Friday, October 13, 2006


A recent Gallup poll asked whether the respondent thought Americans were ready to elect a person of a given background: woman, black, Jew, Hispanic, Asian, Mormon, atheist, gay. It's an interesting question, particularly the categories used, because I'm remembering the categories we used to use.

Gallup didn't ask if we were ready to elect an Italian-American, Greek-American, Polish-American--apparently these ethnicities have lost their power and fall into the general category of acceptable white. (I haven't done research, but I think Jackson was our first "non-English" President, being Scots-Irish and we've still to elect someone from outside the British Isles.) Gallup also didn't ask about Catholicism or Islam. (I understand that Taft was a Unitarian, which was controversial in the day.) Nor did it ask about divorce (which was a weapon against Adlai and Rockefeller).

Gallup should have asked about single--Rep. Foley wasn't out of the closet, but I doubt, unless Father Drinan were permitted to serve again, that there's any single man over the age of 35 who could get elected senator, much less President. No more Buchanans for the U.S. So much for the idea that we grow more tolerant as the nation gets older.

The "lumping" is interesting--are we as eager to elect a Hmong President as a Japanese, a Korean as a Filipino? Is Obama more acceptable than a descendant of American slaves? And Hispanics--aren't there differences among the Cuban-Americans and the Puerto Ricans, Salvadorans and Peruvians, Brazilians and Mexicans? The answer, I think, is the immigrant process creates arbitary groupings, which then become our reality. In an alternate universe maybe we'd discriminate against a Salvadoran and for a Puerto Rican, but in the world we've got, once we're halfway ready to consider a Hispanic, we'll disregard nationality and go right to consider the merits and demerits of the individual. (Just as now we care more about whether Rudy is too liberal for the Republican base than his religion or ethnicity.)

We've also forgotten some of the balancing--look at Kennedy's cabinet A Jew, a Pole, an Italian, and no women. When Clinton tried for a cabinet that "looked like America", he didn't care about East Europeans and religion, he cared about blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and women.

No comments: