America is in the midst of an all-important electoral campaign. But, talking to Europeans, I've discovered that there is puzzlement and misinformation on your continent about what's happening on ours. Europeans feel an understandable confusion when faced with a political system consisting of two houses of Congress and a White House, and nobody is home in any of them.
Also, America's political parties are indistinguishable to the European eye. A British journalist once described the situation thus: "America is a one-party state, but just like Americans they've got two of them." (I forget which British journalist said that. But there are so many British journalists who should be forgotten. Maybe it was Alexander Cockburn.)
The difference between American parties is actually simple. Democrats are in favor of higher taxes to pay for greater spending, while Republicans are in favor of greater spending, for which the taxpayers will pay. In foreign policy, Republicans intend to pursue the war in Iraq but to do so with a minimal number of troops on the ground. This is not to be confused with the disastrous Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld policy of using a minimal number of troops on the ground to pursue the war in Iraq. Democrats intend to end the war, but they don't know when. Democrats are making the "high school sex promise": I'll pull out in time, honest!
There are two factors in American politics that may seem strange to Europeans, race and religion. You, of course, don't have any religion. Except every now and then someone who came to Europe lately and is a Muslim blows himself to bits. But I understand that you have EU funding to address these social problems and help Muslims build bombs that release fewer pollutants and less carbon dioxide, reducing the threat of global warming.
After the events of the 20th century, God, quite reasonably, left Europe. But He's still here in the United States. The majority of Americans are Christians, and Christians can be divided into two kinds, the kind who think you should get Jesus and the kind who think Jesus is going to get you. Mike Huckabee is one of the latter. Then there are the Mormons such as Mitt Romney who believe some unusual things--things that no sensible European like Jean-Paul Sartre, Martin Heidegger, Benito Mussolini, Karl Marx, Emanuel Swedenborg, or Cherie Blair would ever believe.
The question of race in America is supposed to be a matter of what one looks like. But it is difficult to comprehend how a political interest group that contains both Al Sharpton and Halle Berry could be based on looks. Barack Obama looks like he was raised in Hawaii. He may have just a good tan.
The number of American presidential candidates varies with the sunspot cycle and the phases of the moon. Being a Republican, I'm backing Hillary Clinton. Because she could lose. The reason is not that she's a woman. The reason is that she's the particular woman who taught the 4th grade class that every man in America wished he were dead in. Hillary Clinton is Lucy holding the football for Charlie Brown. Hillary Clinton is "America's ex-wife."
A man can be a Democrat to the core, going into the voting booth to pull the lever with the donkey label no matter what. Then he sees Hillary's name on the ballot. And it all comes back to him . . . the first marriage . . . the time he came home a little late, it wasn't even midnight, and he'd only had four or five beers, and she threw his bowling ball down the storm sewer.
The Republicans will have a hard time coming up with someone who can't beat Hillary Clinton. But I don't put it past them. You may remember Senator Bob Dole in 1996.
At the moment Republicans seem inclined to John McCain. Everyone loves John McCain. Everyone respects John McCain. He's tough. He's consistent. He's wrong. Not that I personally agree with you Europeans that John is wrong, but the voters do. John thinks the war in Iraq is a good idea. The electorate doesn't. John's campaign slogan is "Strong and Wrong."
Mitt Romney is supposed to be my own type of candidate, a true conservative. But Mitt was governor of Massachusetts. This is like applying to be pope and listing your prior job experience as "Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem."
Mitt Romney is also the "corporate candidate," promising to bring the organizational skills and fiscal discipline of corporate America to Washington. But we are in the midst of a global credit collapse and all the air is hissing out of the world's equity market balloons. We've had big corporate scandals--Enron, WorldCom, Tyco--in the not too distant past. We may have a deep recession in the not too distant future. Is this the moment to be pitching the voters on "business savvy"?
Rudy Giuliani is a wonderful person to have around during a tragedy. His campaign promise is that there will be a tragedy every week.
As for Fred Thompson, he didn't have much impact. Yes, he's a Republican who was seen on TV a lot. But so was Scooter Libby.
Mike Huckabee lost some support among the hard-core fundamentalists when Bible Belt denizens realized that John McCain was the only candidate with enough guts to really handle rattlesnakes at church. The rest of the public remains alert to the fact that evangelical Christianity, as a movement, has two faces--the Moral Majority face and the Tammy Faye Bakker face.
Let us not forget Ron Paul who is very popular--with people who stay up all night in Ayn Rand chatrooms, bury Krugerrands in the yard, and think the Trilateral Commission causes sub-prime mortgage foreclosures.
Incidentally, there's a balanced position that all of America's presidential candidates could take on the controversial abortion issue. If they want votes they shouldn't campaign to make abortion illegal or legal. They should campaign to make it retroactive. If a kid reaches 25 and he or she is still jobless, feckless, and sitting around Starbucks acting like a--no offense--European, then whack.
Meanwhile, in the Democratic field, Barack Obama may be altering our national political equation. Obama is an indication that America has reached an important benchmark in race relations. In America it is now officially more important to be cute than to be white. Barack Obama is cute, and he's nice. It's been a long time since any political party in America had the cute, nice vote sewn up. Rudy Giuliani? Not so nice. Bill Clinton? Don't get cute.
The problem for Obama is that, as yet, he doesn't have much political stature. However, there is a "Disney factor" is American politics. Think of America's politicians as the Seven Dwarves. They're all short--short on ethics, short on experience, short on common sense, short on something. But we keep thinking that one of these dwarves is going to save our snow white butt.
We've got Dopey right now. We had Sleazy before him. Grumpy lost in '04. Sleepy was great in the 1980s, but he's dead. How about Obama?
Who else do the Democrats have? There is, of course, Nobel Peace Prize-winning Al Gore. May I ask you Europeans, are your Norwegians crazy? What does the Nobel Peace Prize have to do with global warming? Did Al forge a truce in the war with the penguins? I'm trying to lead a carbon-neutral lifestyle myself. I've given up cigars. I think Al Gore should give up blowing smoke out his . . .
John Edwards is a personal injury lawyer, the sort of fellow who covers North Carolina with billboards reading, "Y'all May Have Been Malpracticed on by a Doctor and Not Even Know It. Call (800) S-H-Y-S-T-E-R." One of the remaining virtues of European civilization is that you aren't overrun with his ilk. John Edwards should go sue Krispy Kreme doughnuts for making his supporters too fat to get into the voting booths.
Dennis Kucinich swept the Mars caucuses.
Then there are the Democrats who're actually qualified to be president--Bill Richardson, Joe Biden, and Chris Dodd. All three have dropped out of the race. Before they did, they managed, between them, to raise almost $1,000 (2.79 euros) for their campaigns.
This leaves the Democrats with Hillary Clinton. She's going to reform America's health care system. Memo to Hillary: You already reformed America's health care system, 15 years ago. Just the outline of Hillary's 1993 health care plan was 1,400 pages long, almost as long as that equally successful reform document, the EU constitution.
Many political analysts say that the failure of Hillary's health care plan almost destroyed Bill Clinton's first term. You'll recall that Bill Clinton had to seek help from a different woman to almost destroy his second term.
But no matter who is elected America's next president--whether Barack Obama, John McCain, Hillary Clinton, or even Ron Paul--it is important that Europeans be reassured that ordinary Americans will not change the way they think about Europe. They will continue to think they aren't sure where it is on the map.
P.J. O'Rourke is a contributing editor to THE WEEKLY STANDARD.