As a US citizen of global proportions, I feel compelled to explain our presidential election process to my three European readers.
First and foremost, it’s important to understand that the American election is run by the entertainment and advertising industries. Europeans who bemoan our superficial candidates don’t understand that we are voting for actors, not statesmen.
We vote for personalities, not politics. This is because the mainstream Democrats and Republicans aren’t really that different. If you still have trouble understanding the two main parties, here’s an easy trick: Coors is the official beer of the Republican Party, the more Euro-friendly Democrats drink Budweiser.
Unlike most places, where campaigns last a couple of months, we Yanks like to draw the process out for nearly two years. This is to assure that no sitting president can get anything done in the last half of a four year term.
Our extended election cycle is a giant economic stimulus package for event planners, caterers, hookers and consultants.
Because we have too many states to keep track of, we start with a primary election in the state of Iowa, followed quickly by New Hampshire. Both states receive an immense financial windfall from the sale of (imported) American flags.
Iowa and New Hampshire serve a vital purpose: they eliminate the most entertaining novelty candidates. This helps giant donors funnel limitless cash on the remaining candidates. Eventually, the remaining forty-eight sates stage increasingly expensive primary contests to assure that advertising and TV money flows from the rich to the super-rich.
A few months before the final election, when most Americans have completely lost interest, each party stages their big convention.
The main outcome of the convention is the “party platform.” The platform serves the same purpose in politics as in Olympic diving: the competitor must jump off the platform, twist and turn in mid-air, and land in the great bathtub of public approval without splashing anyone. Any candidate who “flip-flops” loses points.
Once the convention is over, the final leg of the campaign marathon begins. Because most voters are loyal to their party, the candidates now engage in symbolic struggle to seduce a small percentage of critical swing voters to their side. These undecided voters force the candidates to escape Houdini-like from a variety of contorted positions.
In a series of televised debates that increasingly resemble "Survivor Island," hot-button topics like “Coke vs. Pepsi” get more scrutiny than dull questions about foreign policy.
It’s a well known fact that most eligible voters don’t. This is because after two years of over-exposure, we’re sick of the candidates. We know them too well and don’t want any. By the final, fateful November election day, the northern half of the country is home bound due to freak snowstorms while the southern half forgets to vote.
This is why the incumbent usually wins.