3D Politics: And that puts the UnParty… smack dab in the middle, more squarely than ever

As you know, I strenuously resist any attempt to place me along America’s left-right political spectrum, even to the extent of being in the middle. Personally, I just don’t feel comfortable anywhere on that line, and “middle” suggests always being somewhere between the two extremes (or, to use another paradigm I reject, between the two parties), which I most certainly am not. Depending on the issue, sometimes I’m in the middle, sometimes I agree with Democrats, sometimes with Republicans, and sometimes I’m out beyond either of them on their respective “wings.”

That’s because I think about each issue and the various factors bearing upon it, rather than buying a prefab set of values selected by someone else to appeal to some variation on the lowest common denominator. I passionately believe that that’s an inadequate, and intellectually dishonest, way to approach important public issues.

Considering all of that, I was intrigued by a chart Herb Brasher shared with me, which was compiled by his son, a teaching fellow in political science at Indiana University.

Here’s the description. The chart itself is above:

I’ve been thinking about messing around with a 3-dimensional model of partisan ideology for a while. Usually we only talk of right vs. left, although some political science literature works with two dimensions. While somewhat difficult to display for an artistically challenged person like me, I make a rough shot at placing European, Canadian, and American parties in a more complex political spectrum. Any thoughts, suggestions?
1) Parties / Party Families
a) SOC: European socialists
b) SOD: European Social Democrats and some socialists; British labour; Canadian NDP;
c) Green: Greens/environmental parties
d) CD: European Christian Democrats
e) DEM: American Democrats
f) CON: European and Canadian conservatives
g) LIB: European liberals
h) CLIB: Canadian Liberals
i) REP: American Republicans
j) TEA: American Tea-party
2) Partisan Ideology Dimensions:
a) Some assumptions:
i. Instead of the common left-right model, or even two-dimensional one in some political science literature, a three-dimensional one; added complexity, but also better representation of reality?
ii. Note: all parties fit within the liberal democratic framework – I’m not including parties that want to get rid of democratic regime form
b) Dimensions
i. Free vs. social market – degree to which party advocates government involvement in the economy, and social welfare policies
ii. Environment vs. Growth – degree to which party advocates environmental protection, quality of life vs. growth of economy (particularly jobs) – this is separate from the
above issue – strong interventionist parties, like the social democrats, are not traditionally known as pro-environment (blue-collar jobs, etc.)
iii. Secular-Religious – degree to which party/party family either rhetorically or programmatically promotes traditional vs. progressive values; or situates itself as a secularizing force, or protective of religion, etc.
3) Interpreting Party Position
a) Position: I place the parties in the figure based on a quick and dirty assessment of its ideological positioning vis-à-vis each of these dimensions
b) Size: I’m assuming that each party ‘box’ is the same size; however, in order to get a 3D effect, the bigger the box appears in the figure (and the bigger the font), the closer it is to the front, and the smaller, the further back it is. In this case, since the secular-religious dimension is the third dimension, the more secular a given party/party family is, the further up front it is, the further back, the more religious.

Unfortunately, this did not help place me, really — except, if you assume that these are the three axes that must be considered, to put me right in the middle, even in three dimensions. Here’s why:

  • Free vs. Social Market — This just doesn’t cause a flutter in my heart either way. The libertarians on the blog will cry, “He’s a statist!,” but I’m not. I sound like it sometime because the prevailing wind in South Carolina is radically libertarian, libertarian to a harmful degree, and I resist it strenuously in an effort to pull the conversation toward a neutral middle ground. I believe there is nothing inherently superior about either the public or the private sector (which is why I’m always arguing with people who believe, ideologically, that the private is inherently better — I never run into anyone on the opposite side of that equation to argue with). There are simply issues that are better solved one way, and others that are better solved another.
  • Environment vs. Growth — I’ve cared deeply about the Earth since before the first Earth Day, when I was in high school. But I think some people take some really ridiculous, harmful positions in the name of love of the Earth. I reject those who reflexively reject nuclear power, for instance. And of course we should drill in the ANWR and offshore — taking care to do so safely. In fact, my whole Energy Party Manifesto sits squarely along the center of this axis. Or perhaps I should say, borrows from various points along it. And one of the reasons why is that I think the country’s strategic position in the world is tied up with, and just as important as, the two issues on this axis. That affects the way I look at both.
  • Secular-Religious — No question that I endorse the First Amendment and the liberal democracy it makes possible. I also think secularists are off their trolleys with their oversensitivity about religion in public life, seeing every small expression — a nativity, a blue law, a public prayer — as some sort of establishment of a theocracy. So again, I can’t be comfortable in either camp.
  • The thing is, I think a lot more than those three factors are involved, and I try to take all the other factors into account as well. So does the UnParty, bless them.

    22 thoughts on “3D Politics: And that puts the UnParty… smack dab in the middle, more squarely than ever

    1. bud

      I have to cry fowl here. If you think we should drill in the ANWR and in deep ocean water then you are decidedly not, NOT in any way, shape or form someone who wishes to strike a balance between growth and the environment. Those are two of the most horrific offenders of the environment on so many grounds it’s not even funny. Aside from the all-too obvious impact to the oceans when a spill occurs this type of drilling ultimately contributes to global warming and urban sprawl. Seriously Brad, sometimes I wonder if you actually consider the logic of what you are saying.

    2. bud

      Ok, I’ll play.

      I believe the State should have a critical roll in regulating the nation’s economy. But a state planned economy cannot work. The value of the market to reward innovators and hard work is clear. Yet the market is rife with spillover costs and negative externalities so it needs oversight.

      Given the precious nature of our environment I have to lean in the direction of the tree-hugging environmentalists. We should immediately ban offshore drilling and get to work on reducing the amount of oil we use. Nuclear is needed but it will not by itself solve our energy addiction problems.

      On the third point the state has no business interfering with people’s free exercise of religion. Brad has this one partially right, we are a bit too sensitive to small stuff like nativity scenes on statehouse grounds. However, the blue laws are a travesty and thankfully seem to be gradually going away. Common sense appears to be winning.

    3. Mark Stewart

      Even considering the massive oil spill in the gulf last year, it would seem to me that drilling for oil is a known process with known risk factors.

      I’m much more concerned about what we are now doing across the U.S. and Canada with “cracking”. Somehow fracturing the rock beneath us to free gas and oil deposits trapped in the earth would seem to be an obvious likely problem of containment – both of the escaping gas and oil and of the chemicals used to break the rock.

      This seems to me to be a potential calamity – because it seems clear that nobody has the answers yet as to the potential impacts.

    4. Brad

      Actually, Bud, I consider carefully what I am saying. And I’ve seen nothing that indicates to me that it’s impossible to drill in the ANWR safely. All I know is that certain folks have decided that’s where they will draw a line, refusing to let THOSE PEOPLE (their ideological enemies) pass, saying “absolutely not!” And that doesn’t mean there’s a logical, consequential line there. There could be, but I’ve been unpersuaded of it so far.

      That’s the problem with ideologies. When you’re known for always saying no, you’re like the boy who cried “Wolf!” And reasonable people who DO resort to logic in making their decisions have to do their best to sort through when it’s really time to say “no” and when it isn’t.

      It all goes back to the central principle underlying the Energy Party. As you say, nuclear “will not by itself solve our energy … problems.” (Note that I left out “addiction” because that’s not the issue. We are living creatures, who are dependent upon the production of energy in some form, ESPECIALLY if our economy is to grow, which it badly needs to do. The problem is, what KIND of energy… and foreign oil, consumed at the levels we consume it, is a terrible economic and strategic liability, totally apart from the environmental problems it poses — problems that are greater than those posed by nuclear.)

      But here’s the Energy Party revelation:
      — Nuclear by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Hydrogen by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Methane from coal by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Biomass by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Alternative fuels (including them all) by themselves won’t solve our problems.
      — Public transportation by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Drilling for oil domestically by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Raising the price of gasoline via a tax increase by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Wind by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Solar by itself won’t solve our problems.
      — Conservation by itself won’t solve our problems.

      We have to do ALL of it, to have any realistic hope of, in the short term, weaning ourselves off our dangerous dependence on foreign oil, and in the long run (because a complete replacement for oil will take at least a generation) get us off oil, and for that matter fossil fuels, altogether.

      And the first step to doing it all, to getting on this crash diet without crashing our economy, is ditching unreasonable ideological limitations.

    5. bud

      I don’t consider myself an “ideologue” because I oppose drilling in super deep water and the ANWR. I consider myself a pragmatist that recognizes the limits to what humans can safely do. How soon we forget the horrors of the Deepwater Horizon. And that’s not an isolated incident. What’s more this type of drilling is very expensive and since the day of reckoning is coming very soon anyway why don’t we go ahead now and ween our way off fossil fuels.

      Besides, the environmentalists cried wolf for years when it came to deepwater drilling and guess what, they were right. The wolf showed up and bit us in our collective ass.

    6. martin

      I heard part of an NPR story this AM on the gas pipeline that exploded in the San Francisco area months ago, killing quite a few. It was about lack of maintenance and not wanting to spend for maintenance so stockholders would more money, blah, blah, blah.

      It made me ponder that businesses are greedier than ever, but what’s worse is they don’t seem to be particularly competent anymore. We’ve already been slapped in the face by the likes of BP, Massey Mines and fracking for natural gas that results in people being able to light a fire with the “water” coming out of their kitchen faucets. Companies like this appear to have total disregard for the safety of people, employees and consumers, or our natural resouces. Do you disagree? Do you trust them to do a good job?

      Remember the little old man in New England several years ago, whose shoe factory, one of the last remaining in the US, burned several years ago? He kept his workers on the payroll until the factory was rebuilt because he felt he owed it to them. How many other American business people would even consider doing such a thing? Something that was good for the people whose work made them rich, good for their community and their country? Where did businesses’ sense of social or patriotic responsibliity go?

      OK, if they are frequently incompetent at their mission and don’t care who they harm, why should I trust them to drill safe oil wells or build safe nuclear plants? And, I am basically an Energy Party type of person. It’s just that I’ve observed over the past couple of years that we are putting our lives in the hands of companies that are probably not competent to do their job safely, with minimal risk to people or the environment. They just don’t care as long as it makes them a buck.

      Like with McCain and Graham, we can rely on you to maintain your position no matter how the realities about them change. You’ve got an idea of how your enegy policy should work, what it once was or might have been, and the realities of how businesses operate today simply will not enter into your equation.

      I wish businesses would act the way you expect them to, but I do not see it happening. Maybe you should read something besides WSJ to find out what business is really doing around the country. Big Pharma alone should scare everybody to death.

    7. Doug Ross


      “. The value of the market to reward innovators and hard work is clear. ”

      Unless they make over $250K. Then you want to punish them by taxing every extra dollar at a higher rate. Because $250K is the point where people transition from innovator to immoral lucky scumbag.

    8. Doug Ross


      “I believe there is nothing inherently superior about either the public or the private sector (which is why I’m always arguing with people who believe, ideologically, that the private is inherently better — I never run into anyone on the opposite side of that equation to argue with). ”

      Interesting. You take the opposite side to the “private is better” argument because there isn’t anyone who can make the argument that the public sector is better. So you just take an opposite view to balance things out? Nevermind that there isn’t any evidence to support that position. It’s like rooting for the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the World Series because nobody else will.

      The public sector AT ITS BEST is the equivalent of K-Mart, Burger King, Dollar General, Wrangler Jeans, Cheese-Wiz, Sam’s Choice Cola, and Payless Shoes.

      There’s no government Google, IBM, Apple, Lexus… if the best of one group isn’t in the top 30% of the other, there is no argument to be made… well, unless you just want to be contrary.

    9. Brad

      You misunderstood me, Doug. I argue with y’all from a neutral position. What I was saying is that the only reason you don’t hear me argue just as much with people saying the opposite — which I would — is that in South Carolina, you seldom hear anyone SAY the opposite. But in no case would I be making the argument of the extreme. In both cases, I’d be trying to pull you away from those blanket “X is always better” positions.

      Now as it happens, just a few minutes ago, I DID get the chance to argue with someone who wanted to make a blanket negative statement about the private sector, in a way that sort of rivaled the kind of thing that y’all like to say about the public. You just SAW me do it, just above. I was responding to Martin.

      But I don’t get the chance to pull folks toward the middle from THAT side very often, not around here.

    10. Doug Ross

      Brad stands on a boat in the middle of a lake trying to pull the people on both shores into the middle. Hilarity ensues.

    11. Brad Warthen

      Martin, actually the problem with me isn’t that I’m so inflexible in what I believe. The “problem,” if that’s what it is, is that I DON’T believe in any of these grand, broad, blanket assumptions that underlie the most popular ideologies.

      For instance… I don’t believe (as you seem to suggest) that business is inherently evil, any more than I believe that government is inherently evil (as our Tea Party friends would suggest).

      Hey, that’s great that that guy was able to keep those employees on the payroll when his shoe factory burned down. That’s awesome. But just because other businesses can’t, or even won’t, do that doesn’t make them evil. For instance, if he were a CEO working for a publicly traded company, he would not have been able to do that. Very, very few employers are the single, 100 percent owners of their businesses (which is what I’m assuming he was — correct me if I’m wrong).

      Gee, if anybody should have that jaded attitude toward American business, it should be me. I got canned, suddenly and without warning, just as I was entering my peak earning years in a profession to which I had devoted 35 years of long, hard days and nights. But while there are a lot of other things one might say about it, “business is evil” doesn’t explain what happened to me, and Robert, and all those others…

    12. bud

      martin has it almost right but not quite. It’s not that big companies are necessary greedy, incompetent or mean although there are plenty of examples of all of that. Rather, deepwater drilling, mining and other methods of extracting fossil fuels is inherently dirty and dangerous. We need to use less of it. One thing we could do more of, and only government can do this, is add the actual spillover costs into the consumer price of oil and other fossil fuels. If the TRUE price of gasoline was what we saw at the pump instead of the heavily subsidized price 4,000 lb SUVs would go the way of the horse and buggy. But it might be cool to ride around in one as we tour historic Columbia back in the day before we wised up about the ridiculous cost of fossil fuels.

    13. bud

      There’s no government Google, IBM, Apple, Lexus… if the best of one group isn’t in the top 30% of the other, there is no argument to be made… well, unless you just want to be contrary.

      Thankfully there’s also no government Microsoft. There’s a rich, monopolistic company that has somehow never made a decent product. Remember Windows 95 with all the ballyhoo. Piece of crap from the start. Then there was the Zune. Awful thing. And of course who can forget the horrors of trying to get an Xbox 360 to work. So how do they continue to sell all this crap? They are a monopoly.

    14. Norm Ivey

      I’m with the Energy Party on this, but not necessarily for the same reasons. We need the jobs more than the oil. Go ahead and drill in ANWAR and the deep ocean, but regulate (and enforce the regs) for safety and protection of the environment. If the oil companies can’t make money under those conditions, then it is their responsibility to find other places to drill, or to develop and energy source that will be profitable. No one should delude themselves into believing that ANWAR and the deep ocean are going to make a difference in oil prices or significantly increase the supply.

      Using the government’s own figures the reserves in both places will be enough to keep the US in oil for about 12 years. Unfortunately, oil is a commodity and is sold to the highest bidder. The oil will be sold worldwide (much of our Gulf oil goes to South America because it cannot be refined and used in the US). The ANWAR and deep ocean reserves are only enough to keep the world supplied for less than 4 years at current rates of consumption, which will surely increase as India and China increase their middle class citizenry.

      I fully support nuclear with the same caveat concerning safety and environmental protection. We have operated nuclear plants safely (compared to other forms of power generation) for over 50 years. The Navy operates dozens of nuclear powered ships and submarines–floating nuclear reactors–without incident. The disposal issue has to be resolved, but petrifying fear of a Chernobyl-type event is misplaced.

      Hydrogen–I was once sure this was the way to the future, but until we can produce hydrogen using renewable energy there’s little plus to it. A hydrogen powered vehicle using hydrogen produced with fossil fuels has about the same emissions as a good dual-powered hybrid. The economic difference is that the hydrogen is likely produced using Kentucky coal rather than foreign oil.

      Biomass in all its permutations is a win-win approach. It’s homegrown, can address solid waste concerns, is generally carbon-neutral, can reduce methane released into the atmosphere, and is renewable. (Santee Cooper has a methane-capture facility adjacent to the landfill in Elgin right here in Richland County.)

      Solar and wind are simple if expensive solutions. Full speed ahead with subsidies, I say. China is the leading producer of both wind turbines and solar panels. What an incredible potential for job creation for us! Anybody opposed to measures designed to increase US production and use of these products is short-sighted or stands to lose money if we head in that direction.

      Efficiency and conservation would have the greatest immediate impact–and free up money to stimulate the economy to boot. Americans have dwelt carelessly in the isles for so long that we have come to expect the problem to be fixed without us having to make any changes in our lifestyle. Our parents and grandparents didn’t act so selfishly when they were faced with the series of mid-century crises that constrained their lifestyles. They did what they had to do and dealt with it like adults.

      The Energy Party platform is right in that no one approach will solve our problem, and we shouldn’t want it to–it’s the single energy source economy that got us into this mess, and we should do everything in our power to avoid ever getting into this position again.

    15. Herb Brasher

      Well, whether one sees the ‘middle’ as the right place obviously depends on what one understands as primary values. Obviously if we are pushing toward a nuclear disaster from a power plant, quality of life trumps growth. And the pharmaceutical industry brought us antibiotics (with resulting growth/longevity), but the use of them threatens the quality of life again.

      But I’m curious, Brad–what are the other factors that you would need to see included to get a better scale for evaluating political and cultural thinking/positions? Categories are obviously arbitrary things, but it is hard to live without them.

    16. Ryan Brasher

      Thought I’d drop a note since I’m the author of the above chart. A couple of remarks:

      1) Brad, if you actually compared yourself to the political party families situated in the graph, I bet you would not be in the center anymore. Most Americans aren’t – whether democrats or republicans – they tend to be in the lower right corner. But it goes to show that whether one is rightist, centrist, or leftist really simply depends on the context – as you note.

      2) I think “ideology” gets too much of a bad rep. In some ways, it is what makes democracies work. Having two or more parties with coherent and clearly defined platforms that disagree vehemently with one another ensures democratic accountability, as voters have clear choices. Of course in the US those choices are severely constrained by the two-party system. In any case, I find it hard to believe that there are truly objective ‘Baconian’ inductive people who make up their minds on specific issues purely on the merits of each case. Ideology is a good word to describe the pre-conceived notions and ideas swirling around our head in more or less coherent ways that help guide our decisions in specific instances.

    17. max

      Neither capitalism nor pure socialism good for democracy.

      Capitalism straps a man to the rack of supply and demand and tells him to make do, despite the very obvious fact that such a mechanism will drive him into poverty.

      Pure socialism simply pigeonholes him in history and tells him that he will be taken care of.

      So in that regard, your post is pretty accurate.

      Regarding ANWR however, if you think you’re neutral Mr. Warthen, you’re gravely mistaken, as evidenced by your mistaken supposition that “seen nothing that indicates to me that it’s impossible to drill in the ANWR safely. All I know is that certain folks have decided that’s where they will draw a line, refusing to let THOSE PEOPLE (their ideological enemies) pass…”

      A simple perusal of the Internet will provide you with all of the information necessary for determining that this drilling proposal is indeed fraught with risk.

      It’s a simple matter of Occam’s razor; the principle that suggests we should tend towards simpler theories until we can trade some simplicity for increased explanatory power.

      In that regard, it’s easier to design cars that get better gas mileage, right now, like we did back in the 70’s than it is to drill for more oil that would be between a mere 0.4 and 1.2 percent of total world oil consumption in 2030. The explanation for not drilling is clear and benefits are tangible.

      If it were not, I surmise that the powerbrokers in this state would have considered drilling off of the South Carolina coast when the idea came up several years ago.

      But they have not and they will not, because the resulting loss of a possible oil spill would perhaps destroy the $18.4 billion this state sees in tourist revenue annually.

      By simply stating your tacit support for ANWR, you’re part of a non-neutral and very subjective ideology.

      I suggest that you explore the concept of UNpractical into your epistemology of the UNparty before you make such obviously non-neutral statements again.

    18. Brad

      Norm, awesome comment! That could easily be adapted into a good stump speech for an Energy Party candidate. I particularly appreciate your comment at the end: “no one approach will solve our problem, and we shouldn’t want it to–it’s the single energy source economy that got us into this mess, and we should do everything in our power to avoid ever getting into this position again.”

    19. Brad

      Herb, one consideration that I don’t find among those three spectra is: Where a person stands with regard to global security, or one’s own nation’s strategic position in the world. That’s pretty significant, and certainly leads to a lot of the arguments on this blog.

      Another would be a person’s attitude toward tradition. Does one tend toward an embrace of the established order and institutions (true conservatism), or does he rush to embrace change? That’s an almost gut-level quality that has a lot to do with how people interact politically?

      Also, I found the “Free vs. social market” dichotomy somewhat restrictive, although perhaps Ryan doesn’t intend it to be so. I think there’s a deep, fundamental conflict between radical individualism in ALL things, not just markets, and an impulse toward working with others to address common societal challenges. That’s very broad, very deep and very fundamental — and perhaps the biggest source of conflict in our domestic politics.

    20. Brad

      Ryan, thanks so much for joining in! I appreciate your model; I’m drawn to such things. And of course, the moment I’m drawn to them, I start picking them apart, so forgive me for that; it’s a reflex.

      As to your observations to me — I don’t think many here on the blog (certainly not our more libertarian friends) would agree that I’m in the lower-right corner. In some cases, on some issues, at some times, I am. Not in other situations.

      And the problem with ideology as it plays out in America these days is that when I go shopping in the great American political supermarket, I find nothing appealing on the shelves. And unfortunately, if you want to be a player, you HAVE to choose from one of the shelves.

      You say, “Having two or more parties with coherent and clearly defined platforms that disagree vehemently with one another ensures democratic accountability, as voters have clear choices.”

      But to me (and to many of the nonaligned, the much-maligned “swing voters”), the choices are repulsive. There is SO much I detest in each of the only two parties we get to choose from (if we actually want to influence who is elected).

      Of COURSE we have “pre-conceived notions and ideas swirling around our head in more or less coherent ways that help guide our decisions in specific instances.” Of course we do. But “ideology” is NOT a good word for that. Because a thinking person has to repress many of his own thoughts and values to adhere to one of the two main competing ideologies.

      The political parties in America (the main infrastructure supporting ideology) force intellectual dishonesty. They demand loyalty and adherence to the team; one is ostracized unmercifully for perceived unorthodoxy (the Republicans even have an epithet for it: RINO).

      The way this plays out is that if you are an adherent of one party or the other — and especially if you are an officeholder — you must agree with the stupidest thing that someone on your SIDE proposes, and disagree vehemently with the wisest thing anyone on the other side proposes.

      And ultimately “ideology” isn’t even the best word for describing these warring camps, since it suggests that they are based in “ideas.” They are just tribes, groups of people who have banded together for mutual support, swallowing their objections to the inconsistencies and conflicts (according to the individual’s own values) in the platform.

      I certainly don’t believe perfect Baconian objectivity. I had to give up news and move to editorial back in the early 90s because I believed there was something inherently dishonest in the objectivity model of journalism. If you are to tell the truth, the whole truth, to the best of your ability, then subjective perception comes into play. Subjective perceptions are the mortar that hold the bricks of “objective” fact together; without it you have a disassembled jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces don’t match. The only thing to do as a journalist is tell everything you see as well as you can, and let your readers come to know you and your values over time as they decide whether, and how, to trust you. Eventually they have a much better source of information than the “who, what, where, when and how” model.

      But I digress.

    21. bud

      While I believe it would be better for American democracy to have more than 2 viable choices in the political marketplace the situation as it stands is viable. What we have is one party, A, that has some pretty good ideas and is level-headed in most respects. Within this sensible party we have a fairly broad range of competing ideas that gives primary voters a pretty good variety to choose from.

      Then we have another party, B, that has become nothing but a collection of lunatics competing to see who can come up with the most extreme, counter-productive policies possible. Occasionally this party will produce a somewhat sensible candidate or at least a candidate with a couple of good ideas. But in general party B is so extreme in it’s basic tenants that it can easily be rejected out of hand.

      So while it would be nice to have a party C to give voters a real choice (between A and C) the current situation makes it pretty easy to choose. Party B is simply not an option. And that’s a shame.

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