Headline International Affairs — 24 October 2012
The American Elections – You have no choice, Have whatever you choose

Dr. Reza Pankhurst

If there was any doubt remaining – the Presidential debate on foreign policy served to confirm the bi-partisan agreement on America’s role in the Middle East (and beyond).

A promise of seemingly unconditional support for Israel, agreement that the Arab uprisings need to be channelled towards solutions that would result in “friendly” regimes willing to protect American interests, and the same commitment to American exceptionalism and lawless behaviour.

Though cross party consensus is most obvious in discussions around foreign policy, the reality is that even on domestic issues the choices being offered are all flavours of the current status quo.

The political system in the United States ensures that the President will definitely come from one of the two major political parties. Both the main parties have to be in thrall to the commercial interests that fund their election campaigns, with the 2008 campaign costing $5.3 billion, and the presidential race alone costing more than $2 billion, its clear that without financial backing from military, oil and gas, and various commercial and special interest groups they would not be able to compete.

There are actually more than 10 other parties and candidates for the US Presidency. Of these, three have the capability to theoretically win the necessary amount of electoral college votes to get to the White House – the Libertarian Party, American Elect, and the Green Party.

Heard of any of them or their candidates?

Not only is the system of funding stacked against the non-conventional alternative parties, they are also institutionally sidelined during the election campaign period. They are barely mentioned in mainstream media – while Romney and Obama are household names, Gary Johnson, Jill Klein and Buddy Roemer, each of whom could theoretically become the next President of the United States, are unknowns.

The two main parties get their candidates on the polls automatically without having to gather signatures, while the rest have to collect tens of thousands in each state. Both parties are eligible for public funding, and also get the backing of corporate money as already discussed, another handicap for the rest. The electoral system itself favors the large parties, as opposed to a system of proportional representation.

In addition – the candidates from the two main parties have squared up in the nationally televised debates broadcast and watched by tens of millions of viewers, with all the other candidates denied the opportunity to appear alongside them. When Green Party candidate Jill Stein attempted to enter the “town hall” presidential debate at Hofstra University on October 16, she was arrested along with her running mate and held for several hours shackled to a chair at a makeshift police facility nearby.

With the system so stacked in favor of the two conventional parties, other party candidates are all referred to as “third-party candidates”. The naming itself gives the game away – there are only two parties in America that count, with the rest simply there for keeping up appearances.

With the institutional constraints ensuring that only those from the manufactured “political mainstream” have a real chance to compete, the beacon for democracy has again served up a pair of candidates from within the  agreed political consensus represented by the two major parties, giving the voters a choice that is largely illusionary.


Dr. Reza Pankhurst is a political scientist and historian, specialising in the Middle East and Islamic movements. He received his doctorate from the London School of Economics.  His forthcoming book is entitled “The Inevitable Caliphate?” (Hurst/ Columbia University Press 2012/3) and is available at Amazon and other retailers. He can be contacted at [email protected]

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