confused about American politics? me too.

So, where were we? Ah yes.

Newt Gingrich bowed out of the campaign for the nomination with a verbose and graceless speech so heavy with narcissism that it’s a wonder he didn’t plummet through the stage after spraying his horrified audience with a sticky layer of grandiosity. Rick Santorum finally endorsed Mitt Romney with the same level of giddy enthusiasm that I reserve for bleaching my tea spoons. And this week’s political bombshell was North Carolina’s landslide vote to ban gay marriage and civil unions (but hey, you can still marry your first cousin in N.C., excellent news for those keen on six-fingered offspring). President Obama’s subsequent public backing of same-sex marriage was seen by Republicans as a declaration of war on the institution of marriage, and fueled a twittergasm so powerful it blew Mitt Romney’s mom jeans clean off.

Welcome to the 2012 general election. Romney will be the Republican challenger unless Ryan Gosling decides to run. It is all very exciting, if rather confusing; the American political system is like a massive, breathless equation for which there is no right or wrong answer and anyway the myriad of rules keep on changing because basically fuck you.

My quest to achieve a greater understanding of American politics led me not only to wonder how the trumpeting hell this country actually gets anything done, but also to a number of odd words and phrases that require explanation. So for any non-Americans who might vaguely be interested, here’s my attempt to make things a little clearer.

Bundlers: Sadly, not people who envelop you with lovely big, warm hugs and give you a chocolate biscuit. Bundlers are people who circumvent the limits on individual political donations by giving the maximum amount allowed, then collecting from others and bundling all that money together. Politicians are not required by law to release the names of their bundlers, although Obama has (Romney has not). At the recent official dinner in honour of David Cameron, 41 of the 364 guests were Obama campaign bundlers. Can you imagine that happening at an official dinner in Downing Street? Um ….

Convention (national): This is like our annual party political conference, but happens every four years to pick the party’s nominee for president. Well, when I say pick, I mean anoint. Each party’s nominee is generally chosen well before the convention is held, so the occasion is more a rally cry to the masses and probably a bit of a piss-up with some extra-curricular shagging on the side.

Delegates represent their states at their party’s national convention, and cast a vote in favour of one candidate. Sounds simple, right? Nope. The number of delegates per state is not based on the number of residents, so smaller states can have more delegates than larger ones. A number of delegates can also be awarded as a reward for party loyalty. Have a look at this and tell me if you understand the system any better. A pint of D.C.’s best to anyone who gets it and is willing to explain it to me.

Convention (brokered): A situation where no one candidate manages to gain the majority of delegate votes to enable them to win the nomination outright to challenge for the presidency. Unlikely to happen this year, although Ron Paul (bless) will take a good number of delegates to the Republican convention which, by the way, will take place in Florida from the 27th of August and ** I REALLY WANT TO GO ** if anyone would like to get me accreditation and take me with them?

Electoral College: OK, so America has been to the polls. All the votes have been counted. We have a winner! Er, not so fast. The Electoral College has yet to vote. Huh? Well, a long, long time ago, some men with top hats and whiskered faces thought that giving ‘the people’ the ultimate decision on who the next president should be was a little reckless. And some of ‘the people’ thought Congress couldn’t be trusted with the power to elect a president. So a clever person thought up a system whereby ‘the people’ would vote for electors to cast votes on their behalf. The elector will generally vote the way his or her state has voted, ratifying the popular vote, but on occasions they haven’t – George Bush v Al Gore is probably the most famous example. God, I wish Twitter had been invented then. Can you imagine? Hashtags galore.

Spiking the football: This is an American football term for when a player intentionally throws the ball down to stop the clock (I think). The phrase is used in politics to suggest seeking credit for something in a rather showy manner. Most recently, Obama was accused of spiking the football for politicising the anniversary of the death of Osama bin Laden. I imagine the British version is ‘over-egging the pudding’. Or ‘have some respect you total dick’.

Spox: Shorthand for spokesperson. Unlike in the UK, spokespeople for politicians here are not anonymous, speak publicly and often have their own twitter accounts to push their master’s views. Makes for much more fun and bitchiness.

Super PAC: Hmm this is an interesting one. A Super PAC (political action committee) is an organisation that campaigns on behalf of a candidate although is not directly connected to him or her, and is often run by former staff members. Super PACs are controversial because they can raise unlimited funds (not just from individuals but also from corporations and unions) and the disclosure rules on who the cash comes from are pretty hazy. Many of the negative advertising campaigns that ran during the Republican nomination campaign were funded by Super PACs, and no doubt the same will happen during the presidential campaign. The amount of money involved is extraordinary; Romney’s two super PACs, for example, have so far raised $80 million.

Surrogates: Nothing to do with babies. Surrogates are representatives of a candidate running for office who will campaign on their behalf. This could be another politician or even the husband or wife of the candidate, and enables a campaign to cover ground more easily during a campaign. Michelle Obama has acted as a surrogate for the President on many occasions, as latterly has Mrs. Mittens.  

Swiftboating: Not, as you might think, some dodgy Dutch fun involving bottoms and right-wing propaganda (google it). This term originated in 2004 when presidential candidate John Kerry was accused of fibbing about his military service in Vietnam by a group who called themselves the ‘Swift Boat Veterans for Truth’. The term caught on and is now used to describe nasty and negative public smear campaigns. Horrid.

That’s it for now. Don’t yell at me if I got some of it wrong. I might fling a few more phrases your way as the campaign heats up. You’ll thank me for it later when you’re able to show off to your mates in the pub.

About hebe in dc

British Girl in Washington DC @hebeindc
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8 Responses to confused about American politics? me too.

  1. JustI says:

    I have to say, yours is the only political interest blog that I follow, and I thoroughly enjoy reading your views!

  2. Great read, Hebes. As ever. mx

  3. leafyleith says:

    Find it absolutely hilarious that you have a mumsnet logo on your site now. You’re hilarious 😉

  4. Christina says:

    I’m sure this is useful for Americans too, because I think they’re just as confused about their political system as you. I know I still am. A year or three of American government in middle school and high school and a college course or two didn’t much do it for me. This is hilarious too, may I add!

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