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The Sciences

A Black Swan?

Gene ExpressionBy Razib KhanNovember 5, 2008 12:01 PM


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David Boaz of the The Cato Institute observes that Barack Obama is Not Just the First African-American President:

But his achievement is even more striking than "first African-American president." There are tens of millions of white Americans who are part of ethnic groups that have never produced a president. The fact is, all 42 of our presidents have been of British, Irish, or Germanic descent. We've never had a president of southern or eastern European ancestry. Despite the millions of Americans who came to the New World from France, Italy, Poland, Spain, Scandinavia, Russia, and other parts of Europe-not to mention Asia and the Arab world and Latin America-we've never had a president who traced his ancestry to those parts of the world. Indeed, it's often been said that "we've never had a president whose name ended in a vowel" (except for a silent "e" such as Coolidge, and with the exception of Kennedy), which is another way of saying "not of southern or eastern European heritage").

This makes sense in a First-Past-The-Post system; our nation has been about 1/4 Roman Catholic for nearly a century, and yet we've only had one Roman Catholic president, so it isn't just ethnicity where the majority reigns supreme. Not so much among vice presidents, where Charles Curtis was part Native American and Spiro Agnew was half Greek. Nevertheless, we've never had a Roman Catholic vice president, and now we do in Joe Biden.

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