About the author:
|Craig Gridelli is a NY State volunteer Co-Lead for Forward Party. He works in finance in New York City and lives with his wife and children on Long Island. Craig is also a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan with the 1st Infantry Division (2008-2009).
Introducing the New Forward Party
With the July announcement of the merger of the Forward Party, Serve America Movement (SAM Party) and Renew America Movement, the new Forward has experienced a substantial increase in both interest and media attention. Naturally, not all of it has been positive. In particular, one oft-repeated critique is that Forward does not have a sufficiently clear and detailed policy platform to be taken seriously. While this reaction is understandable, and even expected, I firmly believe that Forward’s values-based, platform-less posture is the answer to the question we didn’t even know we were asking. This isn’t a third-party effort in the mold of the two major parties. It’s a new kind of party that is poised to disrupt today’s toxic political landscape. Disruption will come by way of a truth that few have yet to fully appreciate. Namely, that the existing left—right spectrum is a poor representation of the country’s diverse political views and an obsolete way to define and consequently represent the people. A more important distinction is between solution-seeking and obstruction-seeking. On that spectrum, Forward’s platform is crystal clear. Forward is the party of Getting Sh*t Done.
A Label Without a Meaning
In a country of more than 300 million, we are bound to have a vast array of moral, practical, and strategic opinions on how our shared nation should be governed. Yet, as we sit here in 2022, our two major political parties would have the country cleaved into two buckets: conservative and liberal. As such, we are all accustomed to measuring ourselves and others on an axis with these two poles. How far left (or liberal) am I? How far right (or conservative) am I? Do I lean left overall but sit right on a particular issue? Etc.
And each of these buckets is nominally headed by one major political party. The Republicans champion the conservative cause. Democrats lead the liberals. So it has been for all our collective living memories.
But how meaningful and fixed are those poles, in truth? What does it mean to be “conservative”? Surely the GOP, which was a brand-new party in the mid-1800s, when it first placed a president, one Abraham Lincoln, in the White House, could not then be considered “more conservative” than the Democratic Party, which dated back to the nation’s founding. The regionally Northern, anti-slavery Republican Party and the regionally Southern, pro-slavery Democratic Party of the Civil War era bear little resemblance to the 21st-century versions of these parties.
And it’s not just a matter of cultural shifts over long time periods. Even today, the so-called “left” and “right” include people within them that harbor wide-ranging and often logically inconsistent views. How close are the political takes of Donald Trump vs. the previous Republican presidential nominees, Mitt Romney and John McCain? How close are the views of Democrat congressional member Joe Manchin to those of colleague Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?
In reality, the “left” and “right” at any given time are simply momentary snapshots of semi-random groupings of people and views that are transitory and not especially meaningful in the abstract. The left of today may not be the left of tomorrow, and the right of New York may not be the right of Texas and so on. What’s more, we have little ability to predict how these labels will change over time because there are no underlying values that bind our concepts of left and right together. The left might say they are pro-choice, but when it comes to taking vaccines, they quickly justify why, in that case, choice is no longer a defining value. The right might say they are pro-capitalism, but when a private social media company wants to ban their leader, they come running to government to overrule the decisions of the free market.
All this to say, the concept of placing a person or a party on the left—right spectrum is well-established but largely meaningless in any fundamental way. It’s simply a short-hand method of forming tribes. To ask if someone is left or right is not really to seek any insight into their character, it is just another way of asking if that someone is on your team. You can see this reality at work, as, for example, Donald Trump brands anyone who opposes him as a Republican-in-name-only (RINO). It doesn’t matter how much or little the two might agree on questions of political policy. What matters today is that Trump is the current leader of the Republicans, and if you don’t fall in line with his wishes, you are off the team.
A Case of Bad Incentives
It isn’t hard to see why this is the case. All the major relevant incentives support this phenomenon. The vast majority of congressional districts are firmly conservative or liberal, meaning the eventual winner is determined by the primary rather than the general election. And politicians have discovered that the path of least resistance to winning a primary is maximum belligerence towards the opposing team. So that’s what we get.
Similarly, mainstream media works under an advertisement-based business model, meaning success is directly correlated to eyeballs on screen. And it turns out the easiest way to get eyeballs on screen is to pick a side and then demonstrate maximum belligerence toward the other side. Social media is even worse, as it is not bound by even the most remote sense of journalistic ethics that might rein in the excesses of cable news.
And this is the fundamental problem with our political dynamic today. Everyone acting according to their own reasonable incentives leads inexorably to ever-increasing belligerence, polarization, and conflict. Until, ultimately, that conflict becomes violent on a large scale. That is the crisis which looms in our future if we don’t reform the incentives that have us locked in this doom spiral.
A New Hope
Enter the Forward Party. A group dedicated to the reform of these bad incentives. A collection of folks who have tried to pinpoint the structural deficiencies that drive us down the path of civil conflict and address them directly. Ranked-choice voting. Non-partisan primaries. I covered why these issues are so critical to our future in my previous blog.
But where does Forward stand on abortion? On guns? On universal healthcare? On UBI, Andrew Yang’s signature policy from his presidential run in 2020?
There is no party position. And that has drawn a deluge of criticism. But I humbly submit that this criticism misses the point entirely.
A party does not need a uniform set of left—right spectrum policies.
A Better Spectrum
The left—right spectrum is, as we’ve discussed, meaningless as a measure of character or logic. It may have been useful in a pre-internet age, when it wasn’t feasible to research politicians in depth. In that era, a uniform platform could give voters some color as to how candidates might vote on key issues—insight not so readily available at the time. But today, a two-minute Google search can answer that question about any politician under consideration.
If you are concerned about an issue, and you can vote in a given election, you can quickly ascertain how any candidate in that election, Forward or otherwise, feels about it. And Forward candidates will, of course, have policy preferences. They just might not be the same from candidate to candidate.
Why take this approach? It’s because Forward believes it has latched onto a spectrum that is more meaningful in today’s environment. Rather than left—right, Forward recasts the entire political edifice as a solutions vs. obstruction spectrum. And, on this spectrum, Forward is distinct from the other two major parties. Both Republicans and Democrats sit firmly in the obstruction camp, whereas Forward looks to champion solutions.
Okay, but what does that mean? It means that the focus is outcomes, not methods. By being method-agnostic, Forward-aligned candidates can experiment, negotiate, collaborate, and compromise on the road to finding the best solutions. It sounds simple, but it’s hard to overstate how radical a departure this represents from current American politics.
Current politics is all about methods. When people demand Forward release a platform, they want an answer to the question, “How does Forward feel about minimum wage?” as opposed to the better question, “What are Forward’s ideas to address working-class poverty?” Outcomes are what matter, but methods are the nature of the “party platform.”
Perhaps, you’ll argue, that’s because both sides already agree on the outcomes, and the only argument is one of methods. To this, I have two responses.
First, when do both sides agree on anything, even basic facts? Unless it involves stopping a new party from entering the fray, you can hardly get Republicans and Democrats to agree what day of the week it is. To suggest that the outcomes are so universal that they need not even be addressed is an unsupportable stretch.
Secondly, if the focus were on solutions today, there would be a lot more compromise. It is plain that, whatever your ideal method is to address a crucial issue, certainly NOT ADDRESSING IT ALL cannot be a better solution. The choice to obstruct every single initiative of the other team is a huge blinking alert, warning you that parties aren’t seeking solutions.
I’d like to offer an alternative explanation. Perhaps the reason the current parties focus on methods is because neither really want solutions. Given how tightly our system is captured by heavily partisan primaries, maybe our “leaders” have come to realize that the easiest way to win a primary is NOT to solve a problem. It’s to rant and rave about a problem to turn out votes and donations. Solve the problem, and you no longer have it to rant and rave about. And so raving continues, and problems remain unsolved. Could it be that this behavior is a feature, not a bug, of the current electoral framework?
Take Roe v Wade. After it was overturned, Democrats far and wide wailed and gnashed their teeth about the injustice and insisted you turn out to vote in November to fix the problem once and for all. Yet Democrats could, if they wanted, fix the problem today. They control both houses of Congress and the White House. The only thing standing in their way is the filibuster, which they could also remove at their leisure.
So why don’t they?
For this all-important, seminal issue at the heart of liberal morality, they allow respect for a procedural norm to hold them back? They have no such qualms when jamming things through reconciliation, or when the President issues Executive Orders to achieve something that couldn’t be achieved via legislative procedures in Congress. Is the filibuster really that sacred? Especially given that Republicans could also toss it next time they take power?
Perhaps the truth is that Democrats would rather have you angry and scared about a new slate of anti-abortion laws than to actually end the problem once and for all. Because anger and fear get you to the election booth. Solutions, not so much. Especially during primary season, when only the most activated voters participate at all.
A Way Forward
This, in a nutshell, describes the failings of contemporary politics. Because the primary system heavily favors obstructionism, we have leaders on both sides of the left—right spectrum, but we have near universal allegiance to the obstructionist mantra.
That is why the Forward Party need not stake out a universal position in left—right territory. Candidates will have to, but the party won’t.
It need not. Voters can easily learn the politics of any given candidate, even without a universal Forward platform.
But more importantly, it should not. To have such a universal platform would be self-defeating. The true use of that spectrum today is to identify and parse teams, but Forward doesn’t want to be on either team. It seeks to change the game entirely, from two-player co-op to multi-player.
To do that, it should not attempt to fit itself into the worn-out left—right spectrum. That is a trap to enable people to try and jam Forwardists into a peg on a landscape with the existing teams, a landscape Forward is working instead to reshape.
Far better to allow diverse voices that fit under the same value umbrella to come together and collaborate. A true, honest competition of ideas at the party level. If you believe diversity of viewpoints leads to better outcomes, why do you abandon that view with regard to your political party of choice?
Sadly, we’ve mostly been trained to expect uniform party platforms. That is the posture of obstructionism, which dominates today’s discourse. Forward, to succeed, must convince voters that the more important spectrum is solutions—obstruction. And that its policy of non-ideological, solutions-oriented, collaborative governance across the old left—right spectrum is a much more critical platform than any left—right policy position.
If you would prefer that government Get Sh*t Done, I encourage you to hear them out.
*Opinions my own and do not necessarily represent the views of the Forward Party.
Do you like this page?