Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Beyond Binary Politics


You have noticed, to be sure, how our nation’s politics gravitates to the binary position year after year. Webster’s dictionary defines “binary” as “something made of two things or parts.” So, parties, politicians and voters are overwhelmingly either characterized as conservative-right wing or liberal-left wing.

I’ve never thought the binary approach was very useful; it is too abstract, too far from the facts on the ground, too stereotypical of variations within each category, and too constricting of independent thought that is empirically nourished.

What helps keep binary descriptions going, however, are desires for convenient narratives. So here is one to ponder.

Different aspects of our culture attract either mostly conservatives or liberals or, at least, are identified with one or the other political philosophies or self-characterizations.

Liberals are more identified with popular music-the more risqué or hip-hop, the more the label is applied. So too with movies on abuses of power by corporations and government. The China Syndrome, Norma Rae, Grapes of Wrath of years ago. Too many to recount today out of Hollywood.

When it comes to humor, the leaning is liberal whether on the monologues of late-night entertainment hosts, the John Stewart, and Stephen Colbert Shows, Saturday Night Live or the Al Franken Show. It’s harder to poke fun at established power from a right-wing standpoint.

Documentaries are hands down in the embrace of the liberal-progressive producers. Recent titles include “The Corporation”, “An Inconvenient Truth”, “Who Killed the Electric Car?”, “This Land is Your Land”, “The Take” and, of course, “Fahrenheit 9/11”.

The larger, more reported political websites seem to lean toward liberal-progressive, the rumor-mill, Matt Drudge Report withstanding. Daily Kos and The Huffington Post are on the ascendancy.

On the other side of the binary, the conservative-corporate worldview dominates radio talk shows and cable talk shows. Just list the hosts ­ Limbaugh, Hannity, O’Reilly (though less so), and all the way down the ratings ladder.

The most politically motivated and get-out-the-vote people in the neighborhoods, when the chips are down, have been from the conservative communities. Ask the Democrats who had to rely on imported activists (Ohio in 2004) while their Republican opponents relied on people living in the Buckeye State.

Politically-active church pews are filled more with conservatives than with liberals. These are the people who have partially taken over the Republican Party and who supply the motivated cadres before election day.

Symbols of patriotism ­ often shorn of substantive followup ­ belong to conservatives. The flag, singing anthems, parading on the 4th of July, Memorial Day and Veterans Day belong to the people who describe themselves more on the right side of the binary, who would more often describe themselves as conservatives. So too is the case with membership in the American Legion and the VFW. So too as well with membership in the Main Street service clubs ­ Rotary, Kiwanis and Lions International.

It is fair to say that since 1980, conservative candidates have been winning overall more than have liberal candidates. From the presidency to the Congress to the state legislatures to the governorships, this trend has been much reported.

Moreover, the liberals who do win, like Clinton, Lieberman, Bayh and assorted governors are often more corporatists than liberals on major subjects such as foreign policy, military budgets, the Federal Reserve, corporate welfare, real regulation, tax policy and consumer protection.

It could be that more often than is normally recognized, the self-described conservative voters spend more time personally interacting with one another in situations where “social” can easily move to “political.”

More often than the liberal voters, they participate in activities associated with clubs, and churches where person to person conversations abound.

The above areas of liberal domination involve more passive, spectator, celluloid or “cool” internet occasions. And after a while a chronically humorous way of looking at politics becomes a distraction, even though it may be a style that avoids commercial media censorship.

Of course, money in politics comes more easily to corporatist candidates, as does the media. For example, extreme right-wingers get on talk shows, receive media attention or have their own profitable shows like Pat Robertson does. Who are the extreme left-wingers, who receive any press, other than an occasional newspaper picture showing them being dragged away from a protest at the IMF, World Bank or toxic dump site?

The lesson? Politics, even in an age of electronic supremacy, is still strongly moved by the person-to-person, conversational, affinity, communal groupings in our society. Big TV ads cost money and the corporatists can buy them over and over again. But the word of mouth from friend to friend, relative to relative, neighbor to neighbor and worker to worker is not something anyone wants to sell short.



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


October 24, 2016
John Steppling
The Unwoke: Sleepwalking into the Nightmare
Oscar Ortega
Clinton’s Troubling Silence on the Dakota Access Pipeline
Patrick Cockburn
Aleppo vs. Mosul: Media Biases
John Grant
Humanizing Our Militarized Border
Franklin Lamb
US-led Sanctions Targeting Syria Risk Adjudication as War Crimes
Paul Bentley
There Must Be Some Way Out of Here: the Silence of Dylan
Norman Pollack
Militarism: The Elephant in the Room
Patrick Bosold
Dakota Access Oil Pipeline: Invite CEO to Lunch, Go to Jail
Paul Craig Roberts
Was Russia’s Hesitation in Syria a Strategic Mistake?
Lara Gardner
Why I’m Not Voting
David Swanson
Of All the Opinions I’ve Heard on Syria
Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017