not to. We don’t need weak.

      But then your examples are just ad hominem attacks, which are entertainment, not leadership or problem solving.

      Regardless, I don’t specifically care about *this* 3rd party, but I do care about the ability of 3rd, 4th, 5th, etc. party’s ability to gain traction. We need diversity of representation, debate, compromise, and progress. We as a people are not only of 2 opinions on how things should be. Our government should represent that.

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      1. Ad hominens? Yes. But people forget how big a breakthrough “Rosie O’Donnell is a fat pig” was. No politician could ever survive saying something like that. And at the same time everyone knew it was true. Trump showed he wasn’t a politician. Now in hindsight people like Scott Adams think it was calculated persuasion. I don’t think so … saw enough of Trump blowing smoke on The Apprentice to know the difference. It was just a refreshingly honest take.

        What is Foward party’s refreshingly honest take, i.e., something everyone knows is true yet few will admit?

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      2. My answer is that Forward’s honest take is that most Americans aren’t extreme in either direction. And they don’t have positions that are consistent with either party’s platform. They’re generally pro-choice, but with caveats and reservations. They may not like the term “systemic racism” but they know it exists in at least some limited forms. They’re for some mild forms of gun control. They like the jobs big companies provide, but they think they sometimes rip them off. They want a strong national defense, but they think defense contractors are making out like bandits. They know climate change is a big problem, but they don’t like being lectured about it by self-righteous enviros. And etc.

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      3. To me the honest take is that we should have something that resembles democracy as our political system. Democracy has been a refreshingly honest idea for centuries that nobody ever quite lives up to for long. If anyone wants to counter that we indeed do have democracy in the US I have a bridge to sell them.

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  3. I really was into Andrew Yang at first. Watching him morph every which way to appeal to different constituencies has shown me that he is absolutely not some breath of fresh air, tell-it-like-it-is independent. He’s completely vapid and unprincipled. He’s got a lame personality to boot.

    There is an appetite for alternatives to the two parties, but I don’t think these folks are willing to think seriously about how to develop grassroots support. I see this going the way of the Mike Bloomberg campaign.

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    1. I don’t care two toots about this party beyond their bringing attention to the idea that we desperately need more choices than D or R. Whatever they can do to convince more people to consider this frustratingly obvious fact is great. Perhaps once enough people will admit the sky is blue we can change our stupid laws.

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  4. Now I see Forward Party and Andrew Yang both follow Steven Olikara on Twitter. I liked Olikara in the recent Dem debate but now wonder: is Forward going to attract all the flotsam and jetsam that can’t gain traction elsewhere? Could become very chaotic.

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