Monday, 9 February 2009

Are you ready for this?

NO, it’s not an excerpt from the Queen song.

I am referring to the path-breaking choice that Americans may have to make in the presidential elections in November.

Never has the world’s most powerful democratic nation been confronted with as unprecedented a choice — in fact two choices — at least concerning one half of the electoral process.

Would they elect a white woman or a black man to the presidency of the most influential nation on earth?

Never before have the gender and color barrier ever been breached in the contest for the American presidency. The Rev. Jesse Jackson tried and failed to secure his party’s nomination for the presidency, and Geraldine Ferraro, although managing to gain her party’s confidence, was only running for the post of vice president.

But a woman or a black man for the highest elected post in perhaps all of the world? Is America ready for this? Is the world even ready for this?

All the way from George Washington to George W. Bush — 43 presidents and 212 years later — there has never been a person of color of any gender or a female person of any color who has managed to occupy the highest office of the land. And even that exclusive club is limited still.

White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASPs), with the exception only of a few with Irish-Catholic roots, have tended to keep the office of the presidency as a virtual monopoly for themselves.

Only the Americans themselves can really say if they are ready. As a shining beacon of hope, democracy and liberty to the rest of the world, is the nation finally at a stage where it can actually practice what it has preached for so long?

Oh yes, indeed. We forget that among America’s nation-students, many have already breached the gender or color barriers long ago. Even a conservative male-dominated Moslem country has had Benazir Bhutto as prime minister, and an ethnically more homogenous Peru has elected a Japanese-Peruvian, Alberto Fujimori, as its president.

But in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, where women and persons of color have enjoyed success in almost any field of endeavor, the long line of almost exclusively WASPs has remained unbroken — that is until this year’s election rolls along.

The Democratic Party will certainly break the mould first, for the first time nominating a candidate belonging to either category as its standard bearer for the electoral contest. Because apart from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, everyone else in the party has put away his or her presidential ambitions on hold, at least for another four years.

But the bigger question remains — can America go all the way and break the mould as a nation, by choosing whoever it is that the Democrats put up for the public vote?

It all remains to be seen, of course, because America today is saddled with a host of serious problems that have neither to do with race nor gender. Its economy is badly in need of rejuvenation, and issues of security continue to haunt its collective consciousness — both problems which Democrats have not been known to be very good at solving, apart perhaps from the Clinton years being economically prosperous times for the nation.

But the implications for America will be significant if it does go ahead and break new ground. For it will give the rest of the world the unequivocal message that all of us — black or white, male or female — are truly equal as people on this earth.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 9, 2009.