Andrew Yang's Forward Party has no direction

Yang's party is uninspiring and lacks vision and purpose.

Andrew Yang's Forward Party has no direction

Andrew Yang, a former Democratic presidential candidate, announced Tuesday his new effort to help Americans get out of a stagnant 2-party "duopoly," a new political party that he calls the Forward Party.

Yang's third party name is sunny. Unfortunately, it isn't clear exactly where this party is headed or what problems it would solve.

Yang made a video shaming the scourge polarization. He said it was the result of incentives in media and politics -- particularly gerrymandering, and the way primaries encourage politicians and voters to serve their base more than those in the center. Yang also mentioned unsourced polling data that showed how dissatisfied Americans are with Congress and called for a third party.

Yang's rapid rise to American political stardom has been remarkable.

Yang is correct in stating that disillusionment is widespread with Congress and the major political institutions. They have been losing trust for many years. However, his assessment of the problem is not accurate. Our polarization crisis is caused by more than primary-induced political partisanship and uncompetitive district. There is no reason to believe that his solution, a third party without a clear policy vision and mostly incremental democracy reforms, has a market or could incite the mass movement needed to make it viable.

Yang's rapid rise to fame as a political celebrity in America has been remarkable. Yang, an ex-entrepreneur and political novice, ran a popular campaign during the Democratic presidential primaries in 2019. He leveraged his outsider status to push for universal basic income. Every American should receive $1,000 per month, with no strings attached. This sparked a significant policy debate that earned Yang goodwill. Yang was never a candidate with any real prospects of winning a state but his singular focus on UBI was well-respected by the electorate, earning him a cult-like following online.

Yang's rise in popularity translated into a New York mayoral race earlier this year. Yang was less impressive. He did well in polls, but he was also scrutinized and revealed that he didn't have a coherent worldview. Annie Lowrey, Atlantic's editor, summarized his bizarre run on a New Republic podcast as follows:

He is pushing for all the new spending and unconditional spending but it also has a corporatist streak. He has basically stated that he wants tax cuts, has all of these pro-business, antiregulatory policies and it's an uncommon and unpopular form of politics that you can only see coming out of Silicon Valley. I keep going back and forth asking myself, "Is that really him really far to the right or really, really stuck at the center?" I think the answer is "Yes." I don't know if you can square that circle.

His candidacy was ambiguous and he did not have any political connections to key constituencies. Yang's new political plan seems to be more in line with the confused ideological sensibility of Yang and the lack of political connections to key constituencies that we witnessed during the race.

Yang's simplistic diagnosis of the problem of polarization is first. Yang's focus is on primaries and uncompetitive areas, but he doesn't mention the fact that journalists and political scientists have repeatedly documented how Washington's polarization is asymmetrical. The Republican Party has become more radicalized and less supportive of good-faith governance and has defected unilaterally to majoritarian governance by using practices like the Senate filibuster abuse and the Supreme Court nomination norms. Yang suggested that this is not a matter of one side being forced to hate the other by the way we nominate politicians. It is the result of a radical rightwing party and movement hostile to governance.

Yang also made a common mistake about the nature and causes of polarization. He pointed out that more people identify themselves as independents than Democrats or Republicans in his video, and suggested that this is a sign that there's a need for an alternative party. This thinking leads to the problem that most independents are loyal to one party and "true independents" only 10% of the electorate. There is little evidence that these people are ready to leave the two-party system, even among those in that group. Just 6 percent of voters voted for third-party candidates in 2016's race between the most unpopular major parties candidates for president.

Yang seems to be uninterested at all in engaging with wider ideological conflicts that underpin today's divide between Democrats, Republicans. Although the two parties may be motivated to behave badly by certain electoral cues they receive, they are also locked in existential struggles over the nature and purpose of the republic. There are substantive differences about how democratic the country should become, how multicultural it should be, and how much each citizen and the government should owe them.

Yang's Forward Party does not offer any serious reckoning on these important questions about the American social agreement or the questions that have blue America and red America at odds. He doesn't seem able to think with many ideas. Yang listed the following in his bullet points on his party's platform:

Open primaries and ranked choice voting

Universal basic income

A human-centered economy

Governance based on facts

Modern, efficient government

Tolerance and grace

These are useless buzzwords, except for UBI and open primaries. Although Yang's intention is to sound neutral and solution-oriented, the truth is that Yang doesn't have a clear theory about how society works or what needs to be done.

The new website of the Forward Party doesn't provide much information. Yang's vision is still remarkably vague. Most of the additional policies are experimental, but small-scale democracy reform goals. These include limiting lobbying and convening "civic jury" to influence policymakers. Although Yang's proposals are not unreasonable, they seem to be in proportion to the nation's current crises, which include a warming climate, white nationalist politics, and skyrocketing inequality.

It's notable that a party platform designed to disrupt our political system to make it more democratic doesn't have anything to say about anti-majoritarian characteristics of our democracy such as the filibuster or the Electoral College. Yang's reforms are not difficult for Democrats to adopt in a congressional or local race.

If Yang has a few causes he wants to concentrate on, let's say UBI or democracy reform, history shows that it's better to try to build a movement within Democratic Party rather than trying to do it all alone. Third-party candidates have never been elected president. And third parties are often marginalized at the state or local level in this time period. This is due to structural reasons, such as our nonrepresentational and first-past the-post system, extreme administrative hurdles that prevent third-party ballot access, and the fact that many Americans view third-party candidates as spoilers. However, movements like the tea party, the Democratic Socialists and Bernie Sanders (anti-establishment) have proven that it is possible to disrupt the party system from within much more easily than from the outside.

We can't rule it out that Yang's online fan base and his support for UBI, which has historically had appeal across all ideologies, could make it possible for the Forward Party to gain a significant number of supporters. It is safe to say that most voters will be aware that Yang offers no solution to our political problems.

Yang deserves credit for bringing UBI conversation into mainstream discourse in 2020. He should be more mindful of who is being served when a party seems to not be asking.

Updated Date: 02 November 2021, 15:38

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