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Ghost of Perot haunts latest political reform

Maybe Andrew Yang’s latest book is so vague because he couldn’t get more specific without outright plagiarizing the Democrats’ platform. (Wikimedia Commons)

Andrew Yang, the businessman and former candidate for president and New York City mayor, is back with a mission. In his third, newly released book entitled “Forward,” he attempts to justify the creation of a brand new “Forward Party.” The first 25 chapters are a mix of autobiography and interesting but often unrealistic ideas to modernize government. The last chapter, in which he presents the Forward Party, goes entirely off the rails.

Yang had the right idea when chose to run for elected office. The problem is that he chose the wrong positions. Though he once led the test prep company Manhattan Prep, he’s not the type of dynamic public speaker that lets him skip ahead of established politicians in a bid for president or mayor.

He’s a wannabe Jimmy Carter policy wonk; not a bad thing, but not unique or particularly cut out for leading an executive branch. Besides, we already have Elizabeth Warren.

America would be well served with a Congressman Yang serving on the Science, Space, and Technology Committee. As we saw last week in the Senate hearing over Facebook and child internet safety, Congress (average age: 58) is ill equipped to regulate, let alone understand, modern technology. Yang should run for Congress representing New York so he can sit on this committee and use his considerable policy knowledge to vet the glut of think tank-written and lobbyist-sponsored bills considered by Congress.

Because of his concern for the effect of automation on labor and his Universal Basic Income policy, Yang was a popular dark horse candidate for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He’s a businessman who later gained a name for himself as a philanthropist before venturing into politics with a frustratingly vague message of reform. Funnily, Yang began his rise to political prominence around the same time Ross Perot, the 1990’s reform crusader, died.

Fellow presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg effectively traded his endorsement for a position as Secretary of Transportation. Per BusinessInsider, Yang was in consideration to head the Labor or Commerce departments. He also reportedly wanted Biden to create a Department of “Technology and Innovation” and put Yang in charge. Whether he was simply turned down or he genuinely denied an offer to head a department, he says he doesn’t fit in Washington politics.

I respect his decision to avoid the Buttigieg route, but then to retreat totally from the established political process is odd. He must fancy himself a Teddy Roosevelt, riding in from the wild frontier of technology to wrangle the existing system into shape. The Forward Party is no Bull Moose Party. For one, Andrew Yang doesn’t have nearly the force of personality or fame of Teddy Roosevelt.

More importantly, the Forward Party is purposely apolitical, whereas the Bull Moose — officially the Progressive Party — was a response to the conservate turn of the Republican party. An apolitical political party is not only contradictory, but naive. Everyone thinks their views are right and they are above ideology. As he says, “I’m not very ideological. I’m practical.”

As someone who generally supports Bernie Sanders, I think Bernie Sanders’s plans are practical. Yet I admit that’s an ideological stance because I know others don’t see it the same way. Everyone thinks their views are practical — or else they wouldn’t hold them.

For all his emphasis on policy, his party is dreadfully devoid of substance. The name “Forward Party” plays off the name of his book and the tired centrist mantra of “not left or right, but Forward.” Unwilling to take a stand or admit that we don’t need yet another third party, its planks consist of one reform, one concrete policy, and a bunch of nothing.

The reform is to institute ranked-choice voting with open primaries. This kind of reform helps moderate candidates drown out the extremes of each party. While totally in character with his moderate message, it’s a disappointing reform that doesn’t get rid of gerrymandering or aid third parties much, unlike the tried and true proportional representation method. NYC used ranked-choice in the mayoral primary and I don’t see how it benefited anybody.

The Forward Party’s one concrete policy is Universal Basic Income, a kind of permanent stimulus check sent monthly to American adults. It’s a good idea — if he can pay for it. The rest of his platform is wishy-washy language that marks a career politician and establishment party.

In typical centrist fashion, his plea for “Fact-based governance” obviously refers to former President Donald Trump, but it’s not like Trump and his most fervent supporters reveled in their embrace of lies. They genuinely thought the election was stolen.

In a similar vein, he calls for “effective and modern-day government.” Political parties are supposed to present choices to voters and act vis a vis other parties. Who — more pertinently, what party — wouldn’t want that? Republicans don’t advocate corrupt and archaic government just as Democrats know perfect and futuristic government isn’t even possible. He wants us to “Imagine if a trip to the DMV or interaction with the IRS were as easy and seamless as online banking.” Sounds great, Mr. Yang, but a plan?

His sixth plank, “grace and tolerance,” is the coup de “grace” to his party’s credibility. I thought it meant diplomacy and increased immigration; but nope, it’s even more generic: “We will give the benefit of the doubt to ourselves and each other and avoid engaging in the politics of personal attack or destruction;” a cross of self-help and spiritual admonition.

Ever afraid of labels and ideology, “human-centered capitalism” is Yang’s spin on something the rest of the world already has a name for: social democracy. I guess he thinks Democrats will flock like sheep to his vague “human-centered” language and Republicans will be moths to the “capitalism” flame.

I agree with Yang that we need more third parties. However, he has the wrong reform and botches the whole thing up by putting himself at the center of a fake “nonpartisan” party. A killer public speaker he is not. Tweets, as we know from his mayoral race, are not his forte either. He had one popular idea — Universal Basic Income — that took off during the pandemic shutdowns.

He “estimate[s] that if we get to twenty million Forward Party members, we will transform American politics.” The most successful third party candidate in American history, Ross Perot, couldn’t even get twenty million voters. Yang says that “more than a million Americans supported my campaign” and his “social media following is more than three million across platforms.” He should try gymnastics because a jump from three million total social media followers to twenty million *real Americans* would make Simone Biles blush.

For someone whose campaign slogan was “Make American Think Again” (MATH), he has a poor conception of reality. His base is passionate but not built for growth. He’s already exhausted the leagues of techy young men. Attempting to inspire reform, the book’s penultimate sentence reads “No one else is coming... There is no cavalry; it’s only us.” He’s absolutely right, but not in the way he thinks.

He doesn’t have the “national following” he thinks he has, and the decent following he does have was based on specific ideas like UBI and solutions to problems that nobody else was talking about. Now that he’s branching into emotional arguments like “spin must have its limits,” he becomes a generic centrist Democrat.

If I wanted milquetoast millennial musings, I’d plunk $30 down for Pete Buttigieg’s latest book. The humble, overwhelmed common man image Yang spent the entire book fashioning is wiped away by his not realizing why and with whom he is popular.

If he truly wanted electoral reform, he should have maintained his considerable political capital within the establishment. Instead, he ran for office in one of the few places that already had RCV and tanked his popularity in the losing effort. The celebrity he does have — compared to the average Congressman — insulates him from dependency on party machinery and his independent wealth allows him to fund his own campaigns. He could have been a competent regulator and voice for reform within Congress.

His policy ideas do have value, and maybe they would cut across existing party lines. He truly is the only national politician talking about issues such as outdated tax systems, lack of public funding for journalism, and electoral reform (though he supports the wrong reform). Republicans might be for some of these. We’ll never know, though, because he shirks the legislature in favor of an all or nothing gamble for executive positions, and because he mistakes passionate support for widespread support.

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