Back in the Nineties, Bill Clinton and Tony Blair were advertising something new in politics. They called it a Third Way between left and right.
Bill Clinton talked about the New Democrats that understood the limits of big government and got elected when Ross Perot split the conservative vote, and Tony Blair led a rejuvenated New Labour Party to a stunning victory in 1997.
How then did the Democrats offer up Barack Obama with his trillion dollar stimulus and his two trillion dollar ObamaCare? And how come that the Labour Party in Britain is running third in the polls for the General Election on Thursday? That set Michael Barone wondering what had happened to the "Third Way."
Both parties have moved well to the left. Barack Obama and Blair's successor, Gordon Brown, head governments that are running budget deficits of 10 percent of gross domestic product. Both are promoting higher taxes and expansion of government programs.
So what's so wrong with the Third Way strategy that both parties have dumped it? There's no indication that the Third Way has lost popularity with the voters. But the "lurch to the left" has certainly run into trouble, so much so that the left is blaming the voters as bigots (Britain) and racists (US).
The answer to the problem is simple. The liberal elite in both countries never really believed in the Third Way. The Third Way was always just a tactical maneuver.
Instead the liberal elite believes in itself. It believes that the enlightened elite should guide the political sector and that the political sector should closely micromanage the economic sector. The moral/cultural sector should stay out of it except when it speaks with a liberal or secular voice.
There's no point in being an enlightened, educated elite unless you get the power and the prestige as well. A lightly regulated, self-responsible economic sector would be no fun at all to the liberal elite, for it would suggest that the elite and its expertise was unnecessary.
The fact is that this is nothing new. Ever since Rousseau in the 18th century the educated class has believed that it was born to rule, and it has argued tirelessly that nobody else was morally or ethically fit to rule. Not the middle class, not the capitalists, and certainly not the religious leaders. And of course the working class, bless their hearts, needed guidance.
There's a problem with this political philosophy. It is that the educated elite knows nothing about the practical things of making and doing. It wants to stand around naming and blaming, taxing and spending. And it also wants to thrill to the roar of the crowd. But its plans and programs always end in corruption and failure.
There will be more "Third Ways" in our future, and more New Democrats and New Labours. The liberal educated elite moves tactically to the center whenever it needs to. But after it gets elected it soon gets back to its old habits, and we end up with Obamas and Browns.
One wag recently went to the London zoo and decided that Gordon Brown "is like a camel in a filthy mood."
Who knows what Barack Obama will look like after another year or two as president?