In 2016, 38-year-old Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron and his allies formed a new political party in France. Calling themselves En Marche, roughly “on the move,” the party sought to renew political life by breaking the stranglehold of two largely do-nothing parties — Socialist or Republican — that the French people had become sick of and considered dysfunctional, stale and periodically corrupt.
A year later, Mr. Macron was elected president and hailed by one commentator as “a different kind of rebel… [who] promises a new politics that ditches divisions between the left and the right.” Indeed, Mr. Macron attracted Socialist and Republican voters, and he later appointed leading figures from both parties to his cabinet.
Mr. Macron is in Washington this week to meet with President Donald Trump. Can America learn from his example?
Rafts of polls and interviews indicate that growing numbers of Americans identify with neither political party and that ever fewer citizens believe that our “political system” works. If the two major parties were businesses in a free-market economy, most of their customers would have turned to a new company with a better product years ago.
Our hyper-polarized gridlock, which dates at least to Newt Gingrich’s “Contract with America” nearly a quarter-century ago, is frequently bemoaned — and blamed. But what has been done about it?
OK, congressional caucuses like the Bipartisan Working Group and the Climate Solutions Caucus have been formed. Think tanks and advocacy groups, such as the Bipartisan Policy Center and No Labels, also have taken root in Washington as attempts to break down right-left divisions. But these inside-the-box, inside-the-Beltway initiatives have as much national name recognition and inspirational reach as a high-school athlete.
Mr. Macron benefited from French political divisions on the left, scandals on the right, and a far-right candidate toxic for most French voters. Yet, En Marche held rock-star-sized rallies across France, enlisted tens of thousands of mostly young volunteers to run an unprecedented ground game and recruited hundreds of political newbies (half of them women) as candidates for legislative elections to the National Assembly. Mr. Macron himself played the unlikely role of a Parisian intellectual and a patriot invoking the spirit of Joan of Arc, with the mindset of a Silicon Valley entrepreneur.
Despite the long history of U.S. third-party failures — including Ross Perot, John Anderson, George Wallace, Strom Thurmond and Henry Wallace — what makes the Dems and GOP an immutable presence in American politics? One might say, cynically and correctly: money in politics, interest groups and the parties’ duopolistic desire to maintain the status quo.
But is breaking with the D-R duo forever impossible or such a long game that no one wants to play? Think of how quickly support for gay marriage or the #MeToo movement emerged. Or, more aptly, think of how a talented, charismatic, young Frenchman upended a long-entrenched political culture in a single year.
Mr. Macron, in many ways, is in tune with America’s founders. George Washington, in his farewell address, called partisan “factions” a “fatal tendency” for democracies. Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, in Federalist 9 and 10, warned that factions or parties motivated by common interests are “adverse to the rights of other citizens or to the permanent and aggregate interests of the community.” Thomas Jefferson said that “a little rebellion, now and then, is a good thing.”
Philosophical and policy differences are not going to disappear, but why not aim for a broader, more inclusive tent to bring together a public divided — in large part by the two parties themselves? Armed with and a good candidate and the best elements of progressivism and conservatism — both updated to the needs of the 21st century — such a new political organization might mobilize the 45 percent of voters who call themselves “independent,” plus many more disillusioned Republicans and Democrats.
Farfetched fantasy, the peddlers of conventional wisdom will say, focused as they are on reviving two dying parties. After all, Mr. Macron’s shining success in 2017 faces many hurdles ahead and could ultimately fail.
But if France — the Western democracy long derided for its ossified politics and economy — could produce a dynamic, beyond left-right, get-things-done party in a year, is it so impossible in the United States?
Andrew L. Yarrow, a former New York Times reporter and American historian who has been affiliated with several think tanks, will publish his fifth book, “Man Out: Men on the Sidelines of American Life,” in September. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.