“I feel more...independent," Andrew Yang wrote in his blog recently, announcing that he was leaving the Democratic Party. In a crisply written piece entitled “Breaking Up with the Democratic Party,” Yang declared, "I believe I can reach people who are outside the system more effectively. Making partisan arguments—particularly expressing what I often see as performative sentiment—is sometimes uncomfortable for me. I often think, 'Okay, what can we actually do to solve the problem?' I'm pretty sure there are others who feel the same way I do."
To understand more about Yang’s substantive trajectory, I picked up a copy of his new book, Forward: Notes on the Future of our Democracy (New York: Crown, 2021). I found it to be an excellent read, especially for Progressives. Here is why.
Yang calls out the political system for what it does—a great job serving ‘The Establishment,’ including myriad professionals who work in supporting fields, professions, and sectors.
First, Yang calls out the political system for what it does—a great job serving ‘The Establishment,’ including myriad professionals who work in supporting fields, professions, and sectors. Second, Yang addresses a trifecta of political issues--electoral, institutional, and public policy reform—and does so carefully by describing why things got off the rails and how we can make things right. Third, Andrew Yang tells the truth about the corporatized, 24-hour (not) ‘news’ networks. Yang makes fact-based assertions and personalizes his critique by drawing on his experience as a presidential candidate. Finally, Yang writes about party politics with clarity and honesty. His is not just another homily on “What’s wrong with those Republicans?” Democrats are not off the hook. That is because parties—irrespective of stripes—suffer from self-aggrandizing, inside-the-tent, salvo-throwing behaviors. They are parties after all.
I found Forward to be a powerful book written by somebody who does not fit the conventional political profile. Of that, I am thankful. However, I do not get why Yang’s practical response (the subject of the book’s last chapter) involves establishing a new political party—The Freedom Party. I can live with that outcome if it happens; I support about any initiative designed to shake up the system. But it was not the chapter on the Freedom Party that captured my attention; it is what came before. Here are four examples of what I mean.
Second, I like Yang’s focus on setting goals and tracking progress on matters that affect people (e.g., reducing the percent living in poverty, the infant mortality rate). Organizations everywhere set goals and measure progress, but it is not the way we do business in American government. Because we do not, the U.S. does not have targets to achieve—as it did in the 1960s with the quest to go to the Moon. And not having national goals is a significant reason the U.S. looks terrible in international rankings. With nothing to shoot for, we wander. The U.S. ranks #28 in the most recent edition of the Social Progress Initiative, an embarrassing and unnecessary outcome.
Third, I support Yang’s emphasis on human-centered capitalism. His proposal for Universal Basic Income could be implemented quickly and efficiently—just as were the Subsidy Checks—without people having to meet a list of qualification standards. Just allocate funds to improve lives and advance the economy. Doing so would also contemporize the concept of Social Security. I also like his take on how we measure the economy currently—that it needs to change, from tracking Gross National Product and the stock market, to focusing on measuring impacts on human well-being.
Fourth, I applaud Yang’s emphasis on public policy reforms, three reforms in particular. It is time to replace the concept of employer-offered health benefits (an approach that became widespread following WW II) with single-payer health care. Access to health care is a public right. We also need to re-establish The Fairness Doctrine, which the Reagan Administration repealed in 1987. Otherwise, the public will continue to be fed ‘spin,’ and fair and balanced news coverage will continue to be at risk. It is also time to reform the tax code and end the ‘elite charade’ Anand Giridharadas writes about in Winners Take All. Monied elites need to contribute their fair share to the commonwealth rather than picking charities they deem worthy and then getting tax credits in exchange. Finally, it is time to modernize the Communications Decency Act of 1996, Section 230 in particular. Corporatized social media platforms, like Facebook, should be held legally responsible for content published on their platforms. Today—with an Act passed nearly 30 years ago—they are not.
Having highlighted things I value in Yang’s book, what do I think about the concept of the Freedom Party? There is a better alternative. I’d like to see a politically unaffiliated Andrew Yang join forces with organizations that function in the Independent political sphere, Open Primaries and IndependentVoting.org, among other groups. Establishing a national coalition with Yang as the public face of an Independent political movement appeals to me. Here is why.
If we are truly serious about transforming America’s political system, let us do it by taking an unwavering voter-centered, candidate-driven, and party-less approach. Besides, it avoids a common trap associated with making any type of transformational/extraordinary change possible, that is, relying on a conventional means (a new political party in this instance) to produce out-of-the-box outcomes. It is the new wine in old bottles syndrome. In politics, it will not be a matter of whether—just when—problematic features of party organization take hold.
That said, it is an easy trap in which to fall. Transformational thinking focuses all too often on what we seek to accomplish and not equivalently (as it should) on how we propose to make transformation a reality. Really smart people think that they can overcome past issues—even issues they readily acknowledge—because (this time) they will build a better mousetrap. It is still a mousetrap, though, with the same problematic features, including (in this case) the structures, processes, and culture of party organization. Yang acknowledges as much when he writes: “Putting people—however well-intentioned—into a corruptive system of personal and political incentives produces nothing but dysfunction and disillusionment.” (p. xxvi)
He is right. Parties are a problem. Any party. Any time. The party option is unnecessary, too. I believe America is ready for a party-less approach to electoral reform, human-centered capitalism, and effective/modern government. I also believe that a good share of America’s Independents (consistently self-identified in Gallup tracking polls as between 40-50% of voters)—as well as a fair number of party affiliates—will be drawn to those outcomes, especially if they are articulated by a charismatic, intelligent, and authentic spokesperson like Andrew Yang.
“The time to build anew is now,” Yang writes (p. 296). “Change won’t come easily. We are going to need to fight for it.” He is right. And I am in.
NOTE: You can participate in a no-cost national forum with Andrew Yang on Wednesday, January 12, 3-4p. Eastern/12-1p, Pacific, co-hosted by Open Primaries and The Politics for People Book Club. The forum will be accessible via ZOOM. Register here.