The President’s Analyst

Portsmouth native Bill Schneider’s personal journey through politics

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In Virginia’s recent election, one third of voters said that a member of their family was affected by the recent government shutdown. “And of those voters, [Democrat Terry] McAuliffe got 56 percent of the vote,” Schneider says. “It might have been the factor that put him over.”

Another reason for McAuliffe’s win over Republican Ken Cuccinelli is the voting trends of Northern Virginia. “I remember growing up we used to call it North Virginia, like it was a completely different state, like West Virginia. It still feels that way.” Schneider points out that he’s currently on the Virginia payroll, serving as the Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Professor at George Mason University’s School of Public Policy. “I teach in Northern Virginia, and about half my students are foreign born. There is a huge influx of immigrants here; young, single people—you used to call them yuppies.”

He cites the changing demographics of Coastal Virginia as another factor. “It’s the second largest area of Virginia, and because of the military presence, [it] has never been as ‘Southern’ as the interior of Virginia. It’s become more Democratic, more cosmopolitan, more diverse. Virginia Beach, I think, is still fairly Republican, while Portsmouth, where I grew up, is still majority African-American, and that’s been loyally Democratic for decades.”

It’s time to ask the big question—is the Aristotle a Democrat or a Republican?

“I would say that I’m a Democrat but a moderate Democrat, middle of the road, which is why I’m at the Third Way, which is a moderate Democratic think tank,” he says.

Third Way presents moderate political options on a lot of policies, especially in economics. “I wouldn’t say that everyone here thinks exactly the same,” Schneider says. “There is a great diversity of opinion; some people more on the left, some more on the right.”

In its mission statement, Third Way claims to “represent Americans in the ‘vital center’—those who believe in pragmatic solutions and principled compromise.”

“We occupy a very hallowed ground in policy and politics which is sort of underground,” says Sean Gibbons, the Vice President for Communications at Third Way. “But the truth is that a plurality of Americans self-identify themselves as moderate, but most of the think tanks and policy centers where politicians go to get their ideas are aligned with the left, which is a relatively new development, and a ton of organizations align themselves with the right, such as the Heritage Foundation, Cato Institute and American Enterprise Institute. Not too many of those serve everyday Americans who go about their lives—pragmatic, sensible, solution-oriented. But we focus on thinking about politics and policy from their perspective.”

At Third Way, Schneider publishes a monthly newsletter (called “Inside Politics,” after his old CNN show) and hosts newsmakers and politicians—everyone from White House staffers to prominent journalists to politicians like Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine—for a monthly roundtable discussion.

His institutional knowledge is invaluable to Third Way, Gibbons says. “Bill is a walking Wikipedia. If you have a question and it has anything to do with politics or policy or American history, you can try to look it up on Google, or you can talk to Bill.”

“The idea behind Third Way is that the Democratic Party should always be a big tent,” Schneider maintains. “For that matter, that was Ronald Reagan’s view of the Republican Party, and that seems to have gone away.”

Reagan remains a fascinating figure to this political junkie. People today remember the Gipper’s rhetoric but not his political style. “He believed everything he said, even if he didn’t always carry it out in practice,” Schneider says. “Ronald Reagan would give a speech on Monday attacking taxes as an unspeakable evil, and on Tuesday he would raise taxes, and on Wednesday he would give the same speech all over again. And he believed every word. But if you said, ‘But Mr. Reagan, didn’t you just raise taxes yesterday,’ he’d say ‘Oh well, that was just to get the budget passed. That was just politics.’”

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