The Forward Party Promises A New Era
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In Houston, Forward Party leaders presented their vision for a less partisan, more hopeful America. Union ForwardRead More
On September 24, the Forward Party launched their inaugural national tour in Houston to a crowd of more than a thousand independents—mostly former Democrats and Republicans—all of whom found themselves abandoned by the legacy party with which they once identified.
In a system that provides no representation for the nearly half of Americans who do not affiliate with any party, the Forward Party has given them a voice.
In Houston, I sat next to a family with three children, including a newborn baby. They had traveled from New Mexico, but in the place of exhaustion was exhilaration.
The young father of the family told me that the last era in which he could have seen himself identifying with one of the major parties was 40 years ago, around the time he was born. Throughout his entire adult life, he has remained disillusioned with the two-party system.
A young woman who had flown to Houston from New York City for the event expressed to me how partisanship was seeping into her everyday life. She increasingly felt that she could not share her thoughts without inviting open scorn from people who perceived her disagreement as an attack on the whole ideology to which they have attached their identity.
She conveyed her disgust with both the 45th and 46th presidents, yet had found it rare to bring this up without it being followed by incredulous reactions that she could not just embrace one tribe or the other on the basis that they were not as terrible.
Another couple had traveled from just four miles away after hearing about the party for the first time several weeks earlier. The two men were both professors, and one told me that he was a longtime Democrat who, while deeply concerned with the direction of the Republican Party, had lost faith that his own party was fighting for him. As polarization ramped up in recent years, he had chosen to step away from the political sphere entirely.
During the first break between panels, he found me in the crowd in an attempt to put into words a sense of rekindling hope that I could see emerging in his eyes. After initially telling me that he had only dropped by and would most likely head home after the first panel, he now said that he was eager to see the rest of the event and follow the party’s rise in the months ahead.
The Americans who showed up in Houston came from all different stripes and parties, yet their stories share a common thread.
In a system that provides no representation for the nearly half of Americans who do not affiliate with any party, the Forward Party has given them a voice.
Neither progressivism nor conservatism are inherently destructive; the politicians who wield these ideologies as tools to divide us and achieve more partisan power are destructive.
Andrew Yang, the party’s founder and co-chairperson, strode onto the stage to introduce the new party with the same energy and enthusiasm that catapulted him onto the national stage just three years ago.
Microphone feedback rang briefly as he began, though the room broke into laughter when he joked that it was the Democrats’ fault.
Yang emphasized that the Forward Party represents an effort to build a new kind of party, not just a new party. He argued that to approach building a political party using the same strategy as the ones in power who never fail to fail their people would only produce more of the same results.
In stark contrast to the legacy parties’ approach of setting a rigid national agenda and harassing anyone who disagrees with it, Forward’s leadership wants to let local and state-level parties take the lead and build a political movement that works for their community.
The three pillars of the party’s platform aim to provide a big tent for Americans to unite on the simple things that made our country great: free people, thriving communities, and vibrant democracy.
Yang presented the paramount challenge in the United States as a matter of choice. A system with two viable parties leaves voters with only one viable alternative if they are dissatisfied with the direction of the country. The former entrepreneur compared this system to ice cream flavors, rhetorically asking the crowd if they would be happy with only vanilla and chocolate.
The concept of representation feels distant to modern Americans. In fact, only 54% are affiliated with one of the two major parties. An estimated 46% of Americans are thus left with no representation in government. The Forward Party’s foremost proposal to expanding choice and representation is voting reform that eliminates the spoiler effect and allows new parties to compete.
Ranked-choice voting (RCV) has been adopted by Alaska and Maine in recent years, and voters in Nevada will decide in November whether to switch to the system. By allowing voters to rank candidates in order of preference, one can cast a ballot for any candidate they want with the assurance that their vote would be transferred to a second choice and still counted if their first choice loses.
Yang reasoned that even if new parties did not win elections in the short term, the prospect of viable outside challengers would drive the major parties towards coalition-building and away from polarization. Partisanship, he argued, is an electorally successful strategy only because our system lacks choices.
The Forward Party was launched in response to the legacy parties settling into their perceived roles as political combatants who are responsible for carrying their party to victory, not their country.
Forwardists are less concerned with the differences between liberals and conservatives than they are with those between patriots and partisans. Neither progressivism nor conservatism are inherently destructive; the politicians who wield these ideologies as tools to divide us and achieve more partisan power are destructive.
It is with this spirit that the new party hopes to forge a strong base that will, in time, evolve into a nationally competitive party. The principal goal of the party is to serve as a counterweight to rampant polarization and corruption.
In a polarized environment like the country is in today, it only takes a handful of elected officials to deny either of the two parties a partisan majority in many state legislatures.
Christine Todd Whitman, the former Republican Governor of New Jersey and now the Forward Party’s co-chair, brought up voters’ chief question that comes along with that strategy: what will a Forwardist candidate’s platform look like?
She answered that beyond the party’s three fundamental principles—free people, thriving communities, and vibrant democracy—campaign platforms will be dictated by the candidates, not the party.
The former governor maintained that the party’s focus is on policies like RCV and open primaries which open the door for a system with three or more parties. Beyond these core reforms that aim to root out partisanship from our system, a Forwardist candidate’s platform will be their own creation.
Nearly every speaker at the event impressed upon supporters that the amount of on-the-ground, hard work required to establish a viable and vibrant new party is daunting, yet it is a necessary key to getting the party off the ground.
Party leaders repeated that even if it will take years to become nationally competitive, it will not necessarily take years to have a dramatic impact on U.S. politics.
The process of building out local and state Forward Party chapters aims to have a more immediate effect in pushing back on the rampant partisanship that plagues our political system. If nothing else, the party’s rise signals to the major parties that Americans are losing faith in their ability to safeguard our republic and maintain a basic commitment to peace.
Out of over 500,000 elected offices in the U.S., an estimated 70% of them are uncontested. Most are local offices—council members, school boards, mayors—which have the most impact on Americans’ daily lives. The decentralized nature of U.S. politics calls for a decentralized approach to reforming it.
Should the Forward Party succeed in growing its ranks of local officials, it has the potential to then take candidates to state legislatures and challenge the ability of legacy parties to hold a simple partisan majority.
Yang asked the crowd how many U.S. senators it takes to dictate policy. The answer in 2022? One. In a polarized environment like the country is in today, it only takes a handful of elected officials to deny either of the two parties a partisan majority in many state legislatures.
Alaska is an example of a state that has elected a number of independents to the state senate, shifting their legislature towards a system run by ideologically diverse governing coalitions rather than simple partisan majorities. In order to pass legislation, Alaska’s elected officials now have no choice but to compromise with people of different partisan affiliations.
The state went on in November 2020 to approve a ballot measure providing for top-four ranked-choice voting and increased disclosure requirements for dark money contributions greater than $2,000. The Forward Party’s goal of breaking partisan power in state legislatures has been tested and is now successfully eroding partisanship in Alaska.
Ballot measures that propose a new law directly to the voters are allowed in twenty-five states, and Alaska’s new voting and campaign finance reforms can be replicated in these states.
In the long term, success in local and state elections would provide the party with the capacity to compete on a national scale.
Campaign finance reform and dark money disclosures were an important element of former Governor Whitman’s pitch for her new party. She opened up to the audience about her consideration of a campaign for U.S. Senate in 2000 as a Republican.
Encouraged by the national party to run, she traveled to Washington, D.C. to speak with the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC).
The NRSC, founded in 1916, is tasked with electing Republicans to the Senate. During the 2000 election cycle, Senator Mitch McConnell was the chairman of the NRSC. Traditionally, the committee’s efforts have included fundraising, campaign events, and guidance to candidates on the party’s platform.
In their first meeting, McConnell told Whitman that if she said one word about campaign finance reform, she would not receive a dime from the NRSC.
Whitman’s parents had met at a Republican Party convention in the 1930s, and the ethos of the GOP had been a part of her family’s blood for decades. She was practically as much a Republican as she was an American. Today, she cannot recognize the party that brought her parents together.
The former governor abandoned the idea of a Senate run upon seeing for herself the machinery of the two-party system.
Two former U.S. House Representatives joined the Forward Party upon its merger in July with the Serve America Movement (SAM) and the Renew America Movement (RAM): Joe Sestak, a former Democrat from Pennsylvania, and David Jolly, a former Republican from Florida.
Jolly announced his departure from the Republican Party in 2018, and two years later he was named the chairman of SAM. Speaking in Houston on the 24th, the former Florida representative brought a fiery advocacy to his newly-expanded party’s rise.
He went after Democratic political consultant James Carville for his dismissal of the Forward Party on the basis of Ralph Nader and Jill Stein acting as spoiler candidates that helped elect Presidents George Bush in 2000 and Donald Trump in 2016. Speakers in Houston illustrated how the major parties orchestrated an electoral system that trivializes their challengers and locks them into minor party status.
Restrictive ballot access laws and media outlets that serve as useful idiots to partisan interests have successfully suppressed those working outside the major parties. Minor parties in recent decades have been characterized by an inability to achieve much beyond getting candidates on ballots.
In order to win, a national candidate from outside of the major parties would need to overcome: media coverage emphasizing their role as a spoiler, partisan attacks from whichever side feels threatened by them, and colossal gaps in fundraising. The sophisticated campaign operations that minor parties go up against by focusing on state and national elections are insurmountable without a vibrant base.
A change in the way we vote is essential to unlocking representation for the 43% of Americans who do not affiliate with either major party.
The Democratic and Republican parties of 2022 are locked in a grand power struggle that has eroded America’s foundation as a republic. Nearly half of us take no part in their spiteful power games, yet representation in government only reflects the 54% who affiliate with a major party.
Jolly expressed his frustrated astonishment that members of the major parties would rather attack those who are trying to offer an alternative to a system with record levels of dissatisfaction than question if they have perhaps fallen short in their service to the American people:
“Don’t let them blame you for exercising your own politics. Ask them why they have failed to attract the people that are in this room.”
“A republic, if you can keep it.”
A famed tale from America’s revolutionary era goes that when Benjamin Franklin stepped outside of Independence Hall in Philadelphia after the 1787 Constitutional Convention, an old woman shouted to him “Doctor, what have we got? A republic or a monarchy?”
“A republic, if you can keep it,” was Franklin’s shrewd response.
74 years later, the American Civil War tested the resolve of the young republic in what remains our country’s deadliest conflict. More than 600,000 of our countrymen lost their lives in the struggle to end slavery and expand the reach of freedom.
76 years after the defeat of the Confederate States of America, imperialist Nazi Germany challenged our experiment in self-government to its core. Close to half a million U.S. soldiers gave their lives to secure their republic’s survival for another century.
The American republic now sits 77 years removed from the end of World War II. A famous maxim of unknown origin emphasizes this pattern and the widespread belief among modern Americans that in 2022, we face challenges unparalleled since the days of President Franklin Roosevelt:
“History does not repeat itself, but it rhymes.”
— Unknown (most commonly attributed to Mark Twain)
Six years before the outbreak of the Civil War, a group of abolitionists formed the Republican Party to challenge the major parties of the 19th century as the republic slid into polarization.
Andrew Yang invoked the creation of the GOP in 1854 to underscore his conviction that a similar approach is necessary in 2022. Whether the outbreak of the Civil War was due to unavoidable factionalism or a direct result of Abraham Lincoln’s 1860 election is a debated point.
The first GOP president’s triumph in securing the future of the republic for a generation to come, however, is not debated.
This is not to say that the Forward Party should focus their efforts on a 2024 presidential campaign. The history of third parties in the U.S. is littered with outsider candidates for president who ran their campaigns at the expense of a durable foundation for their parties.
Legacy parties that dominated the first half of 19th-century America allowed growing factionalism over slavery to fester for years, unable to produce a tenable solution until their members were forced out of office by upstart patriots who had lost faith in the major parties’ ability to govern.
The emergence of a new party in the 1850s challenged the traditional party system early enough that the Democratic and Whig parties had lost their power by the time that war broke out. Ideological factionalism was challenged by patriotic republicanism, and America rose from the bloodiest war in our history a stronger, more united country.
In 21st-century America, the Republican and Democratic parties are both legacy parties which concerns themselves more with playing futile political games than securing another generation of the republic’s promise of liberty and self-governance.
Americans find the idea of civil war feels closer to reality today than it has since the days of Lincoln. This time, we have a historical example to gain insight from.
The early 21st century presents America with the earnest challenge of keeping the republic established nearly 250 years ago. Our first experience with dangerous factionalism brought about the collapse of the legacy party system, thus ensuring the Union itself would not face collapse.
The Forward Party contends that in 2022, we must make the same decision: the legacy party system must come to an end or it could provoke a crisis that challenges our identity as a constitutional republic.
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