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Obama, Romney and the progress of America

We celebrate the 50th anniversary of integration at Ole Miss this year. This anniversary happens to take place four years after the nation watched the man who would become the first black president debate his opponent right here in Oxford. We should all take a moment to appreciate just how far our nation and community have come.
We’ve evolved dramatically in the past several decades but the growth has not come without pains. This university had to endure riots, tens of thousands of National Guard soldiers and the loss of two lives before accepting integration.
Although it required force, it was a necessary evil in order to remove an archaic, bigoted system of injustice and replace it with the civility and equality written in the Constitution. Our Founding Fathers intended for everyone to have life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness: natural rights endowed to us by our Creator.
It’s somewhat of a paradox, but the Founding Fathers also established a nation in which separation of church and state was an essential cornerstone. President Kennedy, that same man who deployed troops on the City of Oxford, was the first Catholic to hold the position of commander in chief in this country. It wasn’t without struggle either.
Kennedy was highly scrutinized outside of the Northeast. Part of his vetting process as a candidate included his historic speech to Baptist ministers at the Greater Houston Ministerial Association, assuring them of his loyalty to the Constitution rather than the Pope. Still, without the Southern Democrat Lyndon Johnson as his VP, he may have never even made it to the White House.
This 50th anniversary is also significant because it coincides with the first time in our nation’s history that neither party has nominated a white Protestant to run for president. America will either choose a black man or a Mormon to lead the free world for the next four years.
It’s true that Mormonism fundamentally opposes the socially liberal values of many Democrats. Mormon doctrine also isn’t very well aligned with Evangelical voters who overwhelmingly compose the Republican South.
Still, independent and middle-of-the-road voters rally around Mitt Romney because of what his plan is for the country. Mitt Romney’s own campaign manager, Stuart Stevens, is a native of Jackson. Romney’s personal aide is from Brookhaven and graduated from Ole Miss just a few years ago. If Mississippians rallying behind a presidential candidate from Massachusetts isn’t progress then I don’t know what is.
It’s also true that Americans were able to overlook race in 2008 when electing Barack Obama as the first black president. Many Americans are just as willing to overlook race and not vote for him this election because they simply believe he’s done a poor job as president. It seems we’ve become a nation that truly embodies tolerance once and for all.
Are we able to overlook our racial and religious differences just because we’ll elect anyone who performs more like a rock star than a statesman? Do we choose leaders simply because we’re too tuned out by our high standard of living and engrossment with the media — the bread and circuses of the American Empire –—to pay attention to their personal beliefs? I certainly hope not.
If you ask someone why they’re voting for Obama, it’s probably not because they think Mitt Romney is a racist. If you ask someone why they’re voting for Romney, it’s probably not because they suspect Obama is secretly Muslim. A candidate’s moral and religious views are a direct window into the ethics of his or her decision making, but how they stand on the issues is the ultimate litmus test.
It almost seems like we’ve become the nation our Founding Fathers had in mind.
In other aspects of our country we’ve deviated very far from what the Founders envisioned. We may have unexpectedly achieved one goal of the United States — to be able to elect a black man and a Mormon — but have ignored many others.
The First Amendment of the Constitution ensures separation of church and state. The Fourteenth Amendment allowed James Meredith to enroll in classes.
Let’s celebrate our achievements as a society by looking at other parts of the Constitution we can start defending and promoting. A simple Google search can provide you with a half dozen violations of the Constitution going on right before our very eyes. Let’s fix that, and I don’t mean by censoring the Internet.
The 50th anniversary of integration at Ole Miss is about something much deeper than race. It’s about how the individual is the smallest minority on earth, and supporting minorities requires us to embrace the rights that each and every one of us is born with. It’s not about what’s written on a piece of paper, it’s about what’s endowed to us by our Creator.
This year is a lesson to us that when we fight to defend not only our own rights but also the rights of others we complete another stage of evolution in the American Experiment. Let’s keep it up.

Alec Jones is a junior accountancy major from Catonsville, Md.