President Obama is the first black President. It would be disingenuous in the extreme to say that his race plays no role in current political struggles.
Ta-Nehisi Coates of the Atlantic recently wrote an outstanding essay on the President and race. You can read it here. It is a thoughtful passionate essay with a very personal and moving conclusion.
The central conflict of American history is over just who gets to be included in those opening three words of the Constitution. Who are "The People" in "We the People...?" President Obama triumphantly and tragically incarnates that central struggle.
Here's a sample from Coates' essay:
Michael Tesler, following up on his research with David Sears on the role of race in the 2008 campaign, recently published a study assessing the impact of race on opposition to and support for health-care reform. The findings are bracing. Obama’s election effectively racialized white Americans’ views, even of health-care policy. As Tesler writes in a paper published in July in The American Journal of Political Science, “Racial attitudes had a significantly greater impact on health care opinions when framed as part of President Obama’s plan than they had when the exact same policies were attributed to President Clinton’s 1993 health care initiative.”
While Beck and Limbaugh have chosen direct racial assault, others choose simply to deny that a black president actually exists. One in four Americans (and more than half of all Republicans) believe Obama was not born in this country, and thus is an illegitimate president. More than a dozen state legislatures have introduced “birther bills” demanding proof of Obama’s citizenship as a condition for putting him on the 2012 ballot. Eighteen percent of Republicans believe Obama to be a Muslim. The goal of all this is to delegitimize Obama’s presidency. If Obama is not truly American, then America has still never had a black president.
White resentment has not cooled as the Obama presidency has proceeded. Indeed, the GOP presidential-primary race featured candidates asserting that the black family was better off under slavery (Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum); claiming that Obama, as a black man, should oppose abortion (Santorum again); or denouncing Obama as a “food-stamp president” (Newt Gingrich).
Speaking of racially charged politics, a federal court just threw out Texas' voter ID law, one of the most restrictive in the nation. The court agreed with the Justice Department bringing the suit saying it was nothing more than a poll tax by another name and a transparent attempt to disenfranchise poor, minority, and young voters. The AG of the State of Texas vows to appeal to the Supreme Court.