Morpheus palmed the green pill and offered the false dichotomy of choosing either the red or blue pill and thus sealed the fate of both Neo and Zion.
Wednesday night’s debate between Barack Obama and Mitt Romney underscored a core truth about America’s presidential election season: the vast majority of the most consequential policy questions are completely excluded from the process. This fact is squarely at odds with a primary claim made about the two parties – that they represent radically different political philosophies – and illustrates how narrow the range of acceptable mainstream political debate is in the country.
In part this is because presidential elections are now conducted almost entirely like a tawdry TV reality show. Personality quirks and trivialities about the candidates dominate coverage, and voter choices, leaving little room for substantive debates.
But in larger part, this exclusion is due to the fact that, despite frequent complaints that America is plagued by a lack of bipartisanship, the two major party candidates are in full-scale agreement on many of the nation’s most pressing political issues. As a result these are virtually ignored, drowned out by a handful of disputes that the parties relentlessly exploit to galvanise their support base and heighten fear of the other side.
The harm from this process is not merely the loss of what could be a valuable opportunity to engage in a real national debate. Worse, it is propagandistic: by emphasising the few issues on which there is real disagreement between the parties, the election process ends up sustaining the appearance that there is far more difference between the two parties, and far more choice for citizens, than is really offered by America’s political system.
One way to solve this problem would be to allow credible third-party candidates into the presidential debates and to give them more media coverage. Doing so would highlight just how similar Democrats and Republicans have become, and what little choice American voters actually have on many of the most consequential policies. That is exactly why the two major parties work so feverishly to ensure the exclusion of those candidates: it is precisely the deceitful perception of real choice that they are most eager to maintain.