Harrop: Are racial, gender ‘firsts’ for electeds still a thing?

The voters don’t seem to care. Can we stick to issues and qualifications rather than quotas?

By Froma Harrop / syndicated columnist

Is it really news that Karen Bass will become the first female mayor of Los Angeles? In an era where women have already run Chicago, Phoenix, Fort Worth, Charlotte, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Boston, the gender of the new Los Angeles mayor should not have dominated the headlines, as it did in numerous media.

This obsession with the racia, gender and/or sexual identities of politicians has gotten truly old. That Hakeem Jeffries may become the first Black person to lead a party in Congress seems unremarkable after another Black person, Barack Obama, led the entire country.

Bass’ race did not make the headlines, mainly because she’s not the first Black mayor of Los Angeles. Otherwise, that would have been right up there, too.

Bass was a strong candidate, but what made her win truly remarkable was the sum her opponent, businessman Rick Caruso, blew on his campaign, a record $104 million. Bass spent only one-tenth as much.

In a win for democracy, Catherine Cortez Masto put away an election-denying Trumper in the Nevada race for U.S. senator. That her reelection saved the Democrats their Senate majority was icing.

I just wish that the press would stop referring to her as the “only Latina in the Senate.” Several Latino men are already there. In any case, beside the point.

I wouldn’t care if no U.S. senators were Latina or if all 100 of them were. Fortunately, other Americans also seem reluctant to assess candidates based on last names or skin color or sexual identity or religion.

Voters have no obligation to demonstrate ethnic solidarity in filling out their ballots. There are other considerations, for example, “positions on the issues.” Nonetheless, a BBC headline asked, “Will Latinos oust Catherine Cortez Masto, the first US Latina senator?”

The prize for identity madness goes to The New York Times for this 2020 headline: “Torres and Jones Win and Will Become 1st Gay Black Members of Congress.” (Ritchie Torres just won reelection in his Bronx district. Mondaire Jones lost the primary in a redrawn district north of the city.)

“Congress would need three Black LGBTQ members to mirror the nation’s demographics,” The Times explained.

This brings us to the unfortunate use of the word “disproportional” to reflect the idea that members of elected governing bodies should be chosen to reflect their identities’ percentage of the population? Thus, a Boston Globe piece opined that the U.S. Senate “is the least representative of America’s racial diversity with 83 percent of its members identifying as White, 3 percent as Black, and 7 percent as Latino.”

It’s unclear how one would count a Ritchie Torres, who is half-Black, half-Latino; and complicated by the fact that Latinos come in all colors. Happily, I don’t need to answer that since, to me, fairness means simply adding up the votes of whoever was running.

This fetish with identity started as a tic of the left, which tends to believe that voters want candidates who represent certain groups, as opposed to certain ideas. What it should have learned by now is that Republicans are perfectly capable of running their own candidates of color, witness their support in the Georgia senate race of the unintelligible Herschel Walker, a Black football player.

Right after the election, CNN’s Dana Bash asked Josh Shapiro, governor-elect of Pennsylvania, whether he wanted to be the first Jewish president. Shapiro brushed off that annoying question. It was irrelevant because Shapiro had just been elected governor, and annoying in that he has just vanquished an opponent who brought up his religion in a disparaging way.

It seems clear that the public is well ahead of the media in not focusing on the candidates’ DNA. May the headline writers catch on.

Follow Froma Harrop on Twitter @FromaHarrop. Email her at fharrop@gmail.com. Copyright 2022 Creators Syndicate.

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