Dr. Strangehold: How the Republicans Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the “Third Way” — Diane Alden

By Diane Alden

The NewsMax Years

The rallying cry for the journey down the “Third Way” ought to be: “Cry havoc! Slip loose the dogs of the trite bromide!” (Apologies to Shakespeare.) Gypsy Rose Lee might have described the “Third Way” as the intelligentsia and the political class gyrating, bumping and grinding to: “You Gotta Have a Gimmick.”

By whatever name it is called, Clinton-Blair-Schroeder Third Way, Contract with America, Third Wave, Great Society, New Deal, New Paradigm, Thousand Points of Light, Compassionate Conservatism (comcon), nanny state, or bud-in-ski-ism, the intentions behind it may be admirable but the concept is flawed.

The reasoning camouflaging the new-old dialectic for expanding government influence is a prescription for inept, mediocre, more of the same, dead in the water government “help” to achieve ephemeral “righteous” ends. This “help” goes hand in hand with a plan which is intended to lift the poor and/or emerging nations from poverty. For the most part both the help and the plan will merely inflict more ill conceived, unworkable elitist Western government programs on those it is meant to help.

The current flurry of sacred “plans” comes as a result of a breakdown of 20th century’s predictable order — the Cold War and the recognition that government social programs don’t work. It combines a controlled form of free-market capitalism and social programs, juggling both to accomplish elitist ill-defined humanitarian goals, which will fail like its ancestors before it.

But the “third way” crowd will “help” everyone whether they ask for it or not. Plus they will insist that everyone chip in a “contribution” until the “helpee” gets better.

Among certain elites there is the notion that capitalism is a system, which unfairly beats up on the weak-minded poor, ignorant and incompetent. In its essence this notion is elitist, statist, condescending, contemptuous and patronizing.

These haute monde (snotty) conceits deny the evidence that the free-market and faith in the individual to make proper choices is the animus, the soul of real liberty and prosperity. The “Third Way” looks to an old-world dying view, that it is the state and its parasitic bureaucracies, which engender prosperity and freedom.

Nonetheless, in recent years, some politicians and social observers at the local and state level have made startling admissions. Discovering, post Great Depression, that the beneficent, cradle to grave, all encompassing – but societal destroying socialist/welfare state – has fundamental flaws. Reluctantly, the federal political class followed suit and passed “welfare reform.” But rather than continuing in that vein, wisely decreasing the influence, tax burden, and bureaucratic control of people’s lives, the statist elites have come up with a “new” plan and another reason why government must “help” those left economically behind. Thus, the “Third Way may be called by many names.

However, this new-old plan must first obtain legitimacy and therefore must take on the quasi-religious aura of a crusade, leading its followers to all things wise and wonderful. To wit there has to be a government administered plan to keep the wolves and boogey-men at bay from the citizens of the most prosperous country on the face of the earth. No risky options for anyone. Better that freedom should be lost than anyone should suffer the consequences of poor choices or the luck of the draw.

Not surprisingly in this worldview, everything and nothing can be accomplished without massive string pulling by the agents of the plan. Some form of federal government help, or a combination of federal help and community and private agencies is contemplated. But along with it comes the perquisite federal strings attached.

Armed with the ability to tax, the string pulling class, has decided to steer a 21st century course for the inhabitants of the United States, and tomorrow – the world. Likewise, the high priests of the plan are initiating rites to be performed by a bureaucratic hierarchy. By using regulations, which require massive amounts of paperwork – and in some cases taxes of 60 percent the hierarchy keeps the flock loyal and in their place.

Admittedly, some plans have more success than others. The G.I. Bill and its brother the Marshall Plan had a modicum of accomplishment and part of the reason is the fact that each formula had a limited duration, limited budget, and was offered to highly motivated individuals who had just been through hell. The people who administered these plans also had a sense of proportion and a realization that the success of the plan had more to do with the motivation of those who took part than it did with the plan itself.

Although they were relatively successful, these strategies were subject to abuse and also called for large amounts of tax monies to pay for them. Spurred by this success, the high priests of sacred plans devised still more – most of which merely flung money down a government sanctioned rat hole.

Contributions to the IMF, the UN, poorly managed foreign aid, cancerous and inept social programs taking up ever increasing percentages of the Gross National Product, over reaching environmental regulations, involvement in foreign wars and adventures not approved by congress, subsidizing corporations and pet projects of the political class and paying more and getting less all come to mind.

Even more devastating is the growth of bureaucracy created to implement them. Still and all, the antithesis of the sacred way is the slight matter of liberty.

In the most recent issue of Foreign Affairs, historian, statesman, and author Lord Ralf Dahendorf maintains: “The new global class of people hope to benefit from changed forces of production…There is something slightly contrived, almost elitist about the concept. The term “Third Way” shows a curious absence of historical awareness among its protagonists. It also show an unfortunate need to have a unified, or at any rate uniquely labeled, ideology.”

He wisely maintains that, “In an open world, there are not just two or three ways but an indefinite number. There are many democracies…there are many capitalisms… the Third Way reforms of the welfare state not only involve compulsory savings but…the strict insistence on everyone working, including single mothers and the disabled…As it stands today, there are too many authoritarian temptations. The internationalization of decisions and activities almost invariably means a loss of democracy…it is more important than even a few years ago to begin a new political project with the insistence on liberty before we turn to social inclusion and cohesion.

Compassionate “Gummint” Is Here To Help You

In the words of Manhattan Institute Comcon guru Myron Magnet:

“Compassionate Conservatism does represent a break with national Republican programs of the past. But far from being an empty slogan, it is a well-formed domestic policy agenda. At its core is concern for the poor – not a traditional Republican preoccupation – and an explicit belief that government has a responsibility for poor Americans. From Richard Nixon on down, the policy of Republican presidents toward the poor seems to have been, in Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s indelible phrase, benign neglect. For Nixon this meant extending welfare programs he considered useless; for Ronald Reagan and George Bush it similarly meant paying scant attention to social issues. But more recently, several innovative Republican mayors and governors have made solving the problems of the urban underclass a top priority. Compassionate conservatism really is the effort to make these solutions central to national politics”

Does Mr. Magnet therefore believe that not enough attention was paid to social programs in the past, even though nearly $6 trillion was invested in them? Or does he merely believe that not enough money was hurled in their direction wrapped in only lukewarm government love and understanding? Or perhaps his concern is that “comcons” want to make sure “gummint” has a hand in screwing up programs which are working pretty well without said interference.

The question for the Republicans becomes: Are innovative government solutions to problems the “way” the truth and the light to a “better America?” If, as Magnet says, local and state government is having such an impact on social problems, why would he want to make more federal interference in the form of “help” a “new paradigm?” Was it not the choice of more people to vote Republicans into office because it was a core principle to dismantle expensive government “schemes?”

Government Census Bureau stats indicate that trillions of dollars thrown at social problems have done precious little to help an entrenched under-class. Bureaucratic “help” has all too often proved to be more hindrance than anything else. Additionally, bureaucrats are not noted for their kindly attitude or can-do spirit towards the poor — or anyone else. Just try getting one of them on the phone sometime.

The standard solution for those who want to inflict more inept help on the poor is to cry “education”; more money for education. If more money is thrown at education, then what? As they say, if you do more of the same, you will get more of the same. In other words, is money the answer? Is federal interference the answer?

Apparently many Americans think not, because each year thousands more take their children out of the public schools and send them to private or home school them. It is only the poor, and some unlucky suburbanites like the parents who sent their children to a Columbine High – a good school – who are choosing to believe that government has the answers.

The education establishment, which has burgeoned since the early 70s, has not been the instrument of an educated citizenry. Declining test scores have been the standard since the 60s. Employers know it. Most people know it. As the quality of American social and civic life affirms, government and the educational establishment has done very little to improve the quality of life or do its job.

Of course there are those who never give up on a bad idea because they have no original ideas of their own. So the keepers of the sacred plan of the moment -offer the new and improved version of more of the same.

What Hath Government Wrought?

Since the rise of Lyndon Johnson’s “Great Society,” compassion for the poor has been a national obligation. Every year since Johnson’s programs began, the amount of money spent helping the poor has become gargantuan in terms of manpower and money appropriated towards an ill defined goal. Approximately $5.8 trillion has been spent on domestic programs as societal bell weathers, such as the number of illegitimate births, have increased.

In 1960, five percent of births were illegitimate. By the 90s it has reached 31 percent. Unfortunately, for groups such as African-Americans their illegitimacy rates have increased to nearly 70 percent. Little consolation for whites is that their illegitimacy rate is growing faster and is over 30 percent. While in recent years there has been a slight drop, it is not enough to say the problem has been solved. Nor is the improvement because of anything the government has done. Welfare reform, epidemic social disease, and a new respect for abstinence among the young are part of the reason for the slight decline?

Is there a problem that should be solved by more government involvement? Is their real poverty and are people starving? Dr. Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation maintains: “If poverty is defined generally as lacking adequate nutritious food for the family, clothing, and a reasonably warm and dry apartment to live in, or lacking a car to get to work when one is needed, then there are few poor persons remaining in the United States.

“Real material hardship does occur, but it is limited in extent and severity. The bulk of the “poor” today live in material conditions that would have been judged comfortable or well-off just a few generations ago…But material living standards were improving dramatically and poverty was dropping sharply long before the War on Poverty began. The principal effect of the War on Poverty has been not to raise incomes, but to displace self-sufficiency with dependence…The collapse of the work ethic and family structure has profound effects on low-income Americans and society in general, far outweighing any changes in income or living conditions.”

Just the Facts Ma’am

Government entitlements make up nearly half of federal spending. Under the Bush-Clinton administrations, reductions in defense appropriations have been given over to domestic spending. Interest payments on the debt make up nearly the entire other half.

Under the Clinton Administration, with a frightened Republican Congress rubber stamping almost the entire domestic program, that debt continues to grow. When Republicans attempted to slow down the rate of increase in domestic spending, the media and the statist elites screamed, “gridlock,” and the government shut down for a short time.

Whipped by the sycophant media hype, conservative Republicans caved. They continued to cave for fear they would be portrayed as cruel and “mean-spirited.” The result; the front runner for the GOP nomination for President of the United States is returning to a “kinder, gentler” more of the same old incompetent government string pulling. Thus, the “plan” will survive into the foreseeable future.

The prosperity and “surplus” of the moment is used as a rationale for looking to “poor” Americans as a reason to continue more of the same government interference. But does the surplus exist? Or in fact is it robbing an imaginary Peter to pay a really enormous and grossly overweight Paul. Right now the “surplus” is a paper one, based on anticipated revenues and Social Security payments. By the year 2015 this surplus will disappear as the effects of the “bipartisan budget agreement” of today makes those living in 2015, owe their souls to the government store.

If the economy grows worse, and as baby boomers age the imaginary budget surplus will turn into a very real deficit. This will mean taxes high enough to start a rebellion and boomers not receiving their fair share of “compassionate government” largesse. Government projections of a surplus in 2002 show that deficits will begin to increase by 2003. Current Social Security funds are helping to engender the imaginary Peter with the money bags to pay Paul somewhere down the road, all things being equal.

The “Strangehold” on Republicans

Republicans are not totally to blame for their apparent caving and cowardice. After all it is a difficult task to stay focused and on course, true to your core principles, economic or social; as Dan Rather or Judy Woodruff intone about how you have just ended the free world as we know it by disallowing further government spending or pleading for tax cuts.

Nonetheless, the inability to get the conservative message out is strange phenomenon. Although in state after state, government is headed by fiscally conservative Republicans. In addition, Congress, despite its brain dead leadership and terminal waffling, continues with a majority.

However, what is despicable from the Republicans is how far and fast the they have run from the programs and philosophy of Ronald Reagan. George Bush did indeed try for a “kinder, gentler” nation — on the backs of the middle class taxpayer. He accepted the bad advice of the last Republican loser, Bob Dole, and raised taxes.

Now, the Republicans stand with hat in hand, shuffling feet as the spin-doctors tell us that Clinton’s economic record was better than Reagan’s. According to government statistics, the growth rate under Clinton has been 2.7 percent. Under Ronald Reagan it went from 3.2 percent to 3.8 percent between 1983-89. Government forecasts predict a 2-2.5 percent growth rate through the end of the decade.

Therefore, the 90s will have had the lowest economic growth rate since the Great Depression. Additionally, the bad old Reagan years have out performed the 90s in economic growth, job creation, the rise in personal income and production. The only worst case was that in the Reagan period the savings rate fell rapidly. Real median family income grew by $4,000 during the Reagan years and experienced a $1500 loss in post-Reagan years.

Yet the Republicans would be bamboozled by the economic thinking of a Treasury Secretary Larry Summer, who warned in November of 1982 of a coming inflation “time bomb” because of Reaganomics, tax cuts, regulatory de-control, and cuts in domestic spending. Very interesting and very typical.

It was during the mean-street Reagan years, between 1981-88, that real household incomes grew for whites by 9.8 percent and for blacks by 11 percent. The poorest Americans in the 80s saw a 6 percent increase in real income and a 3 percent increase in the 90s in Bush-Clinton “good-times.”

In fact in the 90s, real household income for whites has declined by more than 3 percent, while blacks have posted a mere 2 percent gain. But goodness how those Keynesian spin-meisters can spin. And how easily the Republicans dance to the discordant propaganda tune of the statists, Clinton advisors, and the sycophant media. They have also succombed to the tendency to Oprah-ize policy issues, which all too often are decided on feelings rather than facts.

Compassion Based on Truth

By 1989 there were 5.9 million more Americans whose salaries exceeded $50,000 a year. The number of Americans earning less than $10,000 a year fell by 3.4 million workers.

Real federal revenues grew faster after Reagan cut tax rates than after Bush and Clinton tax hikes. From 1982 to 1989 they expanded by nearly 25 percent. Between 1990-97 real federal revenues grew by 19.3 percent.

Today, if housing and medical subsidies are factored in, the average “poor” household income rises to $20,335. Clinton’s response to this inconvenient fact was to lower the threshold of who is “poor.” This reaction is true “voodoo economics” and smoke and mirrors at its finest.

Statists fog the issue and insist that mean Republicans blame the victim. Republicans need to turn it around and say that statists don’t give the poor enough credit for being able to learn how to make good economic decisions, which will benefit them in the long-term.

The real search for Republicans should be to discover if the Republican version of the “third way” will really do anything to make life more just or “better” for the working poor or the chronic under-class? If it involves more government spending or “plans” or string pulling than it is just another trite bromide to justify government expansion.

While the private sector would most likely make mistakes helping the poor, they won’t be as big or as costly as those made by the federal government. State and local government can lend a hand but in truth only the individual can motivate himself to seek help and improve his lot.

Dr. R. Fuelner, President of the Heritage Foundation, recently put the issue in perspective: “Civil society and the welfare state are inimical to each other because their aims conflict-even if at first glance this does not seem to be the case…True compassion requires personal involvement with another’s misfortune. It requires people to understand suffering before they try to alleviate it. It does not countenance unreflective giving. It requires society to think before it acts. This is why the institutions of civil society “succeed” at compassion-and why government typically fails.”

Unfortunately, those who favor government expansion – the statists – refuse to recognize logic, historical data, statistics, or common sense and cannot be convinced that government is only helpful when it gets out of the way.

That would decrease their influence and power, and make their creaky worn out 19th century Charles Dickens’ dictums and scenarios irrelevant and futile. Reducing taxes and bureaucracies, with their stifling sacred writ, should be tried – one time – before we finally turn heart and soul over to the command and control of the central government.

Living with less bureaucratic government actually hasn’t been tried since before the Great Depression; the spin-doctors only want you to think it has. They don’t want you to know that Reagan was on the right track.

Unfortunately, for the Republicans and America, a kinder, gentler, central statist mentality took Reagan’s place. That was followed by a mentality of the corporate state variety with police state overtones; the “third way” of Clinton and Blair.

The sacred plan of the friends and comrades of the “third way” will only get Republicans and the rest of us an expansion of what we already have; and results which don’t make life better for anyone except certain elites, while being immorally expensive.

Besides we have more at stake than money. Our liberty is on the line.

First published in NewsMax.com, 22 October 1999.

The Moral Lib­eral Senior Edi­tor, Diane Alden, was one of NewsMax.com’s most pop­u­lar and out­spo­ken pun­dits ( 1999–2008), and before that, a wonk for The Nevada Pol­icy Insti­tute. A former DJ in Geor­gia, Diane of late has been a weekly guest on the East Coast hit program, The Marc Bernier Show. Diane is loved for her quick sense of humor, cre­ative vocab­u­lary, inde­pen­dence of mind, and her pen­e­trat­ing analy­sis of a wide range of polit­i­cal, eco­nomic, and cul­tural issues.