The Epic Battle Between Red and Blue

By David L. Brown

There is a fascinating graphic in the issue of Science magazine that arrived in my mailbox today (subscription required). It is a computer generated chart presented as an example of a means of tracking the effects of collaboration between individuals in groups, in an article titled Science 2.0.

The article deals with the growing power of networking, explaining:

The growth of the World Wide Web and the spread of cell phones and WiFi continues to reorder whole disciplines and industries. Entrepreneurs, policy-makers, and researchers have recognized that increased collaboration through these socio-technical systems offers compelling opportunities for business, education, national security, and beyond. It is time for researchers in science to take network collaboration to the next phase and reap the potential intellectual and societal payoffs.

The subject of the sample graphic used to illustrate the point might have been a poor choice, since it is the United States Senate. I had to almost do a double-take when I saw it because it so starkly demonstrates the almost utter lack of cooperation and collaboration between the “blue” Senators (the Democrats) and the “red” Senators. (There are also two “magenta” Senators, both independents.) The graphic was computer generated based on voting patterns during the period of the analysis.

Here is the image, so you can grasp what I am talking about. The colored icons represent individual Senators, and the gray lines reveal connections and collaborations between individuals, and their placement to left or right indicate their respective positions on the political spectrum.

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Now here are a few observations:

First, note how tightly the Democrat faction is appropriately clustered at the left side of the graphic. They are as tight as a hedgehog in defensive posture, and with the two independents safely embedded in the center-left. There are few signs of any willingness to collaborate, cooperate, or do anything else to create unanimity in the Senate body.

In contrast the Republican faction is at least somewhat looser, with several “red” Senators actually moving across toward the “blue” ball of the left, indicating at least attempted cross-aisle cooperation. The “red” group definitely holds the center ground with these outlying individuals.

Two major “red” Senators, McCain and Brownbeck, were excluded from the graphic because they were heavily engaged in campaigning for President at the time the study was made and did not participate in enough votes to provide meaningful data. Their icons are at the far upper and lower right and unconnected to the other Senators.

It is painful to note that there is one icon of the “blue” faction that is placed so far to the left that it actually stands outside of the Democrat “Death Star,” like the tail on a dog. Look closely and you can read the name “Obama” on that icon identifying the most liberal member of the Senate, the one with the least collaborative connections with any Senators other than those on the far left and who himself is even more liberal than any of his fellows.

Senator Clinton, located at about the two o’clock position in the “blue” orb, is placed well within the Democrat enclave, but leaning toward the center left. While remaining solidly in the “blue,” she does have some connections with center and left-leaning “red” Senators as well as center-leaning Democrats.

It seems to me that this graphic goes a long way toward illustrating what is wrong with our political system. It bears strong resemblance to a red giant star sucking matter from a companion, when what we should see is something more akin to a galaxy with complex interconnections and cooperative liaisons, all in the name of progress and the betterment of our nation.

Here is another analogy through which to view this graphic: as a diagram of some tragic battleground where much blood is about to be spilled. Thus we see two opposing forces tightly grouped and facing off against each other, perhaps the armies of King Henry V of England and Charles VI of France on the field of Agincourt. A few outriders from the “red” force are scouting the No Man’s Land of the political center, but neither side has yet made a decisive attack. Of all the participants in this developing war, one is quite obviously staying as far away from the front as possible, satisfied to shout inflammatory bromides about “change” from the far rear and perhaps prepared to flee. Two “red” captains are absent from the field (“for want of a horseā€¦”), symptomatic of the fact that political campaigning has become an overwhelming burden on those who should be serving their nation full time.

This image of political divisiveness and polarization does not bode well for our nation, not well at all. And, it shows once again that a picture (in this case a computer graphic) is worth, well, a whole lot of empty rhetoric. I just wanted to share this visual experience with my readers. Make of it what you will.

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