As of this writing, Third Way's "About Us" page still says that the group promotes "modern ideas aimed at the center" -- a spot that anybody with a rudimentary knowledge of geometry knows is to the right of "the left." The group's website sneers at "the rigid or outdated orthodoxies of both the left and right" and claims that "there is a better way, a 'third way -- one that discards the false choices presented by both sides."
So when Third Way employees describe themselves as "progressive," they should be asked which aspect of that movement they're embracing: Is it the "rigidity," the "outdated orthodoxies," or the "false choices"?
Nevertheless, credulous journalists in the mainstream media are buying the idea that "the left is divided over Social Security and Medicare," using Third Way as the sole example of the split. And Kessler dutifully describes himself as progressive in his debate with Lawson.
Third Way's rhetoric is straight out of the Pete Peterson, anti-social contract playbook. Like other members of that movement, they disparage people of differing viewpoints (cf. "stale," "rigid," and "orthodox") and describe themselves in grandiose terms, as when Third Way promises "Fresh Thinking" to replace the stale ideas of their opponents. But there's nothing "fresh" about an agenda that promises more of the same economic policies that have decimated the middle class for three decades.
Members of the anti-social contract movement also love to describe themselves as "realists," which Third Way dutifully says of itself. Here's something else straight out of the playbook: Third Way, for example, says its Draconian cuts to Social Security were offered as a way to "break the silence" on the subject. ...
Silence? It's a billionaire-funded cacaphony out there. It's so loud that the truly knowledgeable experts on the topic can't be heard above the din.
My only face-to-face encounter with Third Way took place during an all-day seminar held at their Washington DC offices in 2008. But it was an enlightening one.
Jonathan Cowan, who co-founded the group with Kessler, attended the discussions, which at one point turned to the Republican right's position on an matter of economic policy. None of the assembled experts, from a variety of fields, could find any underlying logic to their varying proposals. I suggested that the common thread was simply the economic self-interest of the politicians themselves, and of their financial backers.
I was surprised when Cowan, who also seems like a pleasant person, grew visibly angry. He said it was "off-limits" to disparage the motives of your opponents and cut off my comments. I was struck enough by the tone of that remark to make a note of it afterwards. Anyone who studies economics knows that people often act in their own financial self-interest -- sometimes consciously, sometimes concealing their underlying motivation even from themselves.
Why the anger -- because the subject hits too close to home? Because it undermines the defining principles of pseudo-centrism to recognize that many of our political debates are really a conflict between classe driven by wealthy people acting in self-interest? I don't know. I tried to engage Cowan in a conversation about it afterwards but had no luck.
The Wind-up ...
Kessler's manner is so engaging and rational-sounding that it's tempting to overlook how deceptive he's being, and the fundamentally misleading nature of Third Way's approach to Social Security and Medicare. Consider this chart, from the Third Way website:
The "Entitlements" line combines Medicare costs (and possibly those of Medicaid and CHIP as well) with Social Security. But Social Security is entirely self-funded, and is forbidden by law from contributing to the deficit. Its costs are not projected to skyrocket - but health-related costs are. Conflating the two comes right out of the broader, Wall Street-funded movement's bag of tricks.