The Forward Book and the Forward Party
Forward is now in bookstores and the Forward Party has just launched!
I read Andrew Yang’s new book Forward: Notes on the Future of Our Democracy months ago, and have been anxiously awaiting its release to start talking about the big solutions he now intends to build a movement around, just as he did with universal basic income through his presidential campaign.
First, I do suggest you just read the book, but if you don’t want to do that, I suggest at least listening to at least one of his recent interviews he’s done talking about the goal of his book. And no, it’s not a grift for that sweet sweet book sales money. It’s about convincing people of just how screwed up our system has become, and inspiring them to take action to change it, regardless of party affiliation, in ways that will actually work to reform our entire system so that it actually starts responding to our needs instead of tearing us apart. That’s the kind of thing that takes a book to lead up to.
Here’s the deal: we are facing long-term structural problems full of misaligned incentives. It’s possible to predict with great accuracy which party is going to win most seats in Congress. We know this because of just how many seats are gerrymandered to win. We know that most incumbents are going to be re-elected despite voters pretty much loathing Congress, and we know that closed primaries lead to people in gerrymandered districts only fearing losing their primaries to people even more extreme than they are. We know that first-past-the-post (FPTP) voting leads to winners that lack majority support, and that third parties in the United States lack any real influence because people are afraid to vote for them out of fear of electing the candidates they most dislike as a consequence.
We know those are some of our biggest problems. There are more that also include issues with our media ecosystem, but when we talk root problems, the roots are a system of representative democracy where representatives don’t actually respond to all their voters, and instead only respond to their campaign funders, lobbyists, the rich, and the most extreme people in their base who make sure to vote in primaries instead of just general elections.
We also know there are solutions to these problems, and that these solutions already exist out there in the real world, demonstrating that they work. The two main changes to make as pitched by Yang in his book are open primaries and ranked-choice voting.
Open primaries make it so that all registered voters can vote in primary elections. Right now, in closed primary states, to vote in the Democratic primary, one must be registered as a Democrat. To vote in a Republican primary, one must be registered as a Republican. If someone doesn’t feel either party represents them, they are not allowed to vote, despite their taxes paying for the costs of the elections to be held. In open primary states, an independent voter can vote for a Democrat or a Republican. The difference between closed and open is the difference between a hyperpartisan extreme faction of a party choosing who everyone else gets to vote for in general elections, and a larger more representative less extreme percentage of the population choosing who the rest of the population gets to vote for.
Ranked-choice voting enables people to vote for who they feel would best represent them, regardless of party. People can vote for third parties without any fear that it will help the candidate they most dislike get elected. If their favorite doesn’t get enough votes, their vote goes to their next favorite, and then their next favorite, until someone wins a majority of the vote. The difference between a winner winning with a majority of the vote instead of a plurality of the vote is huge, even if the candidate is the same person. If you’ve never watched it, I highly recommend watching Hasan Minhaj explain.
One difference is that to increase one’s chances of winning, it makes sense to run a positive campaign on what you’re for instead of a negative campaign against your opponents, because of not wanting to piss off the voters who prefer your opponents, but might also rank you if they like you too. RCV also leads to greater diversity of representation.
An example of a state with both open primaries and ranked-choice voting is Alaska. Alaskans regardless of party affiliation vote in the primary election. The top four candidates then go on to the general election where voters then rank their favorites to determine who ends up winning a majority. It is likely this election reform that made it possible for Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski in Alaska to feel she could vote to impeach Trump without losing her next election. Because she knew she was representing all of Alaska instead of just the loudest most extreme part of the population, she faced a different kind of choice than her many colleagues in closed-primary plurality-election states.
These two changes are not the only changes we need to make, but they would go very far to greatly improve our democracy and to pull us back from our extremes. Gerrymandering is definitely another massive problem, although when ranked-choice voting is combined with multi-winner districts as proposed in the Fair Representation Act, that can be solved with RCV too.
The trillion dollar question is what’s the best way of winning these reforms? Andrew Yang’s solution is his founding of the Forward Party. This new third party will be focused on winning these key reforms across the country at the state and local levels. By going the third party route, he hopes to reduce the possibility of these reforms being seen as partisan. A third party that manages to mobilize independents would also serve to apply more pressure for the main two parties to implement RCV so as to prevent the spoiler effect from potentially making them lose elections they otherwise would have won if RCV were in place.
Haven’t third parties been tried over and over again? Yes, but a key difference here is being fully inclusive of all parties. People don’t need to register as a member of the Forward Party. They can be a Forward Democrat, or Forward Republican, or Forward Green, or Forward Libertarian, or Forward independent, etc. What matters most is support for the six core values of the party: ranked-choice voting plus open primaries, universal basic income, human-centered capitalism, fact-based governance, effective and modern government, and grace and tolerance.
Candidates who adopt these values can be in any party, and voters who embrace these values will be encouraged to vote for those candidates, and to win the reforms necessary to enable those candidates to win and exist within a functioning government with better aligned incentives.
I’m already seeing people freaking out about the possibility of a third party leading to Republicans winning even more races, and this raises two questions. Why aren’t any Democrats thinking that a strong independent party could actually benefit them by taking votes from centrist Republicans who may feel no longer at home in today’s Republican party? Also, if the spoiler effect is truly going to destroy the country, why isn’t the solution to immediately pass ranked-choice voting? Why is the standard solution to instead shit on all third parties and blame them for everything?
Seems to me that the blame for every election spoiled by a third party lies square at the feet of the two main parties who simply have chosen to maintain the spoiler effect.
Enough is enough. It’s time to end the spoiler effect so that third party candidates can actually win and also no longer lead to the worst candidates winning. And it’s time to open up all primaries so that we all have the opportunity to decide who are the best candidates to choose among in general elections.
It’s also time to end gerrymandering, and time to automatically register everyone to vote, and time to reduce the influence of large donors, and time to limit the amount of time members of Congress can remain there. It’s time for so many things, because it’s past time to save our representative democracy. Everything depends on our ability to make government actually work for all of us instead of only some of us.
Everything depends on our choosing that of all directions to go, the one that truly matters most to the future of our entire civilization, is FORWARD.
If this all sounds like something you can get behind, then check out the Forward Party website, look over the entire platform as it exists so far, sign up for the mailing list, and even consider volunteering. Let’s save our democracy!
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