The Illusion of Choice

With respect to the political compass, I would like to comment on the political landscape of the United States. Every few years in our country, normal citizens are a given a choice between essentially two candidates for public office, either Republican or Democrat.

Our spectrum of choice is a very narrow selection of what in reality are two factions of the same business party that dominates American politics. Each viable candidate in the running for public office relies on a large backing from American corporations, to which they are expected to serve specific financial interests. The main candidates may differ on a few social issues (abortion, gay marriage, gun control, etc.), but their economic and foreign policies are often very similar.

Election campaigns are run by a public relations industry looking to sell their candidate to an audience, avoiding real issues and relying on image to market their product. Third party candidates are usually excluded from debates and do not receive media coverage.

Take a look at our options in the 2004 Presidential Election:

2004 Election

The names most widely recognized in this chart are George W. Bush and John Kerry, the Republican and Democratic nominees. The third party candidate with the most support behind them was Ralph Nader; he was not allowed to participate in debates, did not have the financial backing of large corporations, and was even left off the ballot in some states.

Now take a look at the political compass of our upcoming Democratic and Republican primary candidates :

2007 Election

The names most popularly recognized (Clinton, Edwards, Guiliani, McCain, Obama, Romney) all lean to the Authoritarian Right. The two candidates of the Democratic party that lean slightly to the Libertarian Left (Gravel & Kucinich) have been essentially ignored by the corporate media. Neither were invited to attend the Jefferson Jackson dinner in Iowa, Gravel was recently excluded from a debate by NBC, and when they do debate they are often given less time than their political counterparts.

So ‘we the people‘ do have our choices every few years, but those choices are severely limited by the PR industry running the campaigns and the corporate media that provides coverage to the mass audience. It is quite revealing to contrast either of these presidential election choices with the political compass of my family, as revealed in the previous post.

Nearly all of my family falls somewhere between either Ralph Nader and John Kerry (2004) or Dennis Kucinich and John Edwards (2008). So how is it possible that members of my family cast their vote for Bush in the 2004 election?

The PR industry running election campaigns tend to focus on qualities, rather than on real issues. It is often very difficult to tell where a specific candidate stands on the issues. I don’t think it would be possible to vote for John Kerry if you were basing your vote on charisma – he has about as much as a door stop.

Anyhow, it is this illusion of choice (Authoritarian Right vs. slightly less Authoritarian Right) that needs to be repaired if America is going to become the democracy it claims to be.