Third Way Responds

After my post Wednesday morning asking questions about Third Way, I actually received an email response from the group. I have placed the complete response in the extended entry. The most relevant part of the response dealt with what the term "third way" actually means, and what other two "ways" to which they are relatively "third." Prepare for a long post in the extended entry.

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Questions About Third Way

Given the Democratic collapse on Iraq, I have two questions about the group Third Way, which from what I understand gives more policy presentations to Democrats in Congress than any other think tank:
  1. Why are all of the honorary chairs and vice-chairs of the group Democrats? Has this always been the case throughout the history of the group? Have any federally elected Republicans ever served in a prominent position in Third Way? I doubt it, because ever since I first heard President Clinton use the term "third way" about ten years ago, the only other Americans I have heard use the term are Democrats. So, if Third Way is just a bunch of Democrats, what exactly does this make them "third" from?

  2. I am a lefty, a liberal, a progressive--whatever you want to call it. The point is that I use those terms to make it clear that I am not a moderate or a centrist in the spectrum of American politics. Given this, does Third Way consider conservatives and people like me to be equally wrong when it comes to public policy? The reason I ask this is because Third Way defines itself as"a non-profit, non-partisan strategy center for progressives." If they are progressives, once again, what exactly are they "third" from?
I may sound like I am being intentionally dense and / or sarcastic, but I'm not. The reason I ask this is because since I made a post on Third Way last week, a few people I know in political circles have asked if I would like to talk with some people from Third Way, or see more of their research. My honest, gut reaction to these inquiries is simply to say no. To be perfectly blunt, why would I want to speak to a group that seems to have been created for the purpose of reducing the influence over public policy of those with whom I share like-minded legislative ideals? Even their very name directly implies that I am wrong when it comes to public policy, and must be stopped, as it seems to me that I may very well be one of the two "ways" from which they are overtly, and equally, distancing themselves. However, at the same time, all of their members seem to be Democrats, and the group self-identifies as "progressive." What's going on here?

Really, all of my questions boil down to this one question: to what two other ways, exactly, is Third Way "third?" It is only when I hear the answer to that question that I can determine if it is a group I want to work with or not. I mean, if we not only disagree on everything, but their entire purpose for existence is to help prevent my desired public policy initiatives from being enacted, then why would I possibly want to work with them, or even talk with them? Working with a group whose expressed goal is to defeat your "way" seems rather self-defeating to me.

Seriously, I am not being daft. I want to know what two other ways from which Third Way is "third." What views on public policy fit into one of those two ways? Who holds those views? A few specifics would be helpful. I'd like to know the people and the policies from whom Third Way differentiates itself.

Update: From the comments, The Washington Post and Alternet have interesting articles on the group.

Culture, Ideology, The Two Coalitions, and the 2008 Democratic Nomination

In the weeks after the 2004 election, I spent a great deal of time arguing that the main demographic shift in Democratic and Republican coalitions over the last forty years was a drift toward more ideological coalitions. This shift had greatly favored Republicans, since they gained more self-identified conservatives than they lost self-identified liberals. My conclusion at the time was that we needed a long-term program to increase the percentages of Americans and American voters who self-identified as liberals in order to lay the strongest possible foundation for a future Democratic majority. The more liberals and progressives in America, the better Democrats would do.

However, over the past two years, I have slowly moved away from that position. While I certainly think that it is important to grow liberalism and progressivism, what I failed to take into account back in late 2004 was why people self-identified as liberal, moderate or conservative, and what they might mean when they did so. Ideological self-identification means very different things to different people, and much of the time it doesn't mean anything ideological at all. In fact, over the past two years, I have numerous studies showing that most people, like 90%, don't even really have a clear idea of what being conservative, liberal or "moderate" even means. And I don't mean that in the sense that that most people have different definitions of ideologies than me. I mean it in the sense that they don't have thoroughgoing, well-defined ideologies at all. For example, how can about 50% of self-identified conservatives believe that the federal government should raise taxes in order to provide free health insurance to all American citizens? The answer, I think, is that people mean different things when they call themselves "conservative."

More in the extended entry, including the bit where I finally have a point.

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The Most Important Political Demographic Of All

In light of Jonathan's post on future demographics, I am reminded of how when I think of my all-time favorite posts on MyDD, Maybe It Is A Battle Of Civilizations from April 15, 2005 always makes the short list. That post was a revelation for me, as it unlocked, I believe, the quickest and most important way to describe the underlying demographic currents of both the Democratic and Republican coalitions. The thesis of that post, which I still accept and have not seen any data to counter it, it that the Republican coalition can be best understood as the "White-Christian" coalition, and Democrats can best of understood as the "Non-White And / Or Non-Christian" coalition (hereafter referred to as "Non White-Christians"). While this is obviously a generalization, I think it is an extremely useful one. This demographic viewpoint allows one to characterize both the "culture war" over social issues, and debates over neo-conservative foreign policy, as struggles rooted in an ideological binary opposition of pluralism vs. cultural supremacy. There are other important demographic conceptualizations in contemporary politics, but I believe this is the most important one. I also wonder if someone showed that post to Howard Dean, since he made his "White Christian" remark only a few weeks later.

Two years later, it is worth revisiting this demographic divide. In 2006, the two groups made up virtually identical percentages of the electorate that they made up in 2004: 64% "White-Christian," and 37% "Non White-Christian." Not surprisingly, Democrats did better among both groups in 2006 than 2004. Among "White-Christians," Democrats when from a 63%--36% deficit to a 57%--41% deficit, and among "Non White-Christians," they went from a 68%--30% advantage to a 74%-24% advantage. Overall, Democratic improvement among both groups was virtually identical, although their gains among "Non White-Christians" are more impressive considering Democrats already held a huge advantage among that group. Here are some more thoughts on this demographic divide two years later:

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Blogosphere Avant-Gardism

In one of my very first major posts on MyDD--a post which I paid $25 to write at a Kinkos in Modesto, California as there was no other way for me to get online--I posited the political blogosphere as the avant-garde of political and opinion journalism. Considering that it is now quite old in blogosphere terms, and the conditions under which I wrote it, I am surprised at how well it still stands up. Here is an excerpt (emphasis in original):
While the poetic and artistic avant-garde sought to relocate the primary purpose of art away from the aesthetic function, I had a very difficult time figuring out what the Blogosphere sought to do differently than the Political Opinion Complex. However, at long last I think I have it.

While the corporate funded Political Opinion Complex seeks to distribute information primarily for the purpose of consumption, the primary goal of the Blogosphere is to distribute political information for the purpose of agitation / direct action. The POC only wants you to consume what it produces. The Blogosphere seeks for its consumer to act after, or even as a result of, consumption of its product. To put it another way, The Blogosphere is a counter-institutional formation that seeks to relocate the primary purpose of political and opinion journalism in agitation toward action rather than in profit-based consumption.
Three years later, I no longer agree with some of the specifics of that formulation, but I still subscribe to the general sentiment (for example, I wrote something similar in an article for the BBC last October). What I would change in my original formulation is that we are not just agitating toward action, which is of course important and the tremendous rise in progressive political activism in recent years is a testament to our success in that department, but also that we are also seeking to create a new political reality and alter the national political conscious. In so doing, we are challenging the political reality created by what I once vaguely called the Political Opinion Complex, and perhaps now even more vaguely refer to in class based terms such as the establishment media and political aristocracy. It is a political reality that has gone unchecked and unchallenged for a long time. Remarkably, and unlike most avant-garde movements, we have actually had a tremendous amount of success in our challenge to this reality. Peter Daou, who perhaps first, and perhaps still best, articulated this important function of the progressive blogosphere, must be proud, even if it isn't necessarily to the benefit of his candidate at this point in time. :)

More Sunday blogosphere avant-gardism in the extended entry.

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