Features

Blair-ing trumpets

International

Issue: "Clinton unites conservatives," Oct. 10, 1998

in London - A significant minority (significant in that the bartender was among them) growled at the visage of Bill Clinton on the telly; it had been on all day. The barman at this small, smoky London pub called The George flipped through the channels searching for politics a bit more local. Peter Collins, a 22-year-old graduate student in economics at Reading University, complained that the president's problems were completely overshadowing Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech outlining "Third Way" governance. That speech, given in New York two weeks ago, was an attempt to map out the beliefs and strategy of middle-of-the-road politics-the kind of politics supposedly embodied by Mr. Blair and Mr. Clinton. "This is the politics of the future," predicted Mr. Collins. "Monica Lewinsky won't matter in a year's time; but what Blair says now is going to shape Europe." Both predictions are perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but there's no question Mr. Blair's speech was important. He is clearly emerging as the leader of the Third Way politics now ruling Western Europe. In addition to Britain's Blair, Italy's Romano Prodi and France's Lionel Jospin subscribe to this thinking. Last weekend's chancellor election in Germany, in which Social Democrat Gerhard Schroder defeated four-term Chancellor Helmut Kohl, also involved Third Way polity. And now Mr. Blair has taken it upon himself to compose the manifesto of the movement: The Third Way: New Politics for the New Century (published to coincide with his New York speech). "My vision of the 21st century is of a popular politics reconciling themes which in the past have been wrongly regarded as antagonistic," he writes. "Patriotism and internationalism, rights and responsibilities, and the promotion of enterprise and the attack on poverty and discrimination." The pairings make for powerful rhetoric-and Mr. Blair, like President Clinton, knows it. "Today's political leaders are drawn from the managerial classes," says London's Financial Times. "Without ideas and inspiration, politics cannot conceal its hollowness. Pragmatism must make some connection with principle." But here's the problem: The principle Mr. Blair lays out is pragmatism. "A large measure of pragmatism is essential," he writes. "What matters is what works to give effect to our values." What are those values? "We can only realize ourselves as individuals in a thriving civil society," he contends. "Values are not absolute, and even the best can conflict. Our mission is to promote and reconcile the four values which are essential to a just society: equal worth, opportunity for all, responsibility, and community." Even a light reading of Mr. Blair's booklet shows that the Third Way ship of state is listing to port. "The Third Way stands for a modernized social democracy, passionate in its commitment to social justice and the goals of the center-left, but flexible, innovative, and forward looking in the means to achieve them," Mr. Blair writes. Mr. Blair shares with President Clinton a tendency to emphasize rhetoric and skip lightly over the details. "The rights we enjoy reflect the duties we owe," he says to applause. "Rights and opportunity without responsibility are engines of selfishness and greed." One influential newspaper, the Financial Times, critiqued such an attempt to map out the Third Way. "Tony Blair and Bill Clinton's Third Way project has all the characteristics of an intellectual rave for middle-class, middle-aged, disillusioned social democrats, high on the 'e' of waffly e-mailed treatises on the future of center-left politics."

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