Yes, Barack Obama is black, but he’s really only half-black—”[my father] was black as pitch, my mother white as milk,” he says in his autobiography. I think this may make him more acceptable as a presidential candidate. It’s not strictly racism: Americans like to feel that someone is assimilating into mainstream culture before they award him with high office, they want to know that he truly cares about people other than his own tribe. Obama does not seem at all particularistic.
Former Gov. Mitt Romney is Mormon, which the Washington Monthly and New Republic say ought to disqualify him from the White House. “How Mormon are you?” a reporter once asked Romney. Maybe too Mormon, say the opinion journals. Point taken. John Kennedy needed to demonstrate that he was free of the Pope before he could be president. When Mario Cuomo was readying himself for a run, he went on and on about not cleaving to the Vatican on abortion.
And what about Jews? There’s a theory that not only the Supreme Court cost Al Gore the 2000 election, so did Joe Lieberman’s Jewishness. Gore couldn’t win his home state, Tennessee. I’m sure some of this resistance was anti-Semitism; I heard some anti-Jewish comments about Gore’s v.p. choice, Lieberman. But some of it was understandable: Lieberman is a nationalistic Jew; and I wonder “How Jewish” he is—that is to say, how he feels about his children marrying non-Jews, how important Israel would be in his foreign-policy considerations (high!). The first Jew in the White House is likely to be someone more assimilated than Lieberman, somebody intermarried, someone who makes a clear distinction between Israel’s interests and ours.