"The essence of democracy is that you can lie about who you voted for." - Charles Krauthammer (on why Caucuses are unfair)
So I went searching for a neutral website that would give me all the presidential candidates' positions at once. And I found one that also provides a mechanism for determining which ones I agree with.
Not one of those mini-quizzes where you answer 10 questions which are impossibly worded so you have to take extreme positions and utilizes some complicated logarithm to calculate who you should vote for without apparent depth (or logic). *I took one of those, too; see below.*
MyElectionChoices.com functions on the basis of rhetoric and choice of interest, and if you visit it and participate, it's like an amusement park theme ride.
Here's the basics: You choose from a list of about 15 "issues." They suggest you choose only one or two to begin with, because it's long: each one provides you with maybe 30-40 direct quotations from candidates, which you read and check off any you agree with. The beauty of the thing is that, because the quotations are uncredited at this step in the process, so you're going through them blind, the rhetoric takes front stage. You might read ten statements (quotations from speeches, official websites, debates, etc.) that basically take exactly the same position if the speakers were allowed only to vote "yes" or "no." But, the way they say it becomes so powerful. I'm sure as I went through the pages and pages of quotations, I checked off some statements which would (ostensibly) result in the exact same legislation as ones I did not check off because I did not like something about the way a speaker presented his (or in one case her) position. Sometimes it sounded pandering (just words, no tone or body language), sometimes it sounded like a lie! How can you tell if something is a lie when it's someone's claimed opinion and it's only in writing? I don't know, but I'm fascinated by the question.
So, first I just went through two issues, and looked at my results. Any time I checked that I agreed with the statement, the candidate who'd said it got a point. The results showed me a chart with every candidate I'd agreed at least once with in a line from most to least. On the two issues I agreed with something like 7 Democrats and 5 Republicans. On two issues!
I was amused and intrigued by my results. I'd been a little concerned, and rightly it turned out: I agreed with John Edwards twice as much as I agreed with anyone else. McCain came in a lower second, with Huckabee soon behind him. Not surprisingly, to me, Mitt Romney and Hilary Clinton were in the bottom. Somewhat surprisingly to me, Obama was closer to the bottom than the top.
Following on one of the questions from the New Hampshire Democratic debate on ABC, I don't like Edwards! (I like less poor Clinton, whose feelings that hurts, she said, and really really dislike Romney.) I like Obama, and McCain has a way of popping up in my estimation when I least expect it. (I liked Huckabee for about a day in December, but haven't cared for much I've seen or heard since.) Yet, even in a system based on rhetoric, it proved I align myself most with the candidate whose positions my gut told me I most supported but whose person I'm not attracted to. Person and rhetoric. They should be connected, shouldn't they?
So I added a couple of issues. One at a time. Edwards remained at the top for almost every single one of the sets of quotations I went through over the course of a couple of hours last weekend. Other candidates moved around from time to time. Clinton inched her way up and was at the top on one issue. (Not the top of the cumulative total, just of that one issue. But then, I think Fred Thompson was at the top, or second on one, too!!!) Obama started moving up pretty consistently, and for about half the time as I moved my way through the whole set of issues and quotations he, McCain, and Huckabee hung out tied in second place to Edwards at the top.
Then, with just a couple of issues left, Obama went out in front, and after I'd read and responded to every issue and quotation the site provided, Obama and Edwards are basically tied in first, with Hucakbee and McCain not too far behind in second. Clinton and Kucinich are tied in the middle (the site also includes several more non-viable and dropped-out candidates I'm not listing who spread the results out) with Guliani a little ways below her, while Ron Paul, Romney, and Fred Thompson are bottom three. (TMI?)
The process is interesting in several ways. First, because you can choose which issues you want to respond to on their own or in combination with others (you can't, apparently, rate them against each other, though - so I ended up doing all but the first two in alphabetical order), you can see how if you're a one-issue voter you might have quite a different result than if you're a conglomerate player. There might be an issue I don't really care about, but if pressed, I do have an opinion, or I can at least tell you if I agree with a statement or not. Should this influence my voting, or not?
It's also fascinating to think that I probably agreed with both Clinton and Romney's stances (? maybe, not sure about Rom) on literal position more often than the results suggest, but something in my mind registered that I did not trust (or at least just did not resonate with) how they presented their case. And I really did do it pretty much blind. I didn't linger on quotations trying to figure out who said it, and only recognized maybe two actual statements based on either details in them or my having heard the original delivery in a debate.
Alas, how helpful was any of this? No less so than any of the other ridiculous mechanisms in place for "helping me decide," like ads and most (not all) talking-point Sunday morning interviews. (And the great thing about my job is, I can always use waste-of-time or questionable-quality media activities as Classroom Learning Examples.)
I recommend the site, if only for the fun with layers of meaning and signification.
(I took a mini-quiz on another site which required me to choose one answer from three on only 17 questions: my personality loathes that kind of thing, which is why I always mess up the poor Meyers-Briggs types by canceling out all my trends with opposing answers. Nevertheless, it told me my top candidate was John Edwards, too.)