We may have come to a temporary lull in the frenetic political year this has become, a few moments or even weeks of relative quietude between the end of the primaries and the major party conventions.
The candidates and their staffs will undoubtedly be busy during the weeks ahead, but we civilians can afford to put them off our radar screens for a while and consider our plans for the summer, kids preparing for college, figuring out whether to stay at home or see a fireworks show on July 4, whether the price of gas will cramp our summer style, or whatever our normal concerns and enthusiasms are this time of the year.
It’s not a bad time, however, to contemplate one truly historic development this year. A major party, and the party that in many ways appears poised for inordinate success in November, has nominated an African American for president.
A few commentators may have gone overboard in their effusiveness, but this does not gainsay the fact that for a country with a notably troubled and sometimes troubling history regarding race, this is a moment to savor.
We don’t believe in collective guilt, or collective moral uplift, for that matter. Americans who are not racists and have never been racists have no need to feel guilty about America’s past. But there is little point in denying it, either.
The ancestors of most African Americans came to this country as slaves, and black people in this country have suffered fearfully from legal and social discrimination.
It was not that long ago that racial segregation was enforced by law in some parts of the country. Many suffered and died in the campaign to eliminate legal discrimination.
We’ve come a long way, baby.
That doesn’t mean racism and racial resentment don’t exist. You can’t outlaw bigotry and prejudice, although you can pass laws preventing the government from making them official policy. The fact that this country is able to contemplate the idea of a mixed-race president with relative equanimity probably owes less to laws and decrees than to the individual accomplishments of people like Tiger Woods, Oprah Winfrey, Magic Johnson, Thomas Sowell and countless others who have demonstrated that intelligence, talent, persistence and the content of one’s character are more important than the color of one’s skin.
None of this is to suggest that anybody should vote for or against Barack Obama based on anything other than the content of his character and the quality of his (still less-than-vague) policy proposals. Treating people as individuals rather than as members of arbitrary groups or stereotypes is difficult, and we may never get to the promised land of sheer individualism, but it is an ideal worth aspiring to.
In some ways, although their political philosophies are deficient, we may be blessed in the choices the major parties have presented us.
Their surrogates and supporters may go off the reservation, but most signs suggest that both John McCain and Barack Obama are determined to conduct a civil campaign focused on the issues that differentiate them rather than resort to demagoguery, identity politics or character assassination. We hope they maintain this determination.