Grading Obama: Richard Thompson Ford

This Stanford Law School professor says that race has not made a difference in President Obama's term.

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Has President Barack Obama's first term embodied the idealism of the 2008 campaign? The answer is debatable, according to interviews with nine prominent black academics in the run-up to next year's presidential election.

For the seventh in this series, The Root interviewed Richard Thompson Ford, the George E. Osborne Professor of Law at Stanford Law School. Read the other interviews here. 

The Root: What were your expectations of President Obama's administration as that of the nation's first black commander-in-chief? Does he embody today whatever you saw in him during the campaign?

Richard Thompson Ford: I think Obama has done just what an observant person would have expected of him. He ran as a thoughtful, intelligent and cautious political moderate, and that's precisely how he has governed.

A lot of people had unrealistic expectations of Obama because instead of listening to what he actually said, they engaged in wishful thinking and projection. Obama became a walking Rorschach test, in which voters saw their own desires and fears. Basically, I don't think race has made much difference in how Obama has governed -- nor am I convinced that it should have.

TR: Do you believe that Obama has adequately fought for the nation's black communities?

RTF: I know that Obama has done a great deal behind the scenes: shifting the focus in administrative agencies and issuing executive orders. Much of what the executive can do is largely invisible to the average person, and given the current ideological climate, it's probably wise not to attempt to make a splash with a new initiative aimed at black communities.

TR: What was your reaction to Obama's rousing "stop crying" speech to the Congressional Black Caucus?

 

 RTF: I don't share the outrage that some have expressed; I don't think Obama was scolding the CBC as much as trying to inspire them. Of course he was also pressing them to take some responsibility for getting things done, too. He can't pass legislation himself; that's Congress' job. But the speech didn't strike me as especially controversial.