We overeat, overwork, overspend and overmedicate. Only Americans could find a way to overdo the selection of the leader of the free world.
True story: The morning after the Iowa caucuses, an Englishwoman wrote to an American friend asking for clarification as to why the Donald Trump phenomenon wasn't over. All the headlines declared that he had been defeated the night before, yet he seemed to be charging ahead. "Can you shed any light on this (bizarre) situation?" she wrote.
No, we can't explain why Iowa was merely the overture to the protracted, interminable ritual that is the American presidential election -- especially to Brits, who chose their latest leader in an election that lasted just 39 days. For comparison's sake, Ted Cruz officially announced his presidential campaign 337 days ago. (It turns 1 on March 23.)
When the phrase "permanent campaign" entered the political lexicon about 40 years ago, it referred to the rise of "elite political operatives" who polled, consulted and raised money for their clients before, during and after elections. (The man who wrote the 1980 book on the topic was Sidney Blumenthal, before he began specializing in e-mails to Hillary Clinton.) The new, literal permanent campaign is the four-year ultramarathon to the White House.
It's not just the calendar that's gotten excessive.
When did third-place finishers start giving victory speeches that run 1,500 words? When did victory in New Hampshire, even of the runaway kind, entitle the winner to a 2,200-word inaugural address while we'd all rather be watching SportsCenter?
We now have three-hour-plus debates and multiple Twitter-size news cycles each afternoon. CNN's election-night panel of experts has reached eight chairs, which, in the case of New Hampshire, worked out to about one talking head for every 69,000 voters.
A clueless outsider -- a curious Brit, say -- might have expected that the death of Antonin Scalia would overshadow the presidential campaign, at least for a few days. Quite the contrary: Within hours of the news, the presidential campaign had subsumed Scalia's passing. At this pace he might become a plank in the parties' platforms.
There are, believe it or not, 76 primaries, caucuses and state conventions still ahead, on 26 separate election days, even before the party conventions and the general election. Using rough estimates from years past, observations of this year's campaign, third-grade math and the magic powers of a half-eaten tamale left behind by a guy who looked a little like Nate Silver, here are some guesses as to what's still to come:
More than 500 more polls -- telephone, online, text-message, national, state, push, pull, entrance, exit.
About 50 more in-depth analyses of why the polls were so wrong.
About 400 references to candidates taking off the gloves, with no references to candidates putting them on.
About a dozen post-election books and special-edition magazines rehashing the whole campaign for those who didn't get enough of it.
"The presidential nominating process in the United States is one of the most complex, lengthy and expensive in the world," Gopal Ratnam and Jonathan Masters write in a newly released paper for the Council on Foreign Relations.
The state-by-state slog through the primary calendar is clearly here to stay. Legislation to institute a same-day national primary -- Democrats pick their candidate, Republicans pick theirs, and then life goes on -- has been proposed in Congress more than 100 times since 1911, and "none of them has ever gone anywhere," according to Elaine Kamarck of the Brookings Institution.
Still, there was a time when Americans weren't so obsessed with the state-by-state contests. The results of the 1948 New Hampshire Republican primary -- a significant race, pitting Thomas E. Dewey against Harold Stassen -- were reported on page 22 of the next day's New York Times. These days, traffic screeches to a halt and stock-market trading is suspended when Trey Gowdy makes his endorsement. Or at least it feels that way.
As a great man once said, it's time to slow down, reflect, and heal. That man was John Kasich. Speaking of which, is he up or down in today's tracking polls?
You never want to say this because, based on recent results, you'll be proven wrong, but we may have reached peak Trump.
Lampooning Donald Trump was a growth industry for a much longer term than anyone expected (which is kind of the point here), until it became just shooting fish in a barrel.
But ripping on the pope? That's fresh ice. And besides, who else was left as a target for Trump to prove his American exceptionalism?
Being the leader of his party, as it were, would normally put Pope Francis in a pretty unassailable spot for ecclesiastical matters. As the heir of St. Peter, the pope gives little ground on matters of faith. Except perhaps behind closed doors in the College of Cardinals, but that's politics.
Then along came our boy. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?
“For a religious leader to question a person’s faith is disgraceful,” Trump said yesterday after the pontiff criticized Trump's proposed Mexican Wall as un-Christian.
Actually, that is pretty much part of his job description. When it comes to the soundness of one's faith, there's a pecking order in the community with which one worships. Everyone gets to have a say. If you're going off the rails, your fellow congregants are obliged to pull you aside and discuss it with you. It starts in the family and, in Roman Catholicism, the last stop is the pope. If the pope says your faith is wobbly, your faith is wobbly.
“I am proud to be a Christian and as president I will not allow Christianity to be consistently attacked and weakened," the Republican front-runner continued.
No, see -- here's the thing: Christianity or any faith is weakened when its principles are threatened, not the people who subscribe to them. As the leader of about 1.2 billion Roman Catholics, and as a fan favorite for millions of others who might technically wear another team's colors, the pope is fulfilling his mandate by making observations about human behavior that conflicts with the teachings of Jesus Christ. Chief among them? Love thy neighbor.
"If anyone teaches otherwise and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, they are conceited and understand nothing. They have an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between people of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain."
That's the New International Version's translation of the apostle Paul's first letter to Timothy. It's in the New Testament, and the citation looks like this: 1 Timothy 6:3-5. It's pronounced "First Timothy," not "One Timothy."
(Read My Lips is a column dedicated to the proposition that men and women in a position of power, or the pursuit of it, will say or do things for which they might be sorry.)