A New Political Party

This campaign was founded on a simple vision: that a different sort of politics is possible. Over the course of this campaign I met many people who shared that vision and people who were working to make that vision a reality. 

There is an appetite for change in Ohio. People are sick of government dysfunction, people are tired of a politics that depends on and encourages hate and deception, and people are suspicious of a system that has proven time and again to be institutionally corrupt. The Democratic and Republican parties cannot be a vehicle for change because fundamentally they are the source of all our dysfunction. You can’t just reform one or the other party because it’s not really the party that’s gone wrong, it’s how inextricably entwined our lives, culture, and identities have become with our political party affiliation.

We have to build a new political party. We have to build a new political party because that’s how we enact real, irrefutable change. We have to build a new political party to contest the hate, vitriol, violence, and corruption of the Democratic and Republican parties. We have to build a new political party to create a path to power that sits outside the Democratic and Republican parties. We have to build a new political party to compete with the money, organization, and institutional capacity of the Democrats and Republicans. We have to build a new political party to prove political parties can function for the benefit of the people and the general welfare. We have to build a new political party because I can’t stand to be represented by the Democrats and Republicans anymore, I can’t stand to be told to choose between the lesser of two nothings anymore, I cannot stand to see my state and my country go down like this. [expletives deleted prior to publication] 

You cannot achieve the sort of reforms we need, the change we need, the healing we need, without forming a real, significant, competitive party. A loose coalition of independents is not enough. One big independent campaign is not enough. To set us on a better path, to bring people back together, we need a genuine alternative to the Democratic and Republican parties.

A new political party capable of competing, capable of winning elections and securing a substantial base of support that can weaken the stranglehold Democrats and Republicans have over our lives, would have to be broadly centrist. It has to be centrist because it has to be able to take roughly equal and sizable chunks of the electorate out of the Democratic and Republican parties. It cannot rely on activating the majority of apathetic voters or the majority who identify as independent, because those voters are still, at their core, aligned with either the Democratic or Republican parties. We have to be centrist because that’s where the people are and the people are who we’re after. 

But we’re going to be the ones who define what it means to be centrist. Because we can’t be centrist because centrist is relative and defined by the prevailing political ideologies which have failed us. Because centrism is being rapidly abandoned by both parties because it is failed and unpopular and ideologically bankrupt. We will be centrist because we will be the ones who can appeal to the broadest swath of voters and the other parties will have to define themselves off of us. We don’t define ourselves based on them, we don’t triangulate between two parties who are doing so much damage to our country.

Here is the key to why we will succeed where so many other centrist reform parties have failed: we will offer a new politics to go with our new party. I’m not talking rhetorical nonsense. Our political system is constantly redefining itself based on an ever changing social, economic, and global environment. New political ideologies replace the old and the political parties tend to define themselves along degrees of the new ideology, not as competition between the old and new, because the old has, in the eyes of voters and policymakers, failed miserably.

The inflection point between the new and the old often comes at a time of immense economic and political stress. The Great Depression brought about a system defined by Keynesianism and FDR’s political program. The oil shocks and stagflation brought about neoliberalism and Reaganism. The Great Recession then killed neoliberalism and Reaganism and the parties are, at this very moment, in a race to define the new social-economic paradigm, they just haven’t succeeded yet. But once the new paradigm takes hold it is politically ubiquitous. Nixon was a New Deal Republican. Clinton–”the era of big government is over”–was a Reagan Democrat. 

The old paradigm is collapsing, the decade of turmoil since the start of the financial crisis is evidence enough. What will replace it and who will be able to offer it up first is what will define the next thirty years of American government. And this is going to sound incredibly hubristic to you, but I have a real contender: Complexity Economics. 

I won’t go into great detail but complexity economics is a newer school of economic thought that diverges significantly from the neoclassical framework (which includes Keynesian, monetarism, Austrian school, Marxism, and neoliberalism) which dominated economic theory and policymaking in the 20th century. It is based in complexity science and views the economy and society as a complex, emergent system that is in constant flux rather than a homogenous collection of atomized actors which default toward equilibrium. 

Building a new politics around a complexity framework will not only result in a better managed economy, it will allow us to generate genuinely new ideas and new approaches to governance and policy making. And that is hugely important to our cause. Because we have to be new, we have to be different, we have to exist outside of preconceived notions.

The most important aspect of our new party and new politics is that it acts as an offramp from the politics of tribal identity and partisanship. Democrats and Republicans are, in the minds of many, blood enemies, and switching sides is an act of vile betrayal. And because we have come to be defined by our political affiliation, because we have become geographically sorted, because our culture and family and friends are so linked to our party, it becomes impossible to leave one’s political party even when one finds the party is rapidly and rabidly leaving them. Faced with a choice of staying in a political party that is becoming more extreme, more partisan, and more detached from reality or leaving that party and becoming isolated from one’s own community and culture, well most people find that they can evolve alongside right alongside their party even when it means making costly shows of belong like, in the clearest example at hand, the stark divergence in deaths from COVID between Republicans and Democrats. Anti-vaxxerism was not a particularly potent force in Republican circles before 2021, in fact I’d always associated it with a fringe sort of left liberalism before. But once it became a defining principle of membership in the party, well, a lot more people died than had to. And that’s dark, that’s grim, that’s a bright flashing warning sign if I’ve ever seen one. 

A new party lets people leave their old party without automatically ostracizing them from their friends and family. Most people actually find it very understandable, they have a great distaste for both major parties. Typically at worst they will simply berate you for playing spoiler and making it easier for those dang _______ to win.

A new politics with new ideas, new proposals, and focusing on new topics from an unexpected perspective. That too makes it easier for people to leave. Because people look for the signals that have been drilled into them, the policies that they associate with one side or the other. Presented with something new, something they haven’t already been primed to make assumptions about, gives them an opportunity to think, to imagine, to question who they are and what their true principles are. When people start to really consider things, what it means for them, their family and friends, their community, and their country, well they tend to make good choices. We want people to think for themselves, we want people to be themselves.

 A new party and a new politics is an end in itself, it is a great shakeup of the political board. We can reverse 50 years of polarization, 50 years of geographical sorting, in an instant. Suddenly you won’t be quite sure if you hate your neighbor or if you really will dread having to hear your politically opinionated uncle at Thanksgiving. You won’t be sure just based on someone’s religious affiliation, educational background, or whether they live in a city, suburb, or rural area if you hate them or not, if they are an enemy or an ally, if their beliefs are hardened or unshakable. The most important thing we can possible do for this country over the next 10 years is to confuse the hell out of it. 

The Heartland Party: A Rather Specific Proposal

Building a political party is an immense and frankly foolhardy endeavor. Many new political parties have risen and fallen without leaving a significant mark on history. Some have been broadly centrist, some have been niche, many made appeals to a generally disaffected populist majority. None proved themselves built for the challenge. 

You can’t build a party on good intentions and good vibes (though, these are vital), you cannot beat something with nothing. Because if you win you have to govern and governing requires more than open minded and open ended debates. Members of a legislature, members of an executive, they must have purpose and goals. 

A new party needs to be substantive. It needs an organizing principle, a guiding light, which a platform can eventually be built around. A political party, of course, is fundamentally a collaborative affair, so you aren’t going to have it all worked out from the start, that’s impossible, a top-down dictate and would go against the principles of representative democracy. I think a new political party, to be successful, to actually be able to win elections, has to speak to relevant, tangible problems facing people and the country. It needs to present a vision and a pathway to achieving that vision with concrete measurements that demonstrate results. This might not be true for a major party but this is going to be true for a new, upstart party. A new party will always be held to a far higher standard than the Democrats or Republicans and that’s okay, that’s good. It’s a challenge but it is worth it. 

A strong platform with innovative ideas is good and necessary for success but it is not everything and it is far from enough. Success in politics is about familiarity and personal connection as much as it is about policy and candidates. It requires building up local parties. Running candidates and campaigning for every office. Building connections within the community. Staying engaged throughout the year, not just when election time comes around and especially not just when the big elections come around. At its core, a successful party is about getting people excited and involved and engaged, recruiting people to run the party at every level with energy, commitment, and determination. Politics is a people business. Good people are our foundation. 

Beyond a strong platform based in a new politics, beyond a bottom-up and energetic organization, I think the best path for success for a new party in today’s political environment is being a regional party. There was a time when people said all politics is local. Now all politics is national. But the pendulum continues to swing. Ultimately, I think politics have been more national than people care to admit for a long time. I think we’ve neglected our local and state governments. I think we generally are suffering because our local and state politicians have not been held to account, they rarely face genuine competition, and they are beholden to small groups and special interests more than most. It might be my own Ohio bias, but I’d like to see a new party focused on Ohio and the surrounding areas of economic integration, not DC. 

I am proposing today we form a new party in Ohio. The Heartland Party. It will be a state party seeking ballot access in Ohio. It will focus on rejuvenating Ohio’s economy, building industry integrated into the regional economy, and working for the benefit of Ohioans. It will have the stated goal of within 25 years placing Ohio as a leader in both the national and global economy, turning Ohio into a hub of innovation, and having the highest standard of living among the United States. 

The party name, the structure of its organization, and its platform are of course to be fully determined by the participants in the party. But I shall outline a plan for it here. The platform will focus on key areas of tangible impact on the lives of Ohioans and the competitiveness of Ohio. 

Education: Education is the foundation of our future. It’s what starts out our children on the best grounds for the rest of their lives. It’s the key to building an innovative and technologically competitive economy, one that can compete on the world stage. Lately extremists have been attempting to seize control of our schools, hijacking school board meetings and politicizing curriculums for their own political agenda. It’s disgraceful and counterproductive when we have to be focusing on repairing the damage done by two years of pandemic induced learning loss. We want an educational system that is dynamic, allows for a pluralistic approach to understanding complex concepts, and creates lifelong learners. 

Economic Growth: Economic growth is the end all be all, frankly. Some oppose economic growth, some people are degrowthers, they argue this based on environmental and sustainability reasons; these people are deeply misguided, at best. Economic growth is the only way we raise the standard of living, it is how we lift people out of poverty, it is how we create opportunity, it is how we become a better, happier society. The link between economic growth and carbon emissions is broken. Growth actually means a cleaner economy, it means conservation, it means more sustainable use of resources, it means stopping global warming. Because of course it does, because economic growth and innovation are linked, because growth comes from innovation, from technology, from doing more with less. That’s always how it’s been. The Heartland Party is a party committed to growth because we are committed to people. 

Climate Change and the Environment: People of all political stripes care deeply about the environment and conservation and also understand the danger climate change poses, threatening our lives, food security, and housing. Pollution cuts short the lives of tens of thousands of American every year and is the source of increasing childhood ailments. People want action on climate change because so is necessary and beneficial for our economic security. Extremists have controlled the debate on this for too long. It’s time for competent management of our state and our world’s natural resources. 

Healthcare: Healthcare is an absolute disaster, a mess the world over as countries try to deal with an aging population with severe shortages of resources and healthcare workers. But it’s particularly bad in America where we spend more for worse results than comparable countries. There’s lots wrong with the healthcare system but our biggest mistake was tying healthcare to health insurance and health insurance to employment. It has created one of the most expensive systems while severely limiting the choices of both employers and employees. The Heartland Party has to be committed to lowering costs and unwinding the health insurance disaster. 

Cost and Standard of Living: The most basic thing the Heartland Party should pursue is lowering the cost of living. We should make food, housing, health care, transportation, and education all cheaper. We should be committed to that. You lower the cost of goods and services and grow the economy through innovation, through productivity growth. Some of this can best be achieved through removing bureaucratic barriers, some of it is making investments in new technology, some of it is making more capital available to invest in new ventures (you know, supply side). There’s no easy and obvious solution but it’s a clear target we make a priority. 

Election Reform: The Heartland Party will have some self-interest in election. We want to make it easier for new parties to gain ballot access in Ohio, for independents to get on the ballot, we want to lower barriers of entry into the political market. Because we know a competitive democracy leads to better results, better government, with less corruption. We want to reduce the influence of moneyed interests and lobbyists in politics. We want people to be able to vote for the candidates that they believe in, that best represent them. 

Americanism (Liberty, Democracy, Opportunity, Pluralism): There are some core values that are defining for America. Liberty, democracy, opportunity, and pluralism foremost among them. We want to increase and protect individual liberties, because human rights must be guaranteed for all. We want a democratic form of government because we recognize that a free people can best govern themselves and the more people that can exercise their right to vote, the better. America has always been a land of opportunity, of social mobility, where anyone can be anyone. We stand opposed to the establishment of an American aristocracy, of barriers to entry to the market, to education, to a better life. And America has always been a product of great diversity, of multitudes, that come together to form something other, something greater than the sum of our parts. We are pluralists who understand we don’t have to agree on everything to live together, to work together, to build together. These ideas are the foundation of our country and we must recommit to them every generation. 

Ohio: We freakin’ love Ohio. It’s a great state that has so much going for it. We want to build a politics and a party specific to Ohio. Our platform will tailor ideas and solutions to Ohio, to its regions and cities and villages and communities. We will build a statewide platform that utilizes the knowledge of the candidates for the state legislature and the local parties to build policies that work together across the state and up and down from local to state government. We will coordinate local and state governments to best utilize our economic diversity, our cities and rural areas specializing in different industries and working together. We will reclaim Ohio’s heritage as an innovator, an economic juggernaut, and a political force in national politics. Ohioans have a place in history, let’s continue to live up to it.

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