Tuesday, May 22 , 2018, 10:10 pm | Fair 57º


Scott Harris: The Danger of Diversity

It’s time to remember that everything important about a man — or a women — is found on the inside. The rest is packaging.

Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, during her acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention, brought attendees to their feet with the following: “To the families of special-needs children all across this country, I have a message: For years, you sought to make America a more welcoming place for your sons and daughters. I pledge to you that if we are elected, you will have a friend and advocate in the White House.” It was a touching moment, especially in light of the fact that her infant son, Trig, has Down syndrome.

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Scott Harris
However, it also highlights a dangerous trend in politics, policymaking and campaigning. Does her comment mean that the current administration is not a friend of children with special needs, or that her Democratic opponents, Sens. Barack Obama and Joe Biden, would not be friends and advocates? Or, and far more likely, is she saying that since she has a child with special needs, she has a unique understanding of the issue and will be more strongly motivated to act? If that is the case, what if instead of having a son with special needs she had a father diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease? Would her focus and efforts switch from special-needs children to the aging and Alzheimer’s?

Is this how we want our elected officials to determine which issues are important? Must we share life issues with an elected official to guarantee having a “friend and advocate”? Will our biggest concerns be overlooked unless politicians have a personal stake in them?

This is not to say that children with special needs do not deserve our attention and whatever help we can offer. Of course they do. My concern is the underlying and growing acceptance of the premise that we can only understand, advocate for and govern those who are “like us.”

If it’s true that Obama understands the “black community” better than a white candidate, does it not follow that a white candidate would better understand the “white community”? If Palin or Sen. Hillary Clinton are better equipped to govern on “women’s issues,” what about the other half of the country? Is Sen. John McCain the only candidate who can speak on the issue of aging, or are Obama and Palin allowed to speak out, too?

We hear constantly about the importance of diversity, and our leaders are now identified by race, gender, religion and age long before they are identified with positions and policies. How far do we take this?

Can a Southerner really understand a Northerner? How about East Coast vs. West Coast and the fact that both coasts are different than the middle of the country? Male and female? Christian, Mormon, Muslim, Jews, agnostics and atheists? Rich, poor and middle class? Liberal, moderate and conservative? Foreign born, U.S. born?

Black, white, brown and yellow? Straight, gay, bisexual, transgender? Married or single? With or without kids? Baby boomers, Generation X, Generation Y, the Greatest Generation? Urban, suburban and rural? Pro-life vs. pro-choice?

America is a complex country, made up of 300 million individuals. None of us fit neatly into boxes, no matter how hard people try. Clinton and Palin are women. They can’t possibly speak for all of the women in their own party, much less all U.S. women. Obama and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice are both black and have dramatically opposed points of view on how to run this country. Which, if either, of them speaks for the “black community?”

In 1983, about the time a focus on diversity over quality began to sweep the nation, President Ronald Reagan fired James Watt, his Interior secretary, for the following comment regarding his staff: “I have a black, a woman, two Jews and a cripple.” Watt’s comment was insensitive, but a harbinger of things to come. Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton still argue about whose Cabinet and staff was more diverse, never about who’s was better.

Shouldn’t our focus be on finding a candidate who thinks like us (though not too smart or the run the risk of being labeled “elitist”) rather than one who looks like us — in race, birthdate or lifestyle? How long before we remember that a leader, a true leader, is able to govern beyond their personal demographics. We need diversity of thoughts, ideas and plans and independent of age, color or religion.

Martin Luther King asked us to look beyond the color of a man’s skin. It’s time to remember that everything important about a man — or a women — is found on the inside. The rest is packaging.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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