Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama, while agreeing that quotas and government assistance alone won’t solve lingering racial inequities in the country, would take far different paths to combat race-based discrimination if elected president.
The two major presidential candidates largely have downplayed the issue of race relations while on the campaign trail - a scenario all the more peculiar because Mr. Obama is the first black man to secure a major-party nomination for the White House.
But unlike past decades, when race-related issues such voting rights and school desegregation dominated elections, race is a far more subtle debate today - ingrained instead in broader issues such as health care, subprime mortgages and the criminal justice system.
“The biggest racial issues are inequities in public services,” said Lorenzo Morris, chairman of political science at Washington’s Howard University. “Civil rights issues and race-specific issues come in, but I think they are a little bit down the line. [Public service inequities] are more salient now.”
Improving access to quality health care is the biggest issue facing minorities, Mr. Morris said.
A comparison of the candidates’ health care platforms shows a stark difference.
Mr. Obama has proposed to expand health care access to Americans without medical insurance. His plan calls for expanding government provided health care programs such as the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, or SCHIP, and Medicaid. Mr. McCain, rather, is pushing for more individually provided health insurance and generally is against more government participation and regulation.
An assessment by health care economists published last month in the journal Health Affairs estimated that Mr. McCain’s plan would lead 20 million people to lose their employer-sponsored insurance. But it also found that 21 million people would gain coverage through the individual market.
The candidates’ positions on fighting crime and criminal justice also takes on racial undertones.
Mr. Obama has criticized the disparity in the sentencing guidelines between offenses related to crack and those tied to powder-based cocaine as an example of institutional racism. Crack offenders, who tend to be black, get harsher sentences for the same amount of the drug than do powder offenders, who more often are white.
He also has called for an expanded use of drug courts that would offer first-time, nonviolent offenders a chance to serve their sentences, when appropriate, in drug rehabilitation programs.
Mr. McCain has supported the Second Chance Act, which funds programs - many of them religion-based - that provide job training, counseling and mentoring for prisoners released from incarceration.
But the senator from Arizona generally has taken a traditional, conservative approach to reduce crime, pushing for tougher punishments for sex offenders and repeat felons who commit crimes with firearms.