Last week somebody from the UK asked me how the American two-party political system works, and if they have any sort of permanent leaders. Here's my answer:
Each party has a national committee that determines the party platform. This platform that the parties stand on is actually very fluid, hardly a platform at all really. If you compared the party stance on issues from fifty, or even twenty years ago, and compared them with how they feel about things today, you would find huge discrepancies that would make it seem that the two parties don't really have any ties whatsoever to the parties of today, which would seem like a big deal seeing as how they love to channel Kennedy and Reagan, but that's really not a big deal because the only goal of the Party is to get their members elected and in power. So staying consistent isn't really a concern, in fact, staying consistent quite often leads to a loss of power over the course of a decade or two. We Americans are awful flighty when it comes to knowing what we want when it comes to politics.
Anyway, the party National Committee takes the platform that they think best endears them to the largest group of voters and dictates it to the regional party committees who filter that on down to the state party committees who pass it on to the county parties, municipalities, etc. Think of it as an enormous multi-tiered fountain, but as opposed to an awesome fountain of chocolate or cheese or even Sierra Mist this is a bullshit fountain, dispensing wave after wave of excrement to the huddled masses below. The lower rungs of the ladder tolerate this because along with the bullshit, the fountain also dispenses large sums of money. This leads me to the National Committees most important function: Fund raising, because you can't get elected unless you can buy thousands of dollars worth of advertising that promotes the tawdry details of your opponents sexual escapades (true or not). The party committee doles out the cash to the candidates with the understanding that they use it to build a bullshit cannon to fire like grapeshot at unsuspecting and otherwise ordinary Americans.
But I digress.The Democratic National Committee and the Republican National Committee have chairmen, at the moment Howard Dean leads the Democrats and Mike Duncan for the GOP, but they are elected (or appointed? Don't know, don't care) and replaced so often that most Americans have no idea who these guys are, and those that do don't pay them much attention. The chairmen are most visible at the party National Conventions every four years when a Presidential Election comes around, only to retreat to their bullshit cave three days later never to be heard from again.