Letter from the Editor

Thursday, February 1, 2007

Running in a rainbow

Have you even thought about it? Probably not, and bless your beady little political hearts, that is the beauty of it all.

A woman, a Hispanic and an African-American are running so far for president. And nobody gives a flying whup. It's beautiful.

A woman is speaker of our House of Representatives, but most people have been too busy counting out seats of power like kids hoarding cat's-eyes in a game of marbles to particularly make note of her gender, historic though it may be. Cool. Lamely partisan, sure, but still cool.

There go the excuses, wouldn't you say? Just about the last reasons why anyone in Storm Lake wouldn't feel they had an opportunity to run for mayor or school board, to go to college or try for the job they have silently dreamed of, to speak out in public or write a juicy letter to the editor for all to see.

And that's critical. Because politics is not all it can be if it is exclusionary. We have to have the dream intact that democracy is a real, living and breathing thing that can affect positive change, or we have only the bitterness aftertaste of our grassroots political beliefs left to chew on.

If we have really reached the point where gender and color are meaningless, at least in politics, perhaps it is something of a second Camelot - or a step toward that dream of Dr. King's that every local schoolkid knows about, but voters haven't previously managed to catch on to.

Maybe it can even carry into the rest of the world.

Consider. Four African American actors are up for the two Best Actor category Oscars. A movie almost all in Japanese dialogue is up for Best Picture in the U.S. And I'll bet you didn't notice, at least not in racial terms. Get rid of the silly distinction between "Best Actor" and "Best Actress" and make it "Best Acting," and Hollywood will be finally caught up to, say, the 1920s.

Politics and acting go somewhat hand in hand. They are both about image.

This certainly isn't the first time a women or ethnic minority candidate has run for president. Not by a long shot.

It is, however, the VERY first time that there is a very darn distinct possibility that such a person will win it.

Not so very long ago, in our self-congratulatory political correctness, we would not have questioned the right of a woman or a black-skinned man to run for president, but we honestly couldn't have imagined one of each entering the race to fight it out with each other as the early odds-on favorites to win the White House.

The beauty isn't that we have a woman, an African American and a Hispanic American running for president, among others - people are people, and all that doesn't particularly matter.

The fantastic thing is that - FINALLY - we don't even see that we have a woman, a black and a Latino running, just three capable candidates, each with their own strengths and weaknesses that have squat to do with gender, skin tone or origin.

When they announced that Hillary Clinton was running, did it pop into your head that she couldn't be qualified because she's a woman? Or that Sen. Obama couldn't do the job because he's black? Or, on the other hand, that you should be obliged to vote for either over other choices because of those characteristics? I highly doubt it. For all of our nation's previous history, we have considered only white males as having the viable potential for the presidency - a group to choose from that, when you think about it, is quite a minority in its own right.

It is a corner turned in history, when it will not cross the minds of the vast majority to consider either voting against - or for - a candidate because of gender or race characteristics, as opposed to their swag on the issues.

It isn't that we want a woman president, a black president, a Hispanic president or any any other fragmentation of the American spirit - but that we want the best person. We don't care about ethnicity or gender, in fact it probably bores us to tears to consider that. Ho-hum. Race and gender as an issue? It's sooooooo 1970s.

This is the first form of apathy in politics that is actually progress in disguise.

Whether or not we choose Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama or Bill Richardson isn't the point here. The point is that from here forward, it is going to feel like any American can live that American dream, can take their shot at whatever brass ring they desire, and people will be ready to judge them on who they are, not what they are.

A couple of things I've noticed this past week:

A young woman wrote a guest column for this page, noting that she had always wanted to write her thoughts for the public, but as a Latino woman in Iowa, she didn't feel it was appropriate... but now, it seems to feel right.

And amid the sadness of the current murder trial going on in the city, a witness was asked if a man he happened to mention seeing on the scene was black. He didn't notice, couldn't say.

I'm not sure if all that means anything, but it does seem that we have come to the point where a person's gender, color, language, religion, sexuality or disability isn't the first thing we automatically think of.

So, if you didn't notice that we have the most diverse field of viable presidential candidates in our nation's history this season, don't feel bad. In fact, you should pat yourself on the back for having better things to think about, and I should kick myself in the butt for bringing it up. Because it finally doesn't matter. And man, that's the beauty of it.

For what is really the first time ever, I think, we just don't give a damn about all that. And that is a big old step forward in our history. The vote is a long way off, but somehow, it seems as though we have all already won a little something.

* Reach the editor at dlarsen@stormlakepilottribune.com