I have paid very little attention to the presidential campaign so far, but a post on Chris Abraham’s blog reminded me of The Political Compass, and that in turn led me to this graphic showing where the presidential candidates stand relative to each other if we chart their political stances in two dimensions rather than a simple left/right “spectrum.”
(Spoiler alert: If you want to take the test, you can find it here, and you might want to take it before proceeding to the discussion below the fold.)
It’s not surprising that we find no candidates in the upper left-hand quadrant of the graph. People in that quadrant favor central planning of the economy as well as extensive government control over politics, culture, and daily life. It is the quadrant where we find Stalin and Mao. We may be a society in decline, but people in that quadrant are still unelectable, thank God.
What does surprise me is that there is no candidate in the lower right quadrant, in which political freedom is supposed to be coupled with the economic liberty that characterizes a free market. This is not a crackpot quadrant; it is the quadrant of Milton Friedman, for example, or Ayn Rand. (It is also the quadrant of Mark Grannis, though I am fairly near the center of the graph.) It is the quadrant for people who believe that individuals should be free to decide not just what car they drive and what soap they use, but also what they believe and how they live.
The creators of the Political Compass place all U.S. presidential candidates except Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich, in the upper right-hand quadrant — in favor of a free market, but on the authoritarian side of the social axis. I suppose this is not that surprising; the widespread willingness to abandon traditional liberties in the interest of greater security, which has characterized our reaction to 9/11, may have run its course with a large slice of the electorate, but perhaps it is not yet considered “safe” with politicians.
Still, I find the combination troubling, particularly when I consider it in conjunction with the substantial and growing influence of large-check-writing interests on the content of the legislation Congress passes. The people I trust to make a really good toothpaste are not necessarily the ones I want to have in the room when FISA is amended or campaign finance laws are passed. (And of course, the people I trust to report the news are the last people I trust to decide whether news reporters should have to give evidence in court like the rest of us.) The people who make enough in our relatively free economy to be able to “donate” back to the politicians are still mere private interests, and if a relatively small subset of private interests are going to be so influential in making social policy (which I confess seems inevitable to me), then it is unwise to leave social policy such a broad field in which to run. The fact that nearly all current candidates show up in a quadrant that favors government over the governed is not a hopeful sign.
Of course, it could be that the test is flawed; in fact, I found myself quibbling with most of the questions, and in many cases I saw the possibility that my answer could be interpreted in a way other than the one I intended. So it goes with multiple choice. Nonetheless, I remember a time five or six years ago when this test made its way around my office, and the results people got back then basically comported with what we knew about each other’s opinions. If you’ve taken it, let us know what you think in the comment section. Publication of individual results is of course encouraged.