We live in a better America not simply because virtually no one would voice such vile racist sentiments in public, but because virtually no one even thinks them anymore. And the improvement is not simply in terms of the worst sort of George Wallace-Strom Thurmond-style racism. Across a wide variety of indicators - most notably when it comes to interracial marriages -America has progressed to a much better place than where it was when it was Steinbeck was writing Travels with Charley and Obama's parents were married.
Race still matters in American life, and to the extent that it does, there is still work to be done in terms of improvement. But as Obama's own election and polls show, race clearly is not a deciding factor in presidential politics. Assertions that race is at the heart of - or even a contributing factor to - Obama's rotten poll numbers is blame-shifting of the worst kind. Yet folks ranging from New York magazine's Jonathan Chait to Salon's Joan Walsh to the New York Times' Frank Rich and Maureen Dowd to many others are ready and willing to do so.
If conservative Republicans can't understand that fewer people want to associate with them because they lied when they said they favored a government that did less and spent less, nothing can save the party of Lincoln from eventual receivership. And if liberal Democrats can't fully grasp that voters are turned off not the color of Obama's skin but by the failure of his presidency, they too will continue to see fewer and fewer people marching under their banner.