An election is, as we all know, a wonderful thing, especially when it is taking place in a foreign country and requires nothing from us except to sit around watching Sky News and feeling superior.
This is the case with the just completed US election. "Oh, those silly Americans!" we’ve cried throughout the campaign. "Look at them, with their electoral colleges and battleground states and delicious saltwater taffy! How bizarre and uncivilised and wacky they are! Ho ho ho!"
Yes, US politics is indeed a strange and hilarious world, and under ordinary circumstances there would be nothing healthier than to use it as an outlet for our normal human desire to mock and despise all that is strange and different to us.
These are not, however, ordinary circumstances. As has been noted previously, the mighty United States is in trouble, and this election represents the country’s opportunity to change direction and cleanse itself of the sins of the past. In this sense, the election is a lot like Jesus, an analogy that is both apt and baffling.
The first step to understanding this election is to understand the US electoral system itself, which is a very different beast to the Australian system. First of all, the US has a strict two-party system, in contrast to Australia, which vacillates between one party and about seven, depending on the economic climate and Steve Fielding’s brain chemistry.
The two parties are of course the Republicans and the Democrats, but this can be misleading to we poor Aussie yokels, as the meanings of these two words are very different to their meanings in Australian politics. In America the Republicans are mainly arrogant, patrician born-to-rule types, whereas Australian Republicans are people like Malcolm Turnbull. Similarly, American Democrats differ from their Australian namesakes in that American Democrats exist.
Both parties are proud and venerable institutions with a rich history, founded on strong principles — in the Republicans’ case, the principles of free enterprise, individual choice, and using the unemployed as fuel; and in the Democrats’ case, the principles of social justice, civil rights, and general incompetence. The Democrat emblem, of course, is a donkey, representing the fact the party was founded by hard working folk in the service of the people; while the Republican emblem is an elephant, representing the fact the party was founded by deranged circus folk.
In order to win office in America, a presidential candidate does not need to win the popular vote, but rather the electoral college vote. The electoral college is a group of 538 men and women who live in a cupboard underneath the Lincoln monument, emerging every four years to indicate their preferred choice as president by spitting into one of two ceremonial buckets. Which candidate the electoral collegeers select depends on who carries their particular states. For example, the candidate that wins Florida gains 27 electoral votes, while the candidate that wins Montana gains just three, reflecting the state motto, "Montana: why?"
And so we can see that Obama’s victory was indeed a mighty one, as at last count he had 349 electoral votes secured, while John McCain had only 163, which qualifies under the US Constitution as an "ass-whuppin’", and if he can win the remaining 26 votes may be upgraded to a "hog-hammerin’", which would qualify him for Platinum President status and grant him the rights to Cindy McCain on weekends.
How did he do it? How did this humble son of an economist rise from the drug-addled haze of his youth to the most powerful post in the world, in the process thrilling us, inspiring us, and apparently convincing us that he is not a Muslim extremist who wants to kill us all? What witchcraft is this?
He was, it must be said, helped by his opponent. John McCain made much during the campaign of his standing as a "maverick". He made so much of this that several times while on the campaign trail he lost his place in his speech and filled time by simply bellowing "Maverick! Maverick!" over and over again for up to three hours at a stretch.
His running mate, Sarah Palin, is also a "maverick" — in fact, she is possibly the most maverick politician in US history, as measured in total tonnage of dead caribou. Of course, some people said that Sarah Palin is not "smart", but you know, there are many kinds of intelligence. There’s book-smarts, and then there’s street-smarts. Palin has neither of these, but she does have the sort of down-home, earthy, nasal wisdom found only in the most well trained of huskies. Admittedly, a Palin White House carried with it a certain risk of sightseers on Pennsylvania Avenue being periodically sprayed with buckshot, but this seemed a small price to pay for the excitement of an executive branch with the ability to skin a Kodiak bear in under three minutes.
And yet, some people seemed a little "uneasy" with the prospect of Vice-President Palin. This was especially so given the heightened possibility of the elderly McCain dying in office, not to mention the growing suspicion that he was already dead and being manipulated by skilful puppeteers. The American people were faced with the choice of electing a black president or a dead president. Sadly, necroism is still alive and well in the States. So to speak.
But let’s give Obama his due. He came promising hope, promising change, and he intoxicated us with his message that there could be a different way of doing politics, that we could all pull together and steer history on a new and better course. His high ideals and powerful oratory were so inspirational that it will almost come as a surprise in six months when he unveils his plan to create a worldwide communist caliphate and have all rich white people strangled live on Al-Jazeera.
Should, for some reason, this not come to pass, we may be in for an even more interesting epoch. Of course he is not president yet: George Bush has until 20 January to get his affairs in order, loot the White House cutlery drawer and have a last few people discreetly poisoned. But once Obama takes control, America, and the world, will quickly embark on a rollercoaster ride of political élan and legislative boldness that will make the last eight years seem like a distant, nightmarish, slightly different memory.
There is a very real chance that if Obama really puts his nose to the grindstone and keeps up his enthusiasm for change, that at some point during his second term some sort of law might get passed that may in some way effect an almost discernible technical alteration in the normal conduct of everyday life for a small number of people. I can almost taste the revolution.
If that’s not exciting enough, bear in mind that Sarah Palin has apparently stated her desire to run for president herself in four years time, which may not only result in the first-ever presidential campaign fought entirely on snowmobile, but also the nuking of France, which I think we’ve all been hanging out for.
So God bless you, president-elect Obama. It’s been a privilege to watch your campaign, and I speak for all my fellow citizens of the world when I say that the next few years will be even better as we all jump on board for a status quo we can believe in.
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