When will we be ready?

January 21, 2008

by Ivan Raconteur

There are plenty of provocations for a thoughtful observer during an election year, and one of the most vexing topics that has emerged recently is the subject of “electability.”

One can’t help but wonder how many more earnest discussions between pundits and journalists (I use that term loosely here) we will be subjected to in which they ask, “Is the US ready to elect a black president?” or, “Is the US ready to elect a woman president?”

What does that even mean?

We are told that, according to some surveys, many voters claim that they would vote for a woman or a black person, but these same voters express the opinion that the US is not ready to elect such a person.

One report, released by Pew Research Center, indicates 88 percent of voters say they would vote for a well-qualified woman candidate. The report contrasts this with 1969, when only 53 percent said they would support a well-qualified female candidate.

The implied conclusion is that we have come a long way in terms of our attitude toward female candidates.

Perhaps this is true, but one can’t help but wonder why it is even still an issue.

These numbers suggest that at least 12 percent of the population would vote for a male candidate, regardless of how much of a buffoon he might be, before they would vote for a more-qualified female candidate, and that is insane.

No matter how one feels about women or their leadership abilities, surely even the dimmest bulb among us must realize that it is unlikely that the average woman could make more of a cock-up of things than some of our male politicians have made.

The same applies to black candidates.

One can’t see why, in 2008, there is even a question about whether black candidates are somehow inferior to white candidates based on their race.

It defies logic, and is an infinitely depressing commentary on US voters.

Apparently, just as with female candidates, many voters claim they would support a well-qualified black candidate, but feel “the rest of the country just isn’t ready.”

So, when will we be ready?

Way back in 1776, old Tom Jefferson drafted the Declaration of Independence, asserting that “all men are created equal.”

Jefferson may have had an odd interpretation of the term “all men,” but the document went on to become a very important part of the creed that we claim to embrace as Americans.

Is it just a symbol, or do we really believe it? One has to wonder.

Despite the fact that we are all equal, we didn’t get around to giving all men the right to vote until 1870, when the 15th amendment to the constitution declared that, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the US or any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”

It took another half-century for women to earn the same rights with ratification of the 19th amendment in 1920. They really did have to “earn” these rights. Nobody “gave” them anything.

Nearly 80 years later, while we allow women and blacks to vote, some of us apparently still believe that the country is “not ready” for a woman president or a black president.

What is it going to take? When will we be willing to show by our actions, not just our words, that we honestly believe all people are equal?

This week, we observe the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr.

Some 45 years ago, King eloquently told us about his dream that, “One day, this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed.”

We are still waiting for that day. And, we will continue waiting until race and sex are no longer issues for any candidate in this country.

I point out the absurdity of using race and sex in the political process for purely selfish reasons.

It is not very often that I am genuinely excited about any political candidate, and, perhaps by truly opening up the process to all people, be they white black, purple or green, man or woman, we might actually get some interesting candidates to choose from; candidates who would bring some fresh ideas and the possibility for real change to the table.

This is by no means an endorsement of any current candidate, but an appeal for common sense in the election process.

Females make up more than half of the population. By eliminating them from serious consideration, we cut out about 51 percent of the potential candidates. If we eliminate blacks, we shut out another 13 percent. So, before we even start the process, we have effectively reduced the pool to about 35 percent of the population.

Limiting our choices for president to a small group of white guys with similar backgrounds is not good for the country. Our strength is in our diversity, and we need more choices, not fewer.

One would not suggest that candidates are necessarily better because they are black or female, the point is that these factors should not be part of the discussion.

Until we quit subjecting some candidates to extra scrutiny because of their race or sex; until we quit expecting women, blacks, and others to work twice as hard and be twice as qualified to earn the same opportunities, we are not fulfilling King’s dream, and we are not fulfilling America’s dream.

To say we believe in freedom and equality, but act in a manner that contradicts this, is simply lip service to a hollow creed. It is a sham and a cheap substitute for what could be.

If we are not ready for all Americans to be equal today, when will we be ready?