THE PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION in the United States is an American entertainment with serious overtones that takes place every four years. It is a familiar phenomenon to the natives but can be disturbing to those who have not been bred to it. An emigré whose first experience occurred in 1940 said, "It was very frightening to watch you. The name-calling and the vituperation seemed so serious." This comment on our folkway points up an attitude or way of doing things that is not in the least restricted to the election of 1940. However, 1940 was a unique year. The Republicans chose an unorthodox candidate in an unorthodox manner; and never before had a President run for a third term, and never again would it be possible, because of the Twenty-second Amendment that was ratified in 1951.
Yet, to hear the promoters of public interest in the fortunes of a particular party and its candidates, every four years brings a critical test of the ability of the "American way of life" to survive. How many campaigns are inevitably called "the most important in our history"? One can accept the importance of installing the prestigious George Washington in the first place and possibly--but not convincingly--the replacement of Federalists with Thomas Jefferson. Certainly, Jackson's victory in 1828 delineated a definite course, the acceptance of a particular consensus; but even that was launched with uncertain premises. Who knows what may have happened if Douglas or Breckinridge had won in 1860, or if Tilden had been permitted to keep his victory. The ascendancy--accidental, at first--