What would the American candidates be like if American politics were like Spain's? The US election gets front-page coverage here in Spain, and those few Spanish political observers who understand American politics spend their days desperately trying to explain it to Spaniards. Let me try to do the reverse a little: What would the American election be like if American politics were like Spain's?
Neither McCain or Obama would be candidates. Mavericks and minorities need not apply. Parties are fairly closed institutions, run by party bosses, and they choose candidates who don't rock many boats. Palin would belong to a colorful local or minor party, and she might be a deal maker or breaker, but she'd never get within a heartbeat of the presidency. Biden might be possible, though he's a bit unruly. In Spain's legislative bodies, votes against the party line are punishable by hefty fines, and he wasn't always well-off.
In Spain, parties define the candidates and their positions, while in America, candidates define the parties. The public chooses American candidates in primaries, further weakening party control. There are no primaries here.
Campaigns in Spain are brief, measured by weeks. Candidates get free ads, which tend to be bland. Political speeches and interviews, however, are ugly before, during, and after campaigns. McCain's and Obama's campaigns would be unthinkable because they are too open to public participation. Party members conduct the campaigns, what little campaigning there is.
Lawn signs? Door-to-door canvassing? Voter registration drives? They don't happen. Parties often hold rallies, but they aren't necessarily open to the public. "Town hall" meetings don't happen. Candidates belong to the parties and stay there. Why should average voters get to ask anything?
On election day, at the polls, voters get an envelope. They put a pre-printed piece of paper into it that indicates which party they support. This makes counting votes much easier, since voters don't have much to say.
Politics may be a full contact sport in the United States, but it is a spectator sport here, and voters never leave the sidelines.
All this makes what's going on back in the USA just that much more fascinating to Spaniards, and almost impossible to understand.