By Julius Apostata
The dawn of political parties in the United States was a crisis in the making; in his farewell address, George Washington spent much of his time warning against the formation of these parties, arguing that they are a danger to the country as a whole and potentially despotic. A representation of true republican virtues? Absolutely. Nonetheless, this request was made too late: the first parties had begun with the competition between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans. This would set a trend that would last to the present day. It is worth noting that some of the consequences that Washington warned about have—at least partially—come into fruition. Political division within the country seems stronger than ever, with a population that appears polarized in both directions: On one hand, right-wing populism has coalesced around Trumpism, the worst aspects of which include the full endorsement of conspiracy theories, apologetics for potentially illegal and authoritarian proclivities, and an apparent cult of personality forming around Trump himself. On the other hand, greater support for the far-left has resulted in increasingly illiberal attitudes and actions, including a general contempt for American institutions and making wide-reaching proposals that only exist in Utopia. Such a situation may be disheartening (indeed, it certainly is for me), such that it would seem that no moderate force remains. Yet Andrew Yang would disagree, arguing that the solution isn’t left or right, but forward, creating the aptly named Forward Party. While such a message might be welcomed by many others, including myself, I must seriously look at Yang’s proposed political party and wonder: Could one really have a political party without anything—you know—political?
You may remember Andrew Yang from back in the days of the early 2020 Democratic Primary, where he was among over twenty candidates slated to fight for the presidency in a crowded affair. An easy opportunity to be overlooked in an already crowded field filled with senile, old men? Perhaps for most of the candidates, but Yang was clever enough to know how to stand out; among his proposed initiatives included Universal Basic Income (UBI), which was justified in response to increased automation leading to lower employment, a program which he called the “Freedom Dividend”. Additionally, he advocated for changing the way the United States measures its economic growth, viewing capitalism and corporatism as two distinct economic developments, and instead endorsing an idea of “Human-Centered Capitalism”. A bit technocratic? Perhaps, but this, along with his slogan, Make America Think Harder (MATH), certainly earned him popularity amongst many Democratic voters. Pretty soon, the #YangGang was practically all over social media, to the point where even those outside of the Democratic field associated with Yang. All of this allowed Andrew Yang to meet the necessary fundraising goals needed to qualify for most of the presidential debates. Yet despite a lot of the appeal for these policies, Yang would withdraw shortly after the Iowa Caucus, instead endorsing Biden. It’s senile, old men that win presidential races after all, not genuine policy!
It would seem that after this presidential run, Yang would further distance himself from the Democratic party. He would briefly consider and then file to run in the New York City mayoral election. (Honestly, when the last mayor of New York City was Bill de Blasio, you should have little problem making yourself likable in comparison.) However, despite being an early front-runner, he would ultimately drop out in favor of Eric Adams. This, in conjunction with his disillusion with the party, caused him to leave the Democrats. This is where he, instead, went down a different path; instead of locking himself in his room and nihilistically telling himself that he was stuck in a two-party system (a mode of thought I might occasionally be guilty of), he instead decided to do something unexpected: launch a new political party. In his blog, Yang announced the formation of his Forward Party, describing how it would be on the ballot in all 50 states in 2024. Where credit is due, it certainly is an ambitious and large project; the Forward Party is essentially a merged party between multiple large independence parties, such as the Serve America Movement and Renew America Movement. With such a large new party, Yang will certainly leave a mark in the coming elections. What could go wrong?
Now, you may be wondering: what exactly is my problem with the Forward Party? After all, a return to normalcy of some kind after recent years might be something I am interested in. Well, yes, but what exact stances does the Forward Party take? The answer? The Forward one! Which is… not a real answer. And that, case in point, is the main issue I have with it; in an attempt to be centrist, the Forward Party ironically takes no stance at all on several key issues. To illustrate what I mean, look at Yang’s appearance on CNN (in a rare case where CNN actually asks tough questions) to go over what his new party stands for. In the interview, Jim Acosta presses Yang on the Forward Party’s position on abortion. Yang’s literal answer? When he himself disagrees with the overturning of Roe V Wade, the Forward Party will take the forward position on the most divisive issues. Um… what? What about guns? Will Yang take a hard stance on assault weapons, or appeal to responsible gun ownership? “Again, the common consensus majority is that there should be some rules around background checks and access to firearms but we aren’t getting any of these things, Jim, because the two-party system does not need to deliver any meaningful solution…” he responds. Again, what does this even mean? Yes, the two-party system is frustrating, and yes, there is some consensus on background checks, but what will that actually involve? On both these issues, the Forward Party can’t seem to make up its mind. My criticism of the Forward Party is that it needs to further develop its political identity and solidify its policy proposals if it hopes to survive. Perhaps after this, Yang could finally appeal to the “common sense” majority he so desperately needs approval from. By simply advocating the forward position instead of devising a clear policy direction, Yang appears to make the Forward Party weak on key political issues.
Though I criticize the Forward Party for its lack of direction, we should not forget that such independent parties could prove powerful during election season. Indeed, I would argue that the Forward Party could improve its pitch by learning from other independent parties in the past. Take, for instance, Ross Perot’s presidential run back in 1992. In some parallels to Yang, his campaign promised a halting of outsourcing (another issue plaguing American workers besides automation) and fiscal responsibility, but also promised gun control and creating electronic direct democracy. This concise, clear pitch certainly earned him several favors, and in that presidential election, he earned over 18% of the popular vote, an impressive feat for someone not running as a Democrat or Republican. This led to the creation of the Reform Party to continue Perot’s legacy. Another example of a party that continues to attract votes even though it is outside of the two-party framework is the Libertarian Party (of which I am admittedly biased towards). The Libertarian Party is commonly ridiculed as being, among other things, weak on foreign policy. Cue the famous, “What is Aleppo?” from Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson. Yet, I would argue that this weakness in foreign policy is a clear and concise direction for the libertarian platform; the point of libertarianism (and, by extension, the Libertarian Party) is a rollback of big government, including overseas involvement. It would therefore only be natural that the Libertarian Party would not have an answer to everything happening abroad. Compare this, however, with a political party that states that it has an answer, but that answer is the forward position. One response states that it doesn’t have an answer, while another response claims that there is an answer, but is reluctant to share it. The lesson to be learned here is that it isn’t necessary to appeal to voters at a third-party level on every issue, but it should be made clear what political direction you offer your voters on said issue. This will at least provide a loyal base that understands the objectives you are trying to accomplish instead of simply a sentiment of centrism.
Even though I may have made it sound like I hate the Forward Party, or that I think that Andrew Yang is doomed to fail, I really don’t, even if I myself don’t particularly identify with this brand of politics. I think that Yang’s sentiment regarding increased polarization within our political system is absolutely correct and that many people long for moderation. I would even say that Yang is, to a certain extent, working in the same spirit of George Washington’s farewell address, in which the influence of political parties can pose a serious danger if such polarization continues. While I respect Yang for attempting to bring moderation into public discussion, it must be noted that his new party should take some stance outside of simply being the moderate party. A greater appeal will be needed if the Forward Party hopes to gain any sort of traction, even if this means picking a policy position that not everyone will agree with. Perhaps upon doing this, the Forward Party could potentially be a serious force in our elections, and hopefully make America moderate again.
Thumbnail Credit: Phil Roeder from Des Moines, IA, USA, CC BY 2.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, via Wikimedia Commons