by Matt Stoller, Thu Jun 07, 2007 at 08:56:21 AM EDT
Matt Bennett of Third Way sent me an email following our discussion with the following response to our blogging on the subject of their name and influence. I'm gratified that Third Way would reach out and have this discussion, and hopefully we'll have more of these back-and-forth's. To briefly recap, Third Way is an insidery think tank that encourages Senate Democrats to push moderate policies with messaging, polling, and communications support.
Matt Stoller has reopened the examination of our name, finding our response to Chris Bowers' post"unsatisfying." We felt he raised some good questions, so we are grateful for the chance to take another crack at it.
We did not invent the term "Third Way" - we borrowed it, quite consciously - from Bill Clinton, whose philosophy of governance we share. We did so to avoid calling our organization something anodyne and anonymous. (Does Washington really need another Institute for the Study of Policy?)
But Clinton didn't invent the term either, and its meaning has evolved dramatically as it has moved through time and between countries:
- In Italy, Benito Mussolini (whose philosophy of governance we do NOT share), used it to mean his brand of fascism.
- In Britain, Tony Blair used the term to describe his own government, but it also describes a minor party that advocates Swiss-style direct democracy. And it's a magazine "for people who haven't lost faith in God or lost touch with the world."
- In Canada, it referred to a 2006 health care plan.
- In the Middle East, a small Palestinian party.
- In the Netherlands and parts of Africa, it's used by a group working on human rights in Ghana.
- In the US, we couldn't use the URL www.thirdway.com because it's owned by the Mennonites. (It apparently describes the Mennonite-Anabaptist theology.)
All of this is a bit confusing. But as Chris and Matt's posts show, the biggest difficulty we face with our name sprang from the addled brain of Dick Morris, who urged Clinton to "be more Republican than the Republicans." This led to the infamous "triangulation," which has, hopefully, ended up in history's dustbin.
We were left with a challenge. It cannot be denied that the salience of the term "third way" was damaged by Dick Morris. But as history and geography have proven, the term has had many meanings, and we believed it is still very relevant. So four years after Clinton's departure, we chose the name and undertook the task of continuing the evolution of the term.
That effort continued with our response to Chris. We call ourselves "Third Way" because our mission is to help bring progressive politics into the modern era: to move beyond the first way (Gilded Age reform and the beginnings of a post-colonial international system) and the 2nd way (the New Deal/Great Society safety net and America as a world leader), and toward a 3rd way (molding government to conform to the massive economic, security and cultural shifts facing us today). That is, we believe, what Clinton meant by his "bridge to the 21st century" - helping progressive ideas evolve to remain fresh and relevant.
But if we left any confusion with that explanation, let us be clear: we also chose the name because it sends a signal about where we are philosophically, and that is somewhere in that governing and political space known as moderation.