Whether or not President Barack Obama's first term embodies the idealism of the 2008 campaign is debatable, according to interviews with nine prominent black academics in the run-up to next year's presidential election.
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?
Eddie S. Glaude Jr.: My expectations were pretty straightforward. I wanted him to undo much of President Bush's agenda: End the Iraq War, close down Guantánamo Bay, repeal the Bush tax cuts and address fundamentally the inequality that threatens the health of the nation. I also wanted him to help us turn the corner on issues of race in this country.
He does not embody what I saw during the campaign. During the campaign, I perceived candidate Obama as much more progressive; what I have come to realize is that most of us "green-screened" him. We made him whatever we wanted him to be.
TR: Do you believe that Obama has adequately fought for the nation's black communities?
ESG: I don't think so. But I am not sure what has happened behind closed doors. What I do know is that the rhetoric of "lifting all boats" — a way of talking about race indebted to FDR's capitulation to Southern Democrats — leaves the particular suffering of black communities unaddressed.
TR: What was your reaction to Obama's rousing "stop crying" speech to the Congressional Black Caucus?
ESG: I didn't make much of it. He got caught up in the moment. I also don't think he would use that language with other groups. It is a reflection of his comfort and his expectations.
TR: Do you believe that Obama has made marked strides toward a "postracial" America?
ESG: No, he hasn't. In fact, his presidency has been an occasion for deepening racial divides. In some ways President Obama stands alone. There is no precedent other than the first black mayors.
TR: In what areas of public policy, if any, do you believe Obama has most neglected the concerns of black Americans?
ESG: I would have expected a more robust urban policy. But the specific devastation of the housing crisis in black communities should have been addressed more directly.
Tomorrow: Duke's Mark Anthony Neal grades the president.
Alexander Heffner, a freelance journalist based in New York and Boston, has written for the Washington Post, Boston Globe and USA Today.