Race - as a question of black and white - is less prominent in 2004 than it has been in any presidential election year since 1944, when the country was at war and most black people were still disenfranchised. Is this because America's racial justice issues are all settled? Has the legacy of slavery been repaired? Have all vestiges of white supremacy been rooted out of the culture?
No way. But "race" talk has receded in importance nonetheless, and this has happened for at least three reasons: First, in 2004 there is no single, clearly defined racial issue upon which the presidential candidates are in dispute. Second, the personal backgrounds of the candidates serve to mute racial passions. And finally, demographic change has diffused, and confused, the politics of race.
No racial issues this year? But, I hear you asking, "What about affirmative action? What about No Child Left Behind'? What about election reform and voting rights?" Let's take them one at a time. Affirmative action is widely perceived as the last of the old civil rights issues, and there are differences between Republicans and Democrats on the question. But at the top of the ticket, those differences are muted.