But now I can't help but making a comparison. Gordon Brown's been prominent on the UK political scene for a long time. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer for a decade before he became Prime Minister, and he's been PM for a good six months now. And yet it was only last month I found out he was blind in one eye.
Why is this important? Well, frankly, it's not. And that's why nobody's seen fit to mention it. It's not a secret; it was just not terribly relevant: a physical quirk that might make him do his job very slightly differently here and there, but wouldn't cause any big problems. We had a totally blind Home Secretary in David Blunkett for a while, and his blindness didn't seem to make much difference to his career1.
What I'm saying is that at no point in the past decade have I heard any British news report starting with, "Gordon Brown, the one-eyed Chancellor of the Exchequer...", or "David Blunkett, the blind Home Secretary..."
Because it was irrelevant.
And that brings me to the American elections. I can tell that there are pretty much two key Democrat candidates left in the race, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. But I can't tell you much about them. That's because I've not done any in-depth reading on the elections (I find it hard to get excited about elections for something that's going to happen in about a year's time and that I can't vote in anyway.)
And it's also because all the brief news reports and descriptions I've heard in passing have consistently mentioned only one thing respectively about each candidate: that Barack Obama's black, and that Hillary Clinton's a woman.
I mean, I'm sure that they've mentioned the odd extra tidbit here and there, but nothing much consistent. Heck, I had to go read Wikipedia to make sure that Obama was a Democrat before I wrote this blog entry.
I might have learned a few different things if I had the ability to remember stuff I'd only heard once. But as it is, my political memory only seems to work if I hear things a few times in a row, so the only thing I know about Obama is that he's black, and the only thing I know about Hillary is that she's a woman2. Not that I'd have had much problem working that one out, anyway.
Why does this matter so much? Obama's profile on the BBC in-depth analysis site starts "Mixed-race junior senator from Illinois..." Is it really more important that he's of mixed race than that he's from Illinois? Is it more important than anything else in the whole profile?
And as for Hillary, this profile at least tells you her current status as a frontrunner in the first sentence. But it does it by starting "Former First Lady" (got to crowbar that gender in somehow!) before the immediate and inevitable "If successful, she would be the first woman president of the United States."
I really do see these attributes as minor physical foibles, and get quite exasperated when people endow them with such importance. And especially when people base their votes on them3. I doubt Gordon Brown has a load of ocularly-disadvantaged people cheering him on at each election because he's blind in one eye.
Wouldn't the world be a better place if it really didn't matter so much whether the US President had particular chromosomes, a particular genetic makeup? Okay, I can see that one way of making it less important in the future is to have it happen now -- by the time there have been about as many women Presidents as men Presidents, or as many black Presidents as white Presidents, people will probably get less stressed about it.
But couldn't we just cut to the chase and get less stressed about it now? If I'm going to pick up a fact about each candidate, I'd rather it was something to do with their policies than their chemistry.
1 His fast-tracking his mistress's nanny's immigration was what made a difference to his career, of course...
2Okay, okay, so I also know she's Bill Clinton's other half.
3 Mind you, I have heard that there may be not much else to base votes for Barack Obama on, bearing in mind he seems to talk quite a lot without actually saying anything...