Paul Sancya, Associated Press

Regardless of political affiliation or who they intend to support in November, all Americans would do well to reflect on the nomination of Barack Obama and its significance in national history.

Many people alive today remember a time when the rural nights in the South were aglow with bonfires and lynchings. They remember when blacks were denied entry to restaurants or theaters, in Utah and elsewhere, or when something as basic as the right to vote seemed a practical impossibility for many in parts of the country.

In fact, Obama's acceptance speech Thursday at a football stadium in Denver came 45 years to the day after the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his "I have a dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, an iconic speech that now is standard material in American history courses. Since then, the nation has seen a slow and steady stream of firsts, including black mayors, governors, members of Congress and officials in high government office. Two have held the title of secretary of state, serving as the nation's chief diplomat protecting American interests abroad. And along the way, attitudes have changed. A sense of familiarity has chased away fear and bred acceptance.

America is much better for it.

We hope race never becomes an issue in this election, just as we hope religion and any other issues of birth or conscience are not issues, as well.

If that is the case, Obama will be judged on his ideas, his ability to lead and his record in the Senate. Already, he has had to endure a difficult and protracted political fight with Hillary Clinton. Having emerged from that, his task is the same as that of John McCain, to rally support from American voters. Ideas, character and leadership potential are all that should matter.

People who are first always bear an unfair burden. They are seen as trailblazers, and if they should wander down wrong paths, the theory is that no one ever will want to follow such a guide again. However, such an attitude would be strikingly un-American.

Like all candidates, Obama is a mortal with strengths and weaknesses. Regardless of how he performs, we are confident his nomination breaks a barrier that never will be erected again, and that race will fade even farther into the recesses of America's collective conscience. His nomination should serve as a ray of hope for political aspirants of all colors in either political party.

No matter who you intend to award your vote in November, that is something to celebrate.