The two-party system is a staple of American politics. And yet, however inevitable their sidelining seems, the number and the vitality of third parties continues to surprise. One such is the American Solidarity Party (ASP), formed in 2011. It is modeled on the Christian democratic parties common in Europe. For its first few years, the ASP was more of an intellectual curiosity than a political organization. A centrist party rooted in Catholic social teaching, the ASP doesn’t fit comfortably on the partisan spectrum.
Lillian Vogl, chair of the ASP, tells National Review that the party is united “in respect for the dignity of human life from conception to natural death.” The ASP is “not interested in extremes,” opposing both libertarianism and intrusive government. “Both on moral issues as well as on economic issues, we have a responsibility to each other, and that is where the word ‘solidarity’ comes from,” says Vogl, but “we don’t want an overbearing government controlling those things.”
The party’s platform strives to uphold a consistent life ethic:
We believe that respect for the dignity of human life is the most basic tenet of a civilized society. This dignity is unconditional, it is never reduced by factors such as usefulness or wantedness. From the moment of conception until natural death, every human being is entitled to protections under the law, to just treatment and to equitable consideration.
Social conservatives can appreciate the ASP’s opposition to abortion and euthanasia. Americans of a more liberal persuasion may take a liking to other parts of the platform. For example, the ASP supports “diverse efforts across this country to secure universal health care access, affordability and outcomes, including single-payer health initiatives, healthcare cooperatives, and hybrid systems at the state and national level.”
The influence of Catholic social teaching is plain. Mike Maturen, the ASP’s nominee for president in 2016, told the Catholic News Agency that the ASP believes “in solidarity (we are all in this together) and subsidiarity, which teaches that problems are best solved where they reside — at the most local level possible.”
A few years ago, it appeared the ASP was destined to follow the path of most third parties: obscurity. Then the 2016 election happened.
Profiles of the party popped up in publications like First Things, The American Conservative, and America magazine. Many Americans were upset with both major-party candidates. The time was ripe for third parties to garner more attention.
Writing for First Things in July 2016, David McPherson, assistant professor of philosophy at Creighton University, urged voting for the ASP ticket as “a protest vote against a system that presents us with such poor choices.” Moreover, by supporting the ASP, he argued, “‘a man [sets] an example,’ so that the idea of human solidarity, based on the equal dignity of all human beings, may not die away.”
Catholic social teaching is contradicted both by the Democratic party’s liberalism on social issues and by the GOP’s libertarian economics.
The ASP earned fewer than 10,000 votes in the election, but the publicity it gained might prove more consequential. The party grew rapidly during the election season. Although its growth has slowed over the past few months, according to Vogl, it is “seeing on the order of 20 percent growth per month.”
If they manage to hear about it, many Americans might be attracted to the party’s message, especially Catholics. Vogl emphasizes that the ASP is “not trying to be the Catholic party.” Still, it’s no secret that the party’s values are infused with Catholic social teaching.
Matthew Walther recently argued that American Catholics are politically homeless. “It is impossible,” he wrote, “to reconcile Catholic orthodoxy — the immortal teachings of the church that have not changed but only developed, like a musical theme, since the death of the last apostle — with the platforms of either major political party.” The Democratic Party’s liberalism on social issues clearly contradicts Catholic teaching, while “the libertarian economics championed by the Republican Party are absolutely at odds with a plain reading of the documents that together comprise the church’s social teaching.”
Perhaps the ASP will become a viable political home for Catholics looking for a party that affirms the Church’s social teaching. Father John J. Conley, S.J., a philosophy professor at Loyola University Maryland, called its platform “a political Rembrandt” for “anyone who loves Catholic social doctrine.” More broadly, the ASP is an attractive option for socially conservative Americans who reject libertarian inclinations in the Republican Party.
Like all third parties, the American Solidarity Party faces an uphill battle in its quest to become an electoral force. Only time will tell if the attention it received during the 2016 campaign was a product of two unpopular major-party candidates or part of a larger groundswell that will carry into the future.