Who would have thought, not very many years ago, that the two candidates for president of the United States would be a Mormon and a black incumbent?

While it does not need to be belabored, the pairing of President Barack Obama and challenger Mitt Romney underlines the incredible capacity for social improvement in the United States, a place where old barriers of all kinds can be overcome.

So close, though, makes it a difficult accomplishment for Romney: “Think of Democrat Al Smith’s pain as the first Catholic presidential nominee, losing to Herbert Hoover in a landslide,” St. Francisville writer Rod Dreher noted.

In that 1928 race, burning crosses sometimes marked the passage of Smith’s campaign train. Anti-Catholic prejudice persisted for many years as a political factor.

We have come a long way.