Almost without realizing it, America appears to be on the verge of electing its first black president.
Political observers are in general agreement that, in the normal course of things, 2008 ought to be "a Democratic year." The Republicans have occupied the White House for the last eight years, and controlled Congress as well for the first six of them. In a two-party system like ours, the only serious way of shaking up the political process is to "throw the rascals out" -- or, to put it more gently, to replace the ins with the outs. What's more, the normal accumulation of popular discontents over an eight-year period has left the GOP distinctly vulnerable. The economy is not technically in a recession, but its condition is nothing to brag about. And the war in Iraq, while not going badly in recent months, remains generally unpopular.
So the expectation of most political observers is that the Democrats are likely to win in November -- carrying both Houses of Congress, and probably capturing the White House as well. The only novelty in the situation is the fact that the Democratic presidential choice is black, and, if elected, will be the first African-American ever to sit in the Oval Office.
Does this matter? Americans have gotten pretty sophisticated about racial matters in recent decades, and most of us are thoroughly accustomed to working side-by-side with qualified blacks in just about every aspect of our economy and our political system. Even granting that traces of race consciousness remain -- that, as the late William F. Buckley Jr. once observed, there will never come a time when the average white worker is genuinely unaware that the colleague working next to him is black -- it is safe to say that most of us are not seriously upset by the fact. That truth is a triumph of racial accommodation, and we are right to be proud of it.
But the presidency is something else again. The president, after all, represents all of us, and something on the order of three-quarters of Americans are non-Hispanic white. Would any significant number of white Americans be uneasy on reflecting that our chief national executive wasn't?
My own guess is that this fact would be noticed, and in some cases actively regretted, by a substantial number of white citizens, but that most of them would firmly suppress any impulse to rule out a presidential candidate on that account. They would, in short, think less of themselves if they allowed that consideration to influence their decision.
William Rusher is a Distinguished Fellow of the Claremont Institute for the Study of Statesmanship and Political Philosophy and author of How to Win Arguments .
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