I don't know how many of you have ever taken this little online test called the Political Compass. I took it back in 2004 or something and found that I was close to the lower left quadrant. I took it again just now and many of the questions have changed and I ended up in the same place. Huzzah for consistency if nothing else.
The reason I bring this up is because a readers sent me this page from the 2008 election, which I hadn't seen before.
When examining the chart it's important to note that although most of the candidates seem quite different, in substance they occupy a relatively restricted area within the universal political spectrum. Democracies with a system of proportional representation give expression to a wider range of political views. While Cynthia McKinney and Ralph Nader are depicted on the extreme left in an American context, they would simply be mainstream social democrats within the wider political landscape of Europe. Similarly, Obama is popularly perceived as a leftist in the United States while elsewhere in the west his record is that of a moderate conservative. For example, in the case of the death penalty he is not an uncompromising abolitionist, while mainstream conservatives in all other western democracies are deeply opposed to capital punishment. The Democratic party's presidential candidate also reneged on his commitment to oppose the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. He sided with the ultra conservative bloc in the Supreme Court against the Washington DC handgun ban and for capital punishment in child rape cases. He supports President Bush's faith-based initiatives and is reported in Fortune to have said that NAFTA isn't so bad. Despite all this, some angry emailers tell us that Obama is a dangerous socialist who belongs on the extreme left of our chart.
This little test is basically a parlor game, so it's a mistake to treat it as more than that. But still, it's an interesting blast to the past which shows that nobody should have been surprised at the allegedly liberal constitutional scholar turning out to be pretty authoritarian. Of course, they pretty much all were. Which says it all.