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Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 1999/1 Kislev, 5760

David Limbaugh

David Limbaugh
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and 'The Third Way' -- DICK MORRIS recently wrote a column commending George W. Bush for employing the strategy of "triangulation" in his effort to get the Republican nomination.

Before Morris' column, I understood triangulation to be a strategy whereby a politician would play both parties (including his own) against each other for the sake of his own personal political advantage. The first instance of this was when Clinton, at Morris' behest, pitted each party in Congress against the other in trying to rehabilitate himself in the aftermath of the 1994 Republican Revolution.

Seen in this light, "triangulation" has a very negative connotation for the person employing it. Only one placing his personal interests above that of his party and the nation would adopt this strategy.

Now, Morris is offering an entirely different meaning for the term. He describes it as "a strategy that moves to a higher place, a third place, above either of the two parties by adopting the best of each and discarding the worst."

This definition is decidedly more positive. There is nothing selfish involved in a person incorporating the best elements of each party for the benefit of the people.

The term "triangulation" could arguably fit either definition because they each involve three components: Democrats (or their policies), Republicans (or their policies), and the president. With each, the president figuratively rises above the other two, thus forming the triangular image.

Though it's presumptuous of me to engage in semantic quibbling with the primary linguistic advisor to the Chief Word-Parser, I think Morris is confusing triangulation with "The Third Way."

The Third Way has come to stand for a new approach to politics sweeping Western Europe and the U.S. that ostensibly melds the best attributes of capitalism and socialism.

Bill Clinton, calling himself a New Democrat, has proudly Americanized the Third Way through his Democratic Leadership Council. He purports to believe that neither pure liberalism nor pure conservatism can solve society's problems but that a mixture of the two must prevail. Accordingly, Clinton takes credit for welfare reform and balancing the budget.

But is the Third Way truly grounded in an ideology that blends elements of both the welfare state and the free market? Or is it merely a repackaging of socialism to make it more palatable to an unwitting electorate? Many have argued that it is the latter.

I believe that a strong case can be made that Clinton has grudgingly embraced Third Way politics as a necessary evil in order to win both of his presidential elections. When he and his wife were comfortably into their first term, they revealed their true colors with their full-blown socialized medicine scheme.

Only after their humiliating repudiation in the 1994 congressional elections did they revert to their Third Way cover. And even then, as you may recall, Clinton fought both welfare reform and efforts to balance the budget with every last ounce of his political capital. But now that both initiatives are manifestly successful he has taken full credit for them.

Policy Review's Tod Lindberg admonishes us not to underestimate the reality of Third Way politics, positing that it "does indeed look like a historic shift, not least because it is global in scope." He seems to be saying that regardless of the motivations of its adherents, the Third Way is flourishing here and abroad and must be factored into our political analysis.

But Lindberg further notes that neither Gore nor Bradley has yet claimed their logical Democratic heirship to Clinton's Third Way approach. It just may not be possible for them to do so and appeal to their extremist constituencies in the course of the Democratic primary campaign. We can rest assured that when either captures the nomination, he will scurry back to the center with lightning speed, pretending he was always there.

On the Republican side, we can only hope that Dubya is not tantalized by Dick Morris' misguided praise. Conservatives, by definition, believe their philosophy already possesses the ideal combination of precepts and policies that best promote liberty and prosperity.

Republicans can market their ideas however they want to -- and should try to connect with constituencies usually written off to Democrats. But they should do so by selling their ideas, not changing them.

JWR contributor David Limbaugh is an attorney practicing in Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a political analyst and commentator. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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