Have the Wall Street Democrats of "Third Way" or their predecessors in the Clintonite "Democratic Leadership Council" ever been right about an important economic issue?
That's not meant as a thoughtless insult or flippant one-liner. We consider it a legitimate line of inquiry, especially at a time when their pronouncements are being used as ammunition for an aggressive campaign against Social Security, Medicare, and other vital government programs.
We can omit topics of limited economic importance from our investigation. The "centrist" Democrats often adopt the "liberal" line on social issues like gun control or gay marriage -- which, coincidentally or not, are also issues which have little or no financial impact on their corporate and high-net-worth individual sponsors.
But what's the verdict on the core economic issues of our time?
Prof. William K. Black Jr. was understandably displeased by the New York Times' description of the Third Way think tank as "center/left." Prof. Black writes that "Some lies will not die ... Third Way is Wall Street on the Potomac. It is funded secretly by Wall Street (it refuses to reveal its donors), it is openly run by Wall Street, and it lobbies endlessly for Wall Street."
Black adds that "Third Way, like every Pete Peterson front group, is dedicated to shredding the safety net as its highest priority and throwing the Nation back into a gratuitous recession through self-destructive austerity."
The description of Third Way as a "Pete Peterson front group" might seem to contradict the "Wall Street" label. It doesn't. Peterson's a hedge fund billionaire who has devoted decades of his life, as well as an enormous sum (he spent nearly a half-billion dollars in one five-year period alone) to slashing Social Security and lowering taxes for himself, his ultra-wealthy peers, and large corporations.
Black's words are likely to be deemed uncivil in most Washington circles, where it's considered impolite to mention a gentleman's or lady's wealthy (and potentially corrupting) funding sources in polite company. Besides, who wants to find themselves thinking negative thoughts about lobbying when you may want to pursue it yourself someday?
This "civil" attitude toward an uncivic activity proved very useful in the 1990s, as corporate Democrats joined with Republicans in the extremely civil exercise of deregulating Wall Street on behalf of their common paymasters.
Wild in the Streets
In those days Third Way President Jonathan Cowan was predicting -- or attempting to instigate -- a generational war over Social Security and Medicare benefits. In 1994 Cowan and Rob Nelson co-authored a book called Revolution X, which argued that greedy baby boomers were going to ruin the economy with their rapacious appetites for things like medical care and financial security when they grew old.
Cowan, who was born in 1965, was young enough back then to have employed a slogan like "Don't respect the Social Security Trust Fund of anyone over thirty."
The book predicted cataclysmic events in 2011 when, said the authors, rapacious Boomers "will stop working, many will stop paying taxes, and all will start gobbling up pensions and health care benefits." (Note the use of the word "gobbling": it's a classic Peterson-ism.)
The result, predicted Revolution X, would be a "shock wave" that would "blast people from their homes, rapidly plummet millions into poverty, and threaten the economic security and financial stability of our entire nation."