Barack Obama is poised to become the first black American to be a major party nominee for President. Despite the numerous allegations of racism that have been made during this campaign, my experience is that his supporters are far more likely to consider his race as an important factor in voting for him than his opponents are in voting against him. My personal assessment that he is unqualified to be president has nothing to do with his race. By any objective standard he is far less qualified than any recent President as well as all the recent major party nominees.
But a valid point could be raised that African American and other minority candidates will usually be “less qualified” by traditional criteria than white candidates due to the legacy of racism. The same is true for women; Hillary Clinton was criticized by Obama supporters for pointing to her experience as First Lady as part of her qualifications, but she was fulfilling a traditional gender roll in supporting Bill when he was President.
The Presidency of the United States is far too important a position to be given to anyone who is unready or unqualified. But there has been a dearth of top tier candidates who were not both white and male. The remedy for historical racism and sexism is to provide more qualified women and minority candidates.
In modern times, almost all of our Presidents have come from a pool that includes Senators, Governors, and Vice Presidents. Eisenhower, who was the Supreme Allied Commander in World War II, was the lone exception. That’s a pretty small group. Realistically speaking, in any given election year there are only a few viable candidates. This year saw an exceptionally large field of contenders for both parties, but only a handful survived past the first couple of contests.
There are currently 50 Governors, 100 Senators, 435 Representives and 1 Vice President, as well as another 10-20 Cabinet Secretaries and other top government and military posts. Let’s just round that off to 600 spots that could be considered stepping-stones to the Presidency. I’m including the House of Representatives even though it’s been a while since we elected someone directly from that body to the White House. Let’s say that each of those positions is potentially within one or two steps of the Big Kahuna.
If the people currently holding those offices were a fair reflection of the population, 74 would be black, 76 would be hispanic, about 60 would be asian or other minorities, at least 12 would be LBGT and 300 would be women (including half of all the minority and LGBT) Instead, most of these positions are filled by straight white males, especially when you exclude the House of Representatives.
There are stepping-stones to each of those positions as well, and on down to the entry levels of politics. There are thousands of starting points in politics, including local government, business and government service. In theory and in practice, there is a winnowing process that weeds out the unfit, and, to mix metaphors, allows the cream to rise to the top.
But as long as the input is overwhelmingly white, straight and male, so too will be the output.