There once was a man with a dream. Imagine if an assassin's bullet hadn't cut his life short. The man, whose birthday we celebrate as a federal holiday next month, perhaps could have lived to see today. He could have lived to see that, in so many ways, we heeded his message.
Back in 1963 on the Washington Mall, he proclaimed his dream, "deeply rooted in the American dream." He had a "dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: 'We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.'"
And so here we are, facing the 2008 presidential election in which these are some of the names being floated: Barack Obama, a U.S. senator, who is black. Condoleezza Rice, the Secretary of State, who is a black woman. Hillary Clinton, who is a woman and dynastic. New Mexico governor Bill Richardson would add a Hispanic to the bill.
In other words, some color (pun intended) has been added to the presidential landscape.
And they're all in the mix with more traditional-looking possibilities -- white guys. That's what I call dream fulfillment. They're all part of the race together -- Americans with dreams.
And yet, we still have our hang-ups. Can America handle a woman president? A group called The White House Project exists on the assumption that women need a whole lotta affirmative action to ever make it to the West Wing. And that a woman should get there just because she's a she.
That's precisely the kind of attitude voters in Michigan rightly rejected this year when they voted for the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative. MCRI amends the state's constitution to outlaw "state entities from discriminating or granting preferential treatment based on race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin."
That's what Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about. Michiganders know the dream. Americans know the dream. It's the way we live our lives.
President Barack Obama? Well, not if the Republican party can do anything about it, as NBC's Chris Matthews might say -- and not just because Obama is a Democrat, and Republicans naturally want Democrats to lose. During the 2006 campaign, Matthews insisted obsessively -- and he was far from alone -- that one TV commercial Republicans ran against Tennessee Senate candidate Democrat Harold Ford (who is black) was racist (not true). But Ford lost to one of those white guys, so this lie and Matthews' delusions will live on.
And then there is the "can we handle a woman president?" nonsense. Britain did quite fine with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, quite a few years ago. And although Nancy Pelosi is the first woman Speaker of the House, she is far from the first American woman to hold a prominent position. One of the silliest things President Bush ever did was play gender politics with the Supreme Court: He lowered standards to try to fill what he obviously considered the "woman's seat" Sandra Day O'Connor was retiring from with another woman, regardless of her qualifications. We're better than that . . . aren't we?
Now there is the brand-new question "Can a Mormon be president?," raised by pundits concerning the potential candidacy of outgoing Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Will Evangelicals vote for someone they consider unChristian? Will Americans be freaked out by previously unpublicized customs and beliefs? There may be more Catholics around than Mormons, but didn't we get over this kinda thing, say, four decades ago?
In other words: How about "May the best man or woman win"?
Or, to borrow a phrase or two: "When we allow freedom to ring, when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual, Free at last! free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!"