Republican-led legislatures across the nation are making controversial changes to many laws under the guise of "choice." Charter schools give families a "choice" of where to send their children. Right to work gives workers a "choice" to join a union.
The truth is, "choice" is a red herring in these political discussions.
In 2013, only 11.3 percent of workers belonged to a union. This means that around 90 percent of jobs don't require employees to be a union member. Additionally there are some 4 million jobs that are currently unfilled. Are there really no choices available for anti-union workers? Are they somehow being forced to accept union jobs because no other jobs exist?
Additionally, the formation of a union is a constitutionally-protected right which requires a majority vote. In the public sector this is often referred to as the democratic process, or part of what makes America the greatest country on earth. Right to work allows individuals to opt out of this democratic process.
If allowing individuals to vacate their union membership is the Republican Party's idea of "choice," and choice actually matters to Republicans then the law should be amended to allow any number of individuals to organize a union instead of requiring a majority vote. If right to work represented a genuine choice, the Volkswagen plant in Tennessee would have a union of 626 employees right now.
But when Republicans say they want "choice," they only mean a choice to ignore things they oppose.
The same is true of charter schools. When Republicans discuss having a choice among schools they are really talking about turning children into a commodity that their donors can profit from. The majority of charter schools are in locations that serve families that nearly every other Republican policy harms. "Choice" is just a catch phrase Republicans use to make this money grab politically palatable.
If choice were really a concern, then boards of trustees would be elected by and answer to the parents of the students instead of the charter school owner. Shouldn't parents who have "chosen" a school get a measure of "choice" in how the school is run?
Some schools actually require a certain level of parent involvement. Parent involvement is clearly a good thing for all parties -- parents, students, teachers, administrators and the school community at large -- but think of the outrage from Republicans if their local community school required parents to pledge five hours a week of their time to the school.
To advertise its product, one charter school said "A charter school is an independently run public school granted greater flexibility in its operations." This loosely translates to "no one tells us what to do." This "flexibility" exists because charter schools don't have to meet many of the same standards states have imposed on community schools.
If choice is the impetus for changing education in the U.S., why wouldn't Republicans just follow their own talking point and get government out of the education process?
Instead of coming up with a whole new system, just allow schools to choose for themselves the best method of teaching children. If parents didn't like the direction the school was taking they could always choose different school board members.
All of these policies stem from the belief that somehow the free market offers choice where government doesn't. In their mind, choosing to give their business to a company is choice, but participating in a democracy is not.
So if you don't like Big Oil the Republican answer is simple -- don't use oil. On the surface this is a completely reasonable idea. But if you think about it at all you realize just how little choice you really have. Sure you can buy a hybrid car, walk to work, or take a bike but the hybrid car still has plastic and rubber components that are made from oil. The same is true of the bike and shoes.
Imagine trying to eliminate all oil products from your house. Carpets, appliances, technology, and food packing all contain oil. Even the everyday products you buy from the store required oil to produce and ship to market.
Could you choose to not have any of your money go to Big Oil? It's possible, but it would also take such a ridiculous level of commitment that even the most ardent conservative would have to admit this hardly qualifies as a choice.
This free market choice also assumes all of the information you need to make these decisions is readily available.
Thanks to Republicans, corporations can donate nearly unlimited amounts money to causes you may or may not support and this can all be done in a completely anonymous way. Maybe they spend money to support gun rights, abortion rights, or Obamacare. Under the current rules, consumers won't even know if the companies they frequent have an agenda that they agree with. The companies have a choice, but the public does not.
The reality is that when Republicans say they support "choice" they really only mean choices that benefit big business.