In conspicuous but indirect relation to yesterday's Supremely expressed prejudice against the Voting Rights Act, the NYT's Thomas Edsall plows through mounds of conflicting social science before answering the question, "How salient is race?" His assessment is cryptic:
I would say the ability of the United States to go from legal segregation a half century ago to the election of a black president suggests there is enormous elasticity in the American political system, and that the country has the capacity to deal with what it now faces, both inside and outside its borders.
You may take that answer to your local sibyl, who will be happy to translate it into equal inscrutability.
But what if Tom Edsall and the Five Supremes are asking the wrong question? What if the VRA's Section 5 contemporarily has far less to do with identifying racial prejudice than it does partisan discrimination? What if the 21st-century editions of white citizen councils in control of local and state voting procedures have grown sophisticated enough to care less about skin color than Democratic proclivities?
As Edsall's impressively researched column shows, you can get any answer you want to the question of racism's endurance in America. But partisan identifiers are indisputable, entailing not just race but socioeconomic status, education, religious affiliation, and of course empirical voting patterns within precincts.
Do scheming Republicans really care if you're as pink as they are? Maybe not so much anymore. Who knows for sure? But unquestionably they do care if your geopolitics, so to speak, suggest anything but Republicanism. And therein lies the democratic value of Section 5, which, rather than erased, would be better extended to Ohio and Pennsylvania.