According to an early December CNN poll, big majorities of Americans view our society as still poisoned by the lingering toxin of racism.
An astonishing 66 percent of whites and 84 percent of blacks classified racism as a "very serious" or "somewhat serious" problem -- and this harsh judgment of our society counts as spectacularly good news for the presidential aspirations of Sen. Barack Obama.
No one who considers racism a national problem is likely to rule out a candidate on the basis of race alone; in fact, an appealing black candidate would likely benefit from the idea that he (or she) can provide an instant solution for centuries of injustice and a one-person bridge across the racial divide.
Another current poll (by Fox News/Opinion Dynamics, on Dec. 5-6) shows that by a ratio of more than 2-1 (17 percent to 7 percent) respondents say that a candidate's African-American background will make them more likely (as opposed to less likely) to vote for him.
In this particular poll, classification as African-American benefits a candidate more substantially than identification as a woman, a Roman Catholic, a Jew, or a Mormon (where the reaction is negative by a crushing margin of more than 3-1 -- sorry Gov. Romney!)
In any event, it's easy to understand why the big majorities who worry about racism as a factor in American life would prefer a black candidate as a means to cure, or at least improve, the lingering sense of injustice and resentment.
Even among those citizens who don't think that racism is much of a problem in the country (about one-third of whites), the victory of a black candidate for president offers the ultimate proof that they're right in their conviction that we've transcended our biased past.
Polling evidence and common sense both suggest that the nation is more than ready for the election of a black president; apparently, we're eager for it.
In addition to all the domestic advantages of placing the right person of color in the White House, there are obvious international benefits to attract those who worry about the nation's declining popularity in the rest of the world.
A black president not only would provide an immediate, visceral connection with Africa but also would win enthusiastic responses from Asia, Europe, and especially Latin America as a welcome departure from the alleged "imperialism" that anti-Americans everywhere associate with white hegemony.