A Brief History
On Tuesday, November 4, 2008, Barack Hussein Obama became the first American of African descent elected President of the United States. Or you could call him the first “bi-racial” President since his mother was of White European descent and his father was a Black sub-Saharan African. Now that the seeming racial barrier has been broken by the American voters, what other “firsts” remain to be achieved in regards to US Presidents? Today we look at 10 such “firsts” that have not yet happened. (See our previous article regarding “10 Presidential Firsts”)
Oh, we came close! In the 2016 election Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton amassed nearly a 3 million popular vote plurality over Republican nominee Donald Trump, but Clinton failed to win the most important aspect of an American Presidential election, that being winning the most Electoral votes. For the 2020 Presidential election we have Elizabeth Warren currently ranking in the second slot in most polls of Democratic Presidential hopefuls, so it is possible we have another female Democrat carrying the party banner in 2020, thus giving the American voters a chance to elect the first woman to the White House. Otherwise, it does not seem likely a woman will be elected President in 2020.
First President to have a Woman as Vice President.
In 2008, when Barack Obama became the first major party nominee of African ethnic heritage, the Republican ticket of John McCain and Sarah Palin offered the possibility of another Presidential first, that of having a female Vice President elected and sworn in. Previously, in 1984, Geraldine Ferraro ran as the Democratic nominee for Vice President along with Presidential nominee Walter Mondale against the Republican incumbent ticket of President Ronald Reagan and Vice President George HW Bush. Mondale/Ferraro lost the election, and with it the chance to become the first Presidential ticket to have a female elected as Vice President. In 2019, many of the Democratic Presidential candidates have hinted at or confirmed a desire to have a woman as a running mate, so 2020 could well be the year this particular historic first takes place.
Marine Corps Veteran.
Presidents have served in the Army, Navy and Air Force (George W. Bush, Air National Guard), but so far, we have had none that was a veteran of the Marine Corps! Obviously, this caliber of man (or woman) is exactly what our country needs. Ponder on that one while you read the next 7 on the list. Note: We did not have a Navy veteran president until John F. Kennedy in 1961 (followed by Nixon, Carter and George H.W. Bush). Of all the various firsts that have not yet happened, this particular one is the most puzzling to us!
Today we have a Supreme Court that can boast 3 Justices of the Jewish faith, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan. Some notable congressional positions have been held by Jewish legislators, such as Chuck Schumer, Minority Leader in the Senate, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, former Chairman of the Democratic National Committee. Jews have served as Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, served as various other cabinet secretaries, governors of states, mayors of large American cities, and have been nominated to run as Vice President (Joe Lieberman) for a major party, but none have actually been elected or served as President or Vice President. In 2019, Senator Bernie Sanders is seeking the Democratic nomination as President, and has somewhat of a chance at winning that nomination, currently ranked 3rd in most polls. Sanders is not a practicing member of Judaism but was raised in that faith and has not renounced it. Americans love many celebrities of Jewish heritage, such as Neil Diamond, Barbra Streisand, Adam Levine, Scarlett Johansson, Mila Kunis, Shia LaBeouf, Natalie Portman, Adam Sandler, Sammy Davis, Jr., Paul Newman, “all three stooges,” and even rapper “Drake!” In fact, an incredible number of Jewish or half-Jewish entertainers populate the American entertainment scene and are idolized by the public, making the lack of a President or Vice President of Jewish heritage all the more puzzling. (Note: Bruce Springsteen was raised Catholic and is not of Jewish heritage. He is of Dutch, Irish and Italian heritage. Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of our 40th President, Bill Clinton, married into the Jewish faith and converted, and so did Ivanka Trump, daughter of current President Donald Trump.)
Despite unproven rumors about previous Presidents or candidates, we have not had, to our knowledge, a member of the LGBTQ community as our President or Vice President. In 2019, the Democratic race to become the party’s nominee for President includes Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana an openly gay man. Mayor Pete is also a combat veteran (Navy) in the War on Terror and is currently polling a distant 4th in most polls of Democratic voters. While Mayor Pete will probably not win the nomination for President, he just might become the first major party nominee for Vice President that is openly gay, and given the age of the front runners (Biden, Sanders and Warren, all over 70), the next Vice President may well become President in due course.
The first Europeans to settle in what is now the United States were from Spain, and yet we have not yet had a President or Vice President of Hispanic heritage. Senator Ted (actually Rafael) Cruz from Texas ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2016, and would have become not only the first Hispanic President had he won the nomination and then the general election, but would also have become the first US President born in Canada! There are nearly 60 million Americans of Hispanic heritage, making Hispanics the largest minority of American demographic groups. By 2016, the percentage of Hispanic Americans is expected to reach over 28%, so the time when we can expect an Hispanic President or Vice President is coming and coming fast. Trivia: The United States has the second largest population of Hispanic people in the world, trailing only Mexico!
People of the mostly Eastern European ethnic and national heritage known as Slavic make up a large chunk of the White American population, a staggering 18.5 million Americans claim Slavic ethnic origins. In fact, people identifying as Polish American number about 10.5 million. Numerous sports heroes and entertainment icons such as Stan Musial, Carl Yastrzemski, Steve Bartkowski, Mila Kunis, Jason Mraz, Vera Farmiga, Stephanie Powers, Kim Novak, Charles Bronson, John (‘Jack Ryan’) Krasinski, Karl Malden, Jack Palance, Yul Brynner, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Ashton Kutcher, Eric Bana, Phil and Joel Niekro, Stan Coveleski, Bronko Nagurski, Ryan Klesko, Greg Luzinski, Ted Kluszewski, Tony Kubek, Alex Trebek, and Bill Mazeroski, are all descended from Slavs and the list can go on form many pages. Heck, we can even thank Slavic Americans for Dyngus Day! We have had Slavic Americans holding high cabinet posts and serving in Congress and in state houses, but not the White House! Why is that? Most Slavic Americans tend to be either of the Catholic or Orthodox Christian faith, with a large number of Jewish Slavic Americans as well. Does religion play a part in denying a Slav entry to the White House? Current Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar claim to be descended from people in Slavic European countries, Sanders from Poland and Russia and Klobuchar from Slovenia’s White Carniola region on her father’s side (Swiss on her mother’s side), so perhaps the 2020 election could break new ground in this area of Presidential firsts, though we are not exactly predicting such an outcome. (Much the same can be said for Italian Americans and their lack of representation in the White House.)
Mormon (Latter Day Saint).
Americans adhering to the faith of Joseph Smith have risen to great heights in American politics, notably with Mitt Romney gaining the Republican nomination for President in 2012. Senator Harry Reid, also a member of the LDS Church, served as Senate Majority leader from 2007 to 2015. There are currently around 6.6 million Americans that are members of the Mormon Church/religion, and many of which are of substantial means or positions. It seems only a matter of time before an LDS member is elected and sworn in as President or Vice President, and despite previous prejudices, American attitudes toward Mormonism seems to have mellowed in recent years, with Romney’s religion not seeming to make much of a difference in his electability. (He previously served as Governor of Massachusetts and currently serves as Senator from Utah.)
Our first atheist president with some sort of public indication of his atheist beliefs may have been Abraham Lincoln. We know this fact because Lincoln composed a letter explaining his atheism but was heatedly talked out of publishing it by advisers. He publicly denied being an atheist. Barack Obama was raised as an atheist, but perhaps for political reasons claimed to be a Christian, although during the 2008 Presidential campaign he proved embarrassingly ignorant of what was being preached in the church he allegedly belonged to. Other Presidents, including some founding fathers such as Jefferson and both Adams may have been atheists, but never said so publicly. While we suspect some Presidents or Vice Presidents may have not been believers, none have ever had the guts to face the public and state so. When will such an event finally take place? Never? Decades from now? Although religion in the US has declined, there does not seem to be any rush to acceptance of atheism on the part of our President. What do you predict?
We have had an actor (Ronald Reagan) and a television personality (Donald Trump) elected to the White House, so why not a popular professional or high level amateur athlete? Since professional athletics in the US are mostly team oriented, the nature of playing for a particular team makes that athlete popular in the city or region that the team exists, but perhaps not in rival team areas! Maybe an Olympic champion? Yeah! That’s the ticket! Someone with widespread national acclaim such as Simone Biles might parlay her fame and public adoration into a career in politics, though we predict Michael Phelps and Tiger Woods will not succeed in the political arena. Maybe Serena Williams? LeBron James is certainly articulate and popular but did not even attend college… wait! Perhaps that fact is a plus instead of a minus. Can you think of any American athletes that could potentially someday run for and win the Presidency?
Question for students (and subscribers): Which of these “firsts” will be the next to be achieved? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
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For more information, please see…
Bausum, Ann. Our Country’s Presidents: A Complete Encyclopedia of the U.S. Presidency. National Geographic, 2017.
DuMont, Brianna. Weird But True Know-It-All: U.S. Presidents. National Geographic, 2017.
Moore, Kathryn. The American President: A Complete History. Sterling, 2018.
The featured image in this article, a photograph by Wendy Piersall of a Barack Obama rally in Grant Park on November 4, 2008, is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. This image was originally posted to Flickr by Wendy Piersall at https://www.flickr.com/photos/57835171@N00/3005069995. It was reviewed on by FlickreviewR and was confirmed to be licensed under the terms of the cc-by-2.0.