Our Presidential Candidates are Finally Starting to Look Like America
No doubt we all could use some good news about the 2016 election, and, unaccustomed as I am to playing Pollyanna, I’ve got some.
For several election cycles now, pundits and political consultants have been fretting that the political system isn’t keeping up with how the country is changing demographically. Yet in 2016 — with almost no fuss and no self-consciousness — the presidential race looks like America and then some.
Consider: The overwhelming Democratic front-runner is a woman, yet all the questions that used to be raised about whether a woman could be president have disappeared. In fact, this particular woman is criticized for many things, but ladylike incompetence on masculine subjects such as missile “throw weights” (a man’s issue, according to Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff, Donald Regan) would be laughed out of town if any candidate brought them up now. And there’s been nothing about baking cookies, either. In 1980 this was still a subject for discussion — and a requirement for first ladies.
The Democratic front-runner’s rival is a Jew, which also has not been an issue, and would probably be a revelation to many voters. There was discussion in 2000 about whether Joe Lieberman — Al Gore’s choice for vice president — could launch a military strike on Yom Kippur if called upon to do so. This election season has seen the president nominate a person who would be the fourth Jew (out of nine justices) on the Supreme Court. The other five seats are filled by Catholics. No fuss at all. And apparently no pressure on President Obama to pick a candidate of a more traditional religious background. Or if there was pressure and he resisted it, good for him.
There was open discussion all during the early stages of the race about how this was the year of the Latino in American politics. Comparisons not just with whites but with African Americans showed that Latinos were underrepresented in our nation’s elected offices, and the Republican Party openly hungered for Latino candidates at every level.
In fact, one of the remaining GOP candidates is Latino, as was another who recently dropped out of the race; both had Latino-revised versions of the great American immigrant story to tell (Marco Rubio’s a bit better fit than Ted Cruz’s). Cruz still could win the nomination. There was also a black candidate who did well with voters, but the fact that Ben Carson is African American was simply not an issue, and barely even a topic, when his name came up (which was not often).
Most encouraging of all, after an initial explosion of joy and self-congratulation, the fact that our president for the past eight years has been a black man has largely receded into the background.
From now on, that scene at the end of the party conventions, with confetti raining down and the candidates up front and waving, will look bizarre if all four of them are white men in blue suits with red ties. We’ve made it over the transition from the old America to the new one. Just in the nick of time.