With the naming of Paul Ryan as the Republican vice-presidential candidate, neither major U.S. party will have any White male Protestants on their ticket in 2012. Growing up as a Jewish kid in the 1960s and 70s, I never thought I would see that happen.
There have been 44 Presidents of the United States. There have been 47 Vice-Presidents. Of them, all but five could be characterized easily as White male Protestants. Yet, there has been at least one non-WMP on a major party ticket for the last three presidential elections and there have been seven non-WMP candidates since 1984.
After that, the White male Protestants started to look like an endangered species on major party tickets. In 2008, John McCain was the only one. His running mate was Sarah Palin. His opponents were an African American and a Roman Catholic—Barack Obama and Joe Biden. Four years later, the candidates are Obama and Biden, Mitt Romney (a Mormon) and Paul Ryan (a Roman Catholic). The WMPs have been shut out.
To give a little historical perspective, consider the fact that for the first 140 years under the U.S. Constitution, every single major party candidate for President and Vice President was a White Protestant man. It was only in 1928 that Al Smith, the first Roman Catholic on a major party ticket, lost to Herbert Hoover. (Hoover was a Quaker, a faith that some regard as Protestant and others do not). Smith's religion was a major issue in the election and it certainly cost him many votes.
It took another 32 years for a major party to nominate a Catholic presidential candidate. That was the year, 1960, that John F. Kennedy defeated Richard Nixon (another Quaker) to become the first unambiguously non-Protestant president. Kennedy's religion was an issue in the election, but most historians believe that he gained about as many votes as he lost due to his religion.
What does this mean for me as a Jew? It means that being a Jew—or being a member of any other historically discriminated group in America—does not mean the same thing as it once meant. America is no longer a place where one group—defined by race, gender and religion—has exclusive hold on the nation's identity. As a Jew, I feel that my face is as much the face of America as a Native American grandmother, a Catholic Hispanic man, a girl whose parents came from Japan, a Black kid who goes with his parents to an A.M.E. church, a pair of Mormon missionaries I see walking down the street, or, for that matter, a White male Protestant.
I don't know about you, but to me, that feels good. It means that, from now on, all Americans are "real Americans," no matter what hyphens or adjectives we apply to our identities. For a kid who grew up watching all the WMPs in charge on I Dream of Jeannie, Lost in Space, and Mission: Impossible, it's a cultural shift that I didn't think I'd live to see.
It also means that I no longer think that it is just possible, I think it's probable, that I will see the first woman president, the first Hispanic president, and the first Jewish president in my lifetime. What a change that is.
So, what did happen to the White male Protestants? They're still here. (In fact, some of my best friends are White male Protestants☺). They still are teachers, police officers, bank presidents, machinists, small business owners, community organizers, doctors, ministers, senators, fathers, sons and grand-fathers.
But for this year, at least, they are not running for President or Vice-President of the United States.
Other Posts on This Topic:
Welcome to the Silly Season
A Charge of Deicide