On August 29, 2008, the presumptive Republican Presidential candidate announced a decision that will have a lasting impact on U.S. politics. By announcing Alaska Governor Sarah Palin as his running mate, Senator John McCain assured that one way or another, the American people will be establishing a new precedent in November.
The Democratic National Convention had just finished demonstrating to the world that large numbers of people are excited to support the first major-party black Presidential candidate, Senator Barack Obama, when the whispers grew in intensity and volume. Although the timing is clearly intended to steal attention from Senator Obama, the announcement would have changed American politics whenever it was made.
On November 4, 2008, U.S. voters will either elect the first black President, or the first female Vice President. Now fast-forward four years, or eight, or twenty: how do you credibly propose a party ticket with two white men?
Although this is the sort of thing that drives radio talk show hosts crazy, the politics of Presidential nominations just became more complicated. White men cast just over one-third of all votes in 2004, and yet made up 100% of the candidates. In 2008, white men make up half of the candidates, much closer to their representation among voters. In 2012 and beyond, the question won't be whether or not each party will include at least one candidate who isn't a white male, but whether they'll include a white male at all.
November 5, 2008, one party or the other will lose. Some will certainly suggest that the loss is because Governor Palin is a woman, or because Senator Obama is a black man. But one party will win, and the election is likely to be a close one, so gender or ethnicity cannot reasonably be blamed. In every two-party race, there is one winner and one loser.
It may take a few election cycles for everyone in the leadership of both parties to realize that things have changed, but I think it incredibly unlikely that any ticket with two white males will ever win the highest U.S. offices ever again.
It is a good time to be alive and observing U.S. politics.