Encouraged by these poll numbers, former New Jersey Republican governor and Environmental Protection chief (under George W. Bush) Christine Todd Whitman and ex-Representative David Jolly (R-FL), along with former failed presidential and New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang, have joined together to found “Forward,” a new political party, They co-authored an op-ed in the Washington Post, with the title, “Most Third Parties Have Failed. Here’s Why Ours Won’t.” The op-ed then goes on to outline exactly why Forward is likely to be dead-on-arrival.
This op-ed could be the poster child for “bothsidesism,” claiming that both of the existing parties are equally to blame for our current political mess. Its fundamental premise–and the argument for forming a third party–is that both existing parties have been taken over by their extremes. That is so off-base that one has to wonder if the authors live in a Himalayan cave deprived of any news of the outside world.
The Democratic Party is majority center-left. Leftist Democrats, a.k.a. “Progressives,” are a minority within a big-tent party. In contrast, the Republican Party is not even a pup-tent. It is overwhelmingly extreme-right, with only a handful of suspect-centrists left: Romney, Collins, Murkowski.
There is no equivalency here. One existing party wants to preserve democracy, respect the rule of law, address real issues, maintain the rules-based international system that defeated fascism and communism in the twentieth century and provided the framework for the greatest prosperity the planet has ever realized. The other yearns for an authoritarian autocracy comprised of white Christian nationalists, a reprise of the end-times of Germany’s Weimar Republic when the Nazis were positioning themselves to take power, and marches to the tune of “America über Alles.”
The tone of the Whitman-Jolly-Yang op-ed is heavy on kumbaya and short on specific policy prescriptions that have even the remotest chance of becoming law. The authors in essence are asking: “Why can’t we all be friends and agree on common-sense solutions to our problems?” It is remarkable to observe such stunning cluelessness and naivete in times like the present, when a large segment of one party advocates the violent annihilation of the other party.
The history of centrist third parties is not a triumphant one. The most successful such American attempt was Teddy Roosevelt’s Progressive (“Bull Moose”) Party that contested the 1912 presidential election, finishing a distant second to Woodrow Wilson and the Democrats. Roosevelt won all of 6 states to Wilson’s 40.
The only thing third parties have succeeded in doing is deciding elections in favor of the presidential candidate they most loathed. In 1912, the Progressives split the Republican vote and secured the election of Democrat Woodrow Wilson. In 1992, Ross Perot’s Reform Party took enough votes away from the Republicans to elect Bill Clinton. In 2000, Ralph Nader performed the same service for George W. Bush, and in 2016 Jill Stein denied Hillary Clinton a victory and propelled Donald Trump into the White House. There is a high degree of probability that Forward would assure a Democratic defeat in 2024. Thus, they will have achieved precisely the result they fear the most.
Joe Biden’s resoundingly moderate/centrist legislative achievements—the Infrastructure Act, the Inflation Reduction Act (climate, healthcare, prescription drug costs), the Chips Act, the PACT Act providing relief for veterans exposed to toxic environments—should give Forward sufficient pause to realize that its “bothsidesist” premise is dead wrong, and that its third party energies and expenditures are best redirected to the only U.S. party aligned with its goals.
The fact that Forward is likely destined to go nowhere does not obviate the need for a viable alternative to the existing, polarized, dysfunctional political system. However, there is no need for a third party and the dangers it portends, i.e., guaranteeing the election of Republican extremists. If we want to move forward as a nation and tackle such vexing problems as climate change, mass shootings, income and wealth inequality and women’s reproductive health, we have only to elect enough center-left Democrats.
August 12, 2022