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Stuck Between Stations

There is something to this, especially if what is seen to be falling is not the market system itself but an approach to capitalism that saw government playing an ever smaller role in economic and social life, and finance reigning over production and invention.

Still, that doesn't make us socialist. There is, as yet, no broad demand for a government takeover of big companies or a widespread desire to replace capitalism with a cooperative system. We may well become more social democratic, socialism's philosophical brother that made peace with the market after World War II. But above all, the demand in the democracies is for experimentation and (I know this word is unsatisfying) pragmatism. We have put down the ideological enthusiasms of the Reagan-Thatcher Era and come up with ... well, with a lot of questions.

He was discussing the state of the fight between Republicans and Democrats in Washington, but this will also be the theme when the world's leading economic powers meet in London this week.

These areas of difference may well be played up in the news accounts. What the reports won't say is that this is hardly surprising, since the world's leaders are still trying to figure out the precise nature of the storm that has hit us.

This was brought home last week when President Obama met with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia. Both are young. Both were elected with overwhelming support among voters under 30.

On the right end of politics, the British Conservative Party leader David Cameron has made a name for himself mainly by backing away from the old Thatcher brand in favor of pragmatism--and by being young. When Obama made his European campaign swing last year, Cameron embraced him, suggesting that the British Tory wants to move beyond a discredited conservative past.

To all rules there are exceptions, of course. The hot new political property in France is Olivier Besancenot, whose party carries an unambiguous name: The New Anti-Capitalist Party. In Germany, the trends are utterly confusing. Some voters are protesting the status quo by moving left while others do so by moving toward the staunchly pro-capitalist Free Democratic Party.

E.J. Dionne, Jr. is the author of the recently published Souled Out: Reclaiming Faith and Politics After the Religious Right. He is a Washington Post columnist, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and a professor at Georgetown University.

By E.J. Dionne, Jr.