American racial politics have modulated over the years. The segregationists who migrated to the Republican Party in the wake of the Civil Rights movements are not the stone racists of the past. I don’t think they are being disingenuous when they insist that they aren’t prejudiced against black people in general. In 2004, class probably is more salient than race as a factor in judging people, which is to say that a black guy who sounds and looks middle-class might as well be a Caucasian, just as Japanese and Chinese Americans have once again become honorary Aryans. Poor blacks are still despised, however. By the same token, although Republicans are perfectly happy that the franchise extends to Negroes so long as they vote Republican, Jim Crow policies are back in favor for those that do not. The great issue of the Florida election of 2000 had nothing to do with hanging chads, after all, but with the premeditated disenfranchisement of thousands and thousands of black voters who were likely to vote for and elect Al Gore absent the criminal behavior of Jeb Bush and other state officials. The same game is once again underway in Florida and many other places in the United States, not all of them in the South.
From my intensely cynical perspective, the most interesting thing about this issue is the indifference of the Press and the public to very credible reports of utterly unprincipled and often thoroughly illegal attempts to keep people from voting. In Oregon, for example, Republicans are registering Democrats and Republicans to vote and then throwing away the democratic applications but what we hear on the news has to do with Mr. Chaney’s gay daughter. In Florida, people erroneously removed from the voting lists because they have the same names as felons are being prevented from reregistering by various bureaucratic dodges, but the news shows have calculated, with some plausibility, that a mostly White audience won’t care. Indeed, such actions probably strike a good many Americans as desirable so long as the people who are kept from voting aren’t real Americans. Why should they get riled about civil rights violations when they obviously aren’t upset that people in Cuba and Iraq are being tortured in their name? In this respect, it’s no use blaming the degradation of American public life on Bush, Chaney, or Rove or G.E. or Fox. The fault lies with the People. The election is really a judgment about them.