Larry Yudelson and I were talking about politics, particularly Israeli politics and Israel's recent elections.
We came up with a new model of political ideology. Instead of the usual left-right line, we came up with a cube with three axes:
In some ways, this new model was begat by the recent (last decade) description of some Democrats as being socially liberal and fiscally conservative -- which implied a two-axis model.
For simplicity's sake, we assumed that all voters were extremists and that there were, therefore, six kinds of voters. Turns out that we did the math wrong. 2x2x2 equals eight, not six. Which nicely coincides with the corners of our cube.
If there are 8 kinds of voters, but you only get one kind of government at a time, it's apparent that getting elected -- or governing successfully -- will be a pretty messy affair.
Larry concluded that the only way you can get elected (get 51% of the votes) or, for that matter, govern is by making one dimension paramount (hello demogoguery!).
I'm inclined to be less cynical and responded that, in order to have a stable state, individuals must choose to subordinate two of their axes (otherwise you'll tend to have 8 warring factions).
In any event, this model explains why such a high percentage of the voters appear to be disaffected and disappointed (or feel disenfranchised). On the one-axis model (two party system) you'd expect about half the voters to be unhappy. On the 3-axis system, 87.5% will be unhappy at any given time.
Larry pointed out that sometimes an axis shortens or collapses. We can look at what happened when the US withdrew from VietNam. Within a decade, the Cold War axis (a combination of nationalism and anti-Communism) entirely collapsed and was replaced by a great national debate over fundamentalism. See: school prayer, abortion, gay rights.
Here's what we think happened in the last Israeli elections: First, the voters had started moving to the center on the nationalism axis. In other words, they were willing to consider land for peace. Netanyahu followed the voters to the center. But that caused the collapse of the nationalism axis. Now the only issue between Bibi and Barak was fundamentalism. And on fundamentalism, Bibi inevitably loses because the majority of Israelis are secular.
There are some other issues that we only touched on: strong central government, ethnicity, location of borders. We think these are only side issues but it is possible that these or other issues may become true axes from time to time. In any event, it seems unlikely that more than three will be significant in the national debate at any one time.
Further research could examine: 1) What are the axes? We've identified socialism (economic axis), fundamentalism (religious axis) and nationalism (???). Are these the best choices? 2) How many are there? 3) How long are they? We've used "length" interchangably with "importance", but this should be examined. Perhaps an axis could be rather unimportant but still encompass a wide range of views (length). 4) Are the axes symetrically positioned? 5) Are they straight?
Another example: The Soviet bloc was entirely unified around Communism. They subordinated internal nationalism and ethnic rivalries. They subordinated fundamentalism. But I don't know how much they cared about external nationalism (i.e., Cold War). Economic problems drove them to the center on the economic axis. It then rapidly collapsed and was almost immediately followed by a rise in nationalism in the constituent republics and in ethnic conflict.
It has been said that all politics is local. That was true -- for the Democrats. For years it seemed that the Democrats controlled Congress, while the Republicans controlled the White House. Democrats were successful in House (local) races and Senate (regional) races because Democratic candidates would support popular local and regional issues. On the national level, Democrats were pluralists and were comfortable in a party that was heterogeneous. The Republicans had a clear national program, which killed them in local races but was successful in the Presidential races. One might say that the Democrats were pragmatists and the Republicans were ideologues.
I like the symmetry of saying that the opposite of nationalism is laissez-faire. But couldn't its opposite be one-worldism, individualism or regionalism?
The "media effect." [I think the term is original] I am convinced that many races are won or lost by the effect the campaign has on the media. We know that it's nearly impossible to win a judgeship in Manhattan if your opponent has the NY Times endorsement. As a result, our judicial campaign literature always takes into account "What will the Times editors think of this?" I think that, as reporters moved from working class to middle class, that had an effect on the media's coverage of political races. Reporters also moved from WWII veterans to baby boomers. Now they are, increasingly, people who grew up watching Sesame Street. But that demographic change mirrors what is going on in the population at large. The point to examining the media effect is to see how reporters (and editors) are _different_ from the general population.
I remember reading how the Republicans were using "wedge" issues. As I recall it, a wedge issue is one that divides your opponent's support. Abortion is not a wedge issue. Late term abortion is -- it divides the Democrats, many of whom don't support it. But I think the Democrats finally caught on and started using wedge issues of their own. Abortion in cases of rape or incest drives a wedge into Republican unity. It breaks the moderate Republicans off from the fundamentalists.
Lastly, there is the "Mystery Factor." [Original term] It's a mystery to me how the Bush campaign succeeded in making the Pledge of Allegiance into a campaign issue. Sure, the Pledge was a wedge, breaking off conservative Democrats from the party. But the mystery is: How did Bush manage to put this over, when nobody had cared about the Pledge for 15 years? (Note also that it fell off the radar screen right after the campaign.) On the other hand, JFK used Quimoy and Matsu in the same way. He used it to beat up on Nixon and then, after he was elected, it fell off the radar screen.
"Let me define the issues and I will win the race." (with apologies to Archimedes). When Steve Presburg and I were working on Joyce Smith's campaign for Council in Binghampton, we concluded that, if we could make quality-of-life into the central campaign issue, we could win. And that, on any other issue (like experience), we would lose. It worked: we succeeded in setting the issue for the campaign and Joyce won.
Which neatly ties us up. Quality-of-life, in Joyce's campaign, looked like a mystery factor to our opponent because they didn't know what had hit them. For us, we had just picked an issue that we could win on, and succeeded in making it, briefly, the AXIS of the campaign.
We will now learn our next three words in Turkish.
Report from Iron Mountain on the Possibility and Desirability of Peace With Introductory Material by Leonard C. Lewin. Dial Press, 1967. Larry doesn't believe that this was actually authored by the Special Study Group. I can't imagine why. But I will point out that, at the time, it struck me as a response to Herman Kahn's On Thermonuclear War.
Larry's news digest at is a must-read for anyone interested in politics (particularly Israeli politics) or in Judaism.
The original discussion took place on 6-3-99. I started writing this up on 6/5/99.
8/29/05: I think a triangle makes a useful model for the issue of authority. At one apex is theocracy, tyranny is at the second, and the third is personal autonomy / libertarianism / anarchy. What has made the United States unusual is how we've managed to stay closer to the triangle's center of gravity than most other nations.