The Three-Axis Model and Coalitions

From a reader:

Does the three axis model help understand coalitions?…Are coalitions a kind of exchange where people accept each other’s position on the model?

My first thought is that coalitions are more likely to form on particular issues, with each group in the coalition using its preferred heuristic. This makes such coalitions fragile. For example, the biggest enthusiasts for the drug war probably were conservatives, who see drug abuse as barbaric. Progressives might side with conservatives to the extent that they views “pushers” as oppressors. However, as they grow to see imprisoned drug sellers more as oppressed than as oppressors, their support for the drug war weakens.

Does a coalition form because one group accepts another group’s model? I think this is less likely, and it is unlikely to last long. For example, perhaps immediately after 9/11, progressives accepted the civilization vs. barbarism narrative about terrorist groups. However, that has changed. Now, when a conservative uses the language of civilization vs. barbarism, he is likely to be labeled by progressives as an Islamophobe. Look at what happened to the film maker after the Benghazi incident.

I noticed that in the popular novel Kite Runner, the Taliban were portrayed as grown-up schoolyard bullies, which made it possible for progressives to process them by using the oppressed-oppressor narrative. Perhaps progressives favored the war in Afghanistan because they were persuaded to think of the Taliban as oppressors. President Bush attempted to make that case about Saddam Hussein in Iraq, but at that point progressives were not buying such a narrative. For that war, his coalition was smaller and quite fragile.

[I note in passing that Walter Russell Mead wrote last week,

Civilization is a hard won victory, and it must be constantly reclaimed in the face of barbarism.

He was talking about Mali.]

Concerning coalitions, I can imagine trying to include language in a bill that is intended to appeal to more than one dominant heuristic. For example, an immigration-reform measure could include language designed to emphasize border security and English as a national language in order to mollify conservatives that civilization is still valued.

Libertarians who try to get progressives on board with school choice are likely to emphasize it benefits for inner-city children, rather than talk up its benefits more broadly. I think that these attempts to frame issues in another group’s heuristic are more constructive than many other approaches for discussing politics. But these attempts will tend to fail nonetheless. As far as progressives are concerned, public education and teachers’ unions are automatically on the side of the oppressed, and that makes school choice a hard sell.

One thought on “The Three-Axis Model and Coalitions

  1. The libertarians that favor school choice in the USA do exactly what you suggest. Their organizations are always referred to as Children First, Students First, etc.

    I think most progressives at this point are more worried about the way that charters have led to segregation than they are about oppression. I also think they’re more concerned about exploitation than oppression; it’s pretty easy to find example after example of how charters have committed fraud due to a lack of oversight and it’s not hard to find testing companies in bed with politicians. You rarely read about public school teachers and principals making off with millions while children are left with no where to go to school, but this is happening all the time in the school choice schools.

    I’m not sure where the conservative axis comes into play with school choice. School choice is usually accompanied by a dismantling of local control in favor of mayoral control or some other form of appointments, but that lack of democracy seems to feed in to the oppressor oppressed rather than fear of barbarism. Having said that, when conservatives oppose school choice, you’ll often see them mention this lack of local control. I suppose they might also be suspicious of prioritizing test scores over the installation of local values, which might feed into the fear of barbarism.

    Though I expect you’re a fan of MF’s school choice vision, I am actually a little surprised that you think the government can oversee the deregulation of public schools and the promotion of school choice. See your last post, for example:

    “If you want to see how ineffective technocrats are, I give you as Exhibit A the attempts by the government to prevent foreclosures. The rules and the parameters looked good to the technocrats. The results in the real world were abysmal. That is because nobody had any idea what was involved in actually implementing these policies on the ground.”

    The same dynamic seems to be present in the promotion of school choice.