The third way

Back in the mid 1990s, after people got tired of debating whether history had ended, there was considerable discussion about “third way” politics — i.e. new policies that eschewed the traditional big government dogma of the left and the anti-big government dogma of conservatives. In these discussions, it was always socialist or liberal parties that were going to show us the third way. Indeed, some suggested that Tony Blair and perhaps Bill Clinton were already doing so.
It never seemed to me that Blair, Clinton, or any other center-left poltician had found a third way. Third wayism seemed like little more than traditional leftism coupled with an occasional nod in the direction of protecting national security and the realization that, if the power of government were to be increased, it would have to been done more subtly than before so as to circumvent popular opposition.
Now, however, the outlines of a genuine third way may be emerging — the brain-child, ironically enough, of President Bush and his advisers. The article that we posted over the weekend by Jonathan Rauch suggests the contours of what may be Bush’s third way. Rauch calls it “demand-side conservatism,” under which the government actively spends and promotes new programs aimed at reducing dependence on government. It could be argued that this sounds ominously like the slogan of some New Dealers — “Hamiltonian means to achieve Jeffersonian ends” (I won’t draw the more extreme analogy to Marx’s “withering away of government”). In any case, if Bush is re-elected it will be fascinating to see how all of this plays out.


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