Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Political Jackie Robinsons

Sixty years ago, when Branch Rickey chose the man to break the race barrier in baseball, his criteria included temperament as well as talent. Rightly or not, the “first” to do anything has the added burden of reflecting on everyone of his or her origins.

The President elected next year may very well be a “first”--woman, Mormon or hyphenated American. Hillary Clinton, Mitt Romney, Barack Obama, Rudy Giuliani and Bill Richardson will be, and already are, bearing the extra scrutiny that comes with that status.

Now with strong hints that he may run as an Independent, Mike Bloomberg adds to the list a possible first Jewish President.

Before World War II, the heavyweight champion of the world, Joe Louis, was called, without irony, “a credit to his race." We may have advanced beyond that kind of stereotype, but prejudices die hard and come in many disguises.

Will Hillary Clinton be penalized for being a former President’s wife, Romney for believing in a religion that once practiced polygamy, Obama for being black or “not black enough,” Giuliani for a family background of Mafia connections, Bloomberg for becoming a self-made very rich Jew, Richardson for hesitating to condemn a compadre, Alberto Gonzales?

In this prolonged campaign, as voters examine candidates closely, everything is fair game. But they may want to keep in mind that the possible election of a “first” is one of the treasures of American democracy and try not to damage that heritage too much while displaying it.

No comments: