Romney's Historic Moment
SAN DIEGO -- At the Democratic National Convention, I noticed a campaign button with President Obama's picture on it and the words: "Keep the Dream Alive."
I thought to myself, that's an odd thing to say. Is anyone really trying to kill "the Dream" so that it needs protection?
Is Mitt Romney a "dream" killer? Are his supporters?
Of course not. But what about the idea of extending the dream to more people? Is this game of making history only for some groups of Americans, or can anyone play? And if anyone could play, what if the trailblazer belonged to an opposing party, a minority that is not often thought of as aggrieved, or both?
What if there was a presidential candidate who had the chance to break a barrier and become the first of his kind to occupy the Oval Office? What if breaking that barrier was especially significant because the candidate was part of a community that had known prejudice, intolerance and discrimination in the United States for more than a century? What if breaking this barrier had the potential to empower millions of Americans and make this a better country by taking a step toward fulfilling the promise of equal opportunity? And what if the left either didn't notice or didn't care?
During an appearance on "The Tonight Show," Ann Romney compared the election of her husband, Mitt, with the election of Barack Obama four years ago. When asked by host Jay Leno what she thought would be the significance of Americans breaking another barrier and electing the first Mormon president, she said it would show "that prejudices are being left behind."
Ann Romney makes a fair point. In 2012, from the looks of it, the prejudices that many have against Mormons are still pretty ingrained. Representing an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is still a mystery to many Americans. Some look upon it with skepticism, others suspicion. I would imagine that most Americans don't harbor any personal animosity toward Mormons. But many of us have questions and we don't have that many Mormon friends who can answer them.
There was a time when one would have thought that having a Mormon seek a presidential nomination -- in two successive election cycles -- would be a teaching moment for the country. It hasn't worked out that way.
And I don't know about you, but I haven't heard this point made in the mainstream media -- that electing Mitt Romney the first Mormon president would serve the country's ideals, as much as electing the first African-American did four years ago.
Don't misunderstand. This issue isn't whether Romney would make a good president -- or, for that matter, whether Obama has been one. Those are important questions that voters have to sort out in the next month. The two remaining debates can help.
This is about something else. This is about breaking barriers, and how intoxicating the concept is to some people. That includes many of us in the media. Witness the hype over Sonia Sotomayor taking her seat in 2009 as the first Latina on the Supreme Court.
If you followed the media coverage of Obama's victorious campaign in 2008, it's fair to say that, for many Americans, the fact that the candidate represented a historic departure from the norm was seen as an asset.
But the same thing hasn't occurred with Romney. When was the last time you heard a Republican say he was excited about helping to elect the first Mormon president?
One explanation for this oversight is that the Romney-Ryan campaign appears to be downplaying Romney's religion. And why is that? Could it be because some GOP campaign strategists somewhere decided that the negatives outnumbered the positive? One of the groups that are the most skeptical about Mormons is evangelical Christians, who make up a major constituency in the Republican Party.
Think about where we have arrived. It's a diversity bonanza. Americans are about to choose between re-electing the first African-American president and electing the first Mormon president. If you're one of those people who care about diversity and expanding opportunity -- and if you like it when America experiences the "first" this and the "first" that -- this is a good place to be. Let's enjoy the moment.
Ruben Navarrette's email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.Copyright 2012 Washington Post Writers Group