Clive Crook is absolutely correct, but he seems to imply that things have been different with American national politics, and that strikes me as rather naive.

American national politics have always been about personality, since the days when George Washington plied voters (then only the elite voters of the Electoral College mattered) with liquor, and they have only steadily gone downhill since.

It is now completely marketing and advertising and manipulated perceptions.

Marketing, America’s one authentic intellectual contribution to the world, dominates thinking there completely.

In products, services, politics and even religion, you will find not just its influence but its dominance as a way of thinking and operating.

The duopoly of the Republicans and Democrats behaves exactly the way we see Coke and Pepsi or McDonald’s and Burger King behaving.

Neither party stands for anything consistently other than the desire to maximize its election success.

The Republicans, for example, rather than a true conservative party have been a party of big spending and lowering taxes (for some), thus becoming the party of massive economic irresponsibility and huge debts.

The Republicans also, rather than the true conservative ideal of non-interference in private lives, have been the party of Christian hucksters trying to tell everyone what to do, the party of the paranoid ready to spy on everyone in every possible way, and the party of unethical business practices.

The dominance of marketing and advertising is why we have the dominance of money in American politics, something with which in the past McCain himself displayed considerable concern. America on the national level is today a de facto plutocracy. Big contributors get access and influence. Ordinary people are only marketing data points and the occasional subject of photo-ops.

Also, there is a consensus amongst America’s powerful on what I might call the really big issues. For example, we really do not see the Democrats – half a century ago portrayed as the party of the working man and woman – standing up against deficits which put a huge future burden on ordinary Americans. We do not see them standing up as a party against ugly colonial wars like Iraq to which overwhelmingly the sons and daughters of ordinary Americans are sent. We do not see them standing up against torture and abuse in the (false) name of security. And we do not see them standing up against laws which twist and distort every aspect of the Constitution protecting ordinary people against the abuse of the privileged.

So the combination and inter-workings of manipulative politics, money to pay for the manipulation, and the interests of the powerful who supply money for the manipulation make American democracy and national politics a fairly hollow set of institutions.

Added to this is the corporate structure of the country. Most people having good jobs have them with large corporations. Have you ever seen a democratic corporation? Corporations, with minor variations, operate much the way military organizations do.

Effectively, the main economic structure of America is an anti-democratic institution, one both with leverage over employees (and foreign readers cannot appreciate the full impact of this which includes a family’s health care insurance, corporate and government employed Americans being pretty much the only ones with decent insurance) and with the access and resources to largely have its way.

In the end, at least at this time, it perhaps doesn’t really matter that the political body politic is so warped, because the consensus of powerful people in America will keep the nation headed on the same course it has been on for decades. The America voter is faced not so much with a meaningful choice of policy directions as a choice of the person who will represent them collectively as both head of state and head of government.

And the truth is that even where there are domestic issues with some choice possible, so few politicians keep their promises or are able to keep their promises, that voting for an issue in America is a pretty hollow exercise. The best the voters really get is to choose between two individuals for personal characteristics which seem more agreeable.

Final note to one poster, the Pentagon and the defense industry plus the intelligence monstrosity make the greatest socialist entity in the world, one utterly without civilian and human-rights values, one with no competition, no democratic values, and a dangerous one. But American conservatives always think that is just fine. It’s the schools and social programs that are evil ands inefficient. Childish nonsense.