The late, great John Patrick Hunter - a no-nonsense combination of Jason Robards Jr. (think All the President's Men) and Will Geer (Grandpa Walton) did a queer thing, if I may use the Q word in its original sense. On his driver's license, where "Race" was indicated - as it was back in the day - he instructed the Department of Transportation to insert an "N" for Negro.
That is how much the man hated racial designations, feeling, with Martin L. King Jr., that the content of one's character mattered more.
So it is surpassingly ironic that all these years later, what is left of his Cap(ital) Times continues to make a fetish of identity politics. Witness Thursday's breathless headline concerning the selection of Carolyn "Biddy" Martin as chancellor-designate of the local land grant college:
Martin would be first openly gay chancellor to lead UW-Madison
Fortunately, I am not alone in my dismay at this concatenation of the inconsequential. The outrage was so great that that the TCT webmaster laments:
We had temporarily disabled the community comment portion of this story because some of the comments had gotten so vitriolic. … Some readers have objected to the headline and reason for the story. We think any 'first' is significant and worth reporting on.
Such emphasis on such ephemera leaves one open to this jape from CT forum poster "Paul Robeson:"
I might also add that 'first openly gay chancellor' seems to suggest that there might have been a closeted gay chancellor previously. It doesn't take much to read between the lines here.
But is that the essence of Biddy Martin, her sexual proclivities? Why would a major university hire someone for that reason? (Or, for that matter, not hire?) Would not a more enlightened policy - a John Patrick Hunter policy - be (cue "Anchors Aweigh") "Don't ask, don't tell"?
The S-E-X thing says nothing about Biddy's ability to lead the faculty, beguile the legislature, inspire the students, milk the alumni, or win the Rose Bowl.
What is next? "First openly gay, hearing-impaired Bulgarian?" You're gay? So what?
I used to write headlines for a living, which does require a certain distillation of thought. So let's write some headlines. Here is one from 1932: "Handicapped Man Elected U.S. President." Sub-headline: "Uses Wheelchair." Second sub (as was the practice) "Crippled up by Polio." Third sub: "Calls for New Deal."
I can't wait for The Cap(ital) Times' jubilation this November when it will announce: "First Openly Black Man Elected U.S. President." Subhead: "Bill Clinton Rumored."
More identity politics
Here is Barack Obama's latest pastor introducing the very white and very guilty Michael Pfleger, Catholic priest, at Chicago's Trinity United Church of Christ.
John Nichols, Ben Manski, Ed Garvey et al will be thrilled. But it hurts, of all people, Barack Obama.
Bring us together, indeed.