Two-Choice Tyranny


In these United States, we are proud of our nontotalitarian system. We call ourselves a “democracy,” and — good for us! — we have actual choices. But how many of us really know that?

A totalitarian political system is, essentially, an exclusive operation: a done deal. What makes it totalitarian is that it serves a closed system of big-government power. But is our own, in its present condition, so very different? It certainly offers us a proposition more seductive than the mailed-fist slam dunk of power characteristic of North Korea, Nazi Germany, or the former Soviet Union. Since we get two choices instead of one, we are assured that we are truly “free to choose.”

Those choices are, however, very narrowly defined. We are pressed to choose only between the two offered by the powers-that-be. The state monopoly on legalized force still needs to keep us contained within borders enabling it to hold its power without any real opposition.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney . . . how many millions of people do we have in this country? Yet these are the two candidates between whom we have to choose? Obama and Romney can honestly be said to represent the best, the smartest, the highest to which our chief executive may aspire?

Excuse my sacrilege against popular piety, but I must revise a line from that Lee Greenwood song that’s played every national holiday to get us all glowy: “God help the U.S.A.”

My friends know I’m a libertarian, so they generally indulge my eccentricities. But lately they’ve been getting very tired of me. I simply won’t fall into line and declare my allegiance to either major party. I don’t like either one of them, and I refuse to accept that my choice must be limited to such a gruesome twosome.

I participate in a local group of gay conservatives, and this group generously embraces libertarians. Most of the time. They’re not so sure about us now. I’ve been stirring up trouble on our blog, and have been sternly chastised for being “rude.”

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney . . . how many millions of people do we have in this country? Yet these are the two candidates between whom we have to choose?

I probably could have been nicer to the commenters with whom I tangled — one of whom I’ve since met, and is quite nice — but my blood is up. I’m the oldest member of the group, and I’ve been hearing the same mindnumbing and intelligence-insulting “either/or” ultimatum in every presidential election for 24 years. Ronald Reagan (for whom I voted both times, in the first two elections in which I was old enough to vote) entered office with the very best of intentions. He was thwarted at nearly every turn, not only by those dastardly liberals but by big-government “conservatives” in his own party. George W. Bush was certainly no small-government devotee, but he might have been nudged farther in that direction had he not spent all his time being dictated to by war hawks and religious zealots.

Republicans’ choices are being dictated to them by Republicans, and Democrats’ by Democrats. There is no evil “other side” bewitching them into behaving like soldiers in an army of zombies. We are tyrannizing ourselves.

We get a feel for the narrowing of the funnel — the constriction of the process — in the constant reminders that “we could have been stuck with Rick Santorum,” the GOP’s runner-up for presidential nominee. “No,” I tell my Republican friends, “you could have been stuck with Rick Santorum.” I am only slightly more likely to vote for Mitt, come November, than I would have been for Little Ricky, so I may not choose to stick myself with either of them. But come November, we are all going to be stuck with somebody few of us can stand. Again.

I sense fatalism in my friends’ repeated rationalizations for their conformity. “This is simply the way it is,” they tell me. When I ask them why they think so, they look at me the way they might look at a 3-year-old who’s asked them why ponies can’t fly.

They seem to think that of the millions of Republicans in the United States, the only two of presidential timber were Romney and Santorum. The multitude was scared away from even considering Ron Paul, the evil Doctor No. And Gary Johnson couldn’t get the media to ask him about any subject other than marijuana, so the country has never found out why he would be a possible choice (and, I still believe, the best one). For three and a half years, Republicans have been gathering forces to battle the Obama Antichrist, yet this is the best they can do?

The choice, as always under a two-choice tyranny, comes down not to a fight for principles but to the preservation of power. The only principle that big government mandarins care about is power. Citizens of the former Soviet Union were unhappy because they knew they had no choices. We are pacified in our servitude by the myth that two choices mean freedom, simply because two choices are — theoretically — better than one. But if both choices serve a closed big-government system, we may rightly ask whether our victory in the Cold War was truly all it’s been cracked up to be.

Eventually, Soviet citizens grew so unhappy that they forced a revolution. We may well question what’s become of it, but at least they’ve replaced their old tyrants with some new ones. Perhaps, when people live for too long under tyranny of any sort, they lose the will to be truly free and are content with the illusion of freedom. Like frogs in water brought to a boil too slowly to perceive the rising heat, will we make the leap out of the kettle before we’re cooked?

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Fred Mangels

I've been thinking a lot about the supposed two party system lately. Not so much accepting it, myself, but why so many others seem to. This, despite polls supposedly showing a fair number of people in this country want "another choice".

The bottom line is, people already have any number of choices to vote for in Presidential races. They just won't choose them. Even Ms. Heine seems to dismiss Gary Johnson, probably the best third choice on the ballot in my lifetime.

Most people seem to reject interlopers. They won't accept candidates unless they've been vetted for them by the media and the major party bosses. That's the way it is for the foreseeable future. That doesn't mean you have to participate in it. I don't, and haven't for 20 years. Vote Gary Johnson in 2012!

What else can you do?

Lori Heine

Actually, Mr. Mangels, I like Gary Johnson very much. I believe I probably will end up voting for him. I've even ordered one of his day-glo green campaign t-shirts from CafePress. I anticipate that it will provoke many wonderfully volatile conversations between now and election day.

I agree with Mr. Harrison that in a sense, the status-quo-supporting system we have does provide a certain stability. Maybe it even keeps us from killing each other. But I also think that three options (or more!) are better than two.

Kevin Robinson

I have no problem with the nomenclature "old parties," but I prefer to call the two wings of the duopoly "the official parties." The laws are biased in favor of the two of them. Here in Connecticut, we even have 2 elected town officers: Democratic Registrar of Voters and Republican Registrar of Voters. There's no "Unaffiliated Registrar of Voters," and none for any of the non-official parties.

No need to rehearse the crooked ballot-access barriers.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Fred, in my opinion, people complain about the "spoiler effect" in our presidential election for good reason. The system is rigged by a congressional law requiring the states to vote for president on one, single day. I think all states currently use a "plurality" election to meet that requirement. In my opinion the plurality election unfairly discourages voters from really voting their conscience. It is unfair because there is a better way available. It would be different if, by some law of the universe, the plurality election were the only possible method of voting. But it is not.



Hi, first ever visit here. IMHO, Voting in/for the system simply feeds the beast (status quo). What happens when everyone stops feeding the beast? You got it. Otherwise, it's yet another cycle of "meet the new boss, same as the old boss", and historically, this is not a viable solution.

That's the answer, now for the question - why do we need all these tyrannical bosses? Every single day we vote on how to manage our lives better by the choices we make all by our lonesome. We don't need no stinking bosses, we can manage quite nicely on our own, thank you very much!


See for more on ideas of real liberty.


The people at the Voluntaryist are intelligent, great writers, true lovers of liberty and tolerance. And utterly, exasperatingly naive and wrong about not voting.

Not sending sends no coherent message whatsoever. Nobody in the public at large knows or cares whether your non-voting is a deliberate intelligent choice or simply the product of laziness, indifference, and ignorance. How would they?

People in the foreseeable future ARE going to obey the goons (judges, legislators, police, prosecutors, and bureaucrats) who win coercive power through elections. Staying home ensures that liberty-minded, anti-government candidates remain obscure and hopeless.

Grow up, voluntaryists. And Lew Rockwell, for that matter, who also advocates not voting. Until and unless you are ready for violent revolution -- which I am NOT -- vote for the least of the evils, or actually for an affirmative good if you can find it (like Ron Paul and Gary Johnson IMHO).

You can feel all self-satisfied about the imaginary "message" you are sending by not voting -- like a juvenile college student, it seems to me -- but the rest of us will deal with the real world as it is. Less bad candidates need to get in office and start peeling back the State.

Of course, if you can convince millions of people to simultaneously stop paying income tax, openly smoke marijuana by the hundreds of thousands in cities around the core try, stop complying with intrusive "laws" generally, more power to you. THAT might bring down the system, with no violence on our part at all.


I think you have a misunderstanding of totalitarian. Having two political parties no more makes a country totalitarian than having a monarchy. It is the degree of freedom accorded to citizens that determines a totalitarian state. There is still a little difference between North Korea and the US.

Rodney Choate, P.E.

I have been thinking about the problem of our defacto two party system for a long time. As Lori correctly points out, a two party system has the appearance of providing a choice, when in fact the two sides simply have ended up forming a single "statist majority", and actually cooperate quite nicely with each other. One would be tempted to think that the cause of the problem is some kind of "democratic deficiency" in the system- but that would be a mistaken notion.

It is clear that only a MINORITY of citizens have a reasonable concept of how to design and operate a government. Some intelligent people have opined that this may always be so. Regardless, any election system based solely on democratic concepts at every step, seems doomed to failure for the time being. If the majority gets its way at every turn, they will always screw things up. What is needed is the injection of a step in the process that makes a moral statement (i.e., not strictly democratic), but is nevertheless fair.

The current system of choosing the electors in each state, by plurality, may be the worst system. It is not democratic or fair. Some have proposed some form of "instant runoff" to solve the problem of ending up with only two viable candidates on election day. Though the "instant runoff" method might superficially provide a greater number of candidates to vote for on election day, I fear it wouldn't solve the problem of the "majority of idiots".

It seems to me that the two-step runoff system of an open primary, followed by a runoff of the two top vote getters is a system that might be just the thing. We are used to this system in Louisiana, but since presidential politics has such a huge impact on the country it has not been able to "prove" itself. In this system, the RUNOFF is "fair" and "democratic". The winner gets 50+% of the vote. However, the PRIMARY is also "fair", but tends to reward principled voters better than other systems by not being strictly democratic. This introduces an element of morality into the process that other systems do not.

Think about it.


Our Founding Fathers actually anticipated the dilemma to which you object. The names of the Electors in each State were to be voted on, rather than the presidential candidates themselves. I don't know that the system was ever properly implemented, but were it to be, voters in each State would elect representatives who would go to Washington and argue FOR REAL about who ought to be President, and the runner up would be the Vice.

In such a system the voter would spend plenty of time getting to know, and respect or reject, the Electors unique to her own State. It would truly be a multi-party system. Imagine a full slate of Electors for all the different parties, unique to each State and spending the entire campaign season within the borders of only that State. Anyone and everyone would be eligible to run for "Montana Presidential Elector" It was a pretty damned good plan. Too bad we don't use it!

Rodney Choate, P.E.

Article II, Section 1, Par. 1,2,3, and 4

The electors cast their votes in their states and never go to Washington.

You're certainly correct that the emphasis of the text is on the electors themselves. It's sad that the beauty, elegance, simplicity of the Constitution has been lost amid clamor for "democracy". There is too much "democracy".

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