Why Third Way?

We believe that America is best led from the center.

We are Democrats and Independents who share the conviction that government plays an essential role in keeping our promises – for equal opportunity, individual liberty, stewardship of our resources, and lasting security. But we also believe that our nation’s public policies must regularly be reimagined if we’re going to fulfill those ideals.

That conviction makes us highly allergic to the orthodoxies of both the left and right.

Perhaps not surprisingly, we don’t readily fit into the confines of the standard ideological boxes. That means we are passionately moderate on economic, energy, and education issues, unabashedly forward-thinking on social policy, avowedly internationalist on national security.

The 21st century is bringing head-spinning changes—our “post-everything” world is flat, complicated, fast, and diverse. It is full of both immense promise and peril, and it will reward fresh, forward-looking leadership. But our national politics seem rooted in the past, often amounting to nothing more than re-hashing of old debates and outdated ideas.

This dysfunction in Washington serves to maintain the status quo – leaving us unprepared to meet the defining challenge of our time: making the global information era work for the United States, not against us. The innovation, dynamism, and modernization we need from our political system to meet that challenge have simply not kept pace:

  • Once, we could take prosperity—for America and most Americans—for granted. Now, we need new ideas for job-creation, expanding exports, shifting spending from entitlements to public investment, re-thinking higher education, and making the tax code competitive.
  • Once, our K-12 education system was the envy of the world. Now, we are struggling to compete in a knowledge economy, with a teaching profession—the linchpin to providing equal opportunity and mobility—that hasn’t been reformed in generations.
  • Once, our energy was largely shipped in and burned freely. Now, the U.S. is a fossil fuel powerhouse while simultaneously facing a global climate crisis, and we need new policies that can reconcile those two opposing forces.
  • Once, we stood atop the globe as a super-power. Now, we face ever-more complex security threats, but our defense systems are still fitted to a Cold War age.
  • And though some of our hot-button social issues have been addressed, new and pressing questions remain, on immigration, gun safety, and LGBT equality.

Third Way’s role in these debates is to serve as a centrist counterweight to the forces of polarization and ideological rigidity – forces that serve only to preserve the status quo. Our job is straightforward but not easy: we ponder, develop and then offer paradigm-busting policies and narratives; we find creative and strategic ways to make them politically salient; and then we work relentlessly to promote them to policymakers.

So if you are thinking of us as a traditional “think tank,” think again. Many here wear the label of “wonk” with pride, but we aren’t a group of cloistered academics writing papers for obscure conferences, far removed from the push and pull of politics.

Instead, our policy teams create high-impact written products, trainings, and issue campaigns that are designed to move the needle. And we have designed and collected a set of innovative thinking tools to help think outside the box—and then to rethink the box itself.

Our self-imposed test of efficacy? Has our work contributed in a meaningful way to changing either a national policy or a national debate? Is the policymaking community—from Congress to the White House to advocates—using our work? Our record is one of results, with crucial debates that we’ve reshaped and with Third Way ideas that have been put into legislation and even been enacted into law.

Sometimes, we aim for the short-term, with highly practical work ripped from today’s headlines. Other times, we take a long view, pushing beyond what is currently considered possible. With that work, we are helping to catalyze policy conversations that lie over the horizon, creating space for new ideas to blossom. But in all instances, we strive to live up to the words one commentator used to describe us: “the think tank of the future.”

Since our founding in January of 2005, we have never lost sight of our animating purpose, the cause that binds our staff and our Board: to passionately and persuasively represent Americans in the “vital center”— those who value pragmatic solutions and principled compromise over polarization, who intuitively reject the false or simplistic choices too frequently offered by both sides, but whose voices are too often drowned out in Washington.

It is a mission that guides and inspires us, and it is one to which we remain deeply committed.