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 sixth in the series, The Root interviewed Hugh B. Price, former head of the National Urban League and a senior fellow for economic studies at the Brookings Institution. 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?
Hugh B. Price: Barack Obama campaigned to be elected president of all the people. He was quite clear on this point and equally explicit in indicating that he would not pursue an African-American agenda per se. I took him at his word and agreed with his position. That's because I figured he would never be elected otherwise. Besides, as a practical political matter, he would never be able to push an overt black agenda through Congress anyway.
TR: Do you believe that Obama has adequately fought for the nation's black communities?
HBP: Yes, I believe the president has fought for the black community. He is laboring, with scant Republican support, to create new jobs in the face of the most horrific recession since the Great Depression. That would help African Americans who are out of work and underemployed.
He has been very aggressive in trying to improve American public education. If that effort succeeds, black children will benefit. He has extended health care coverage to the uninsured. That helps black folk. He and his wife are campaigning against childhood obesity, which disproportionately endangers black youngsters. The list of potential benefits from his initiatives goes on and on.
TR: What was your reaction to Obama's rousing "stop crying" speech to the Congressional Black Caucus?
HBP: Perhaps he should not have been so blunt and confrontational, because the tone may have obscured the essential truth of the message. But his basic point about the political reality facing him and facing our folk was on point, in my view.
TR: Do you believe that Obama has made marked strides toward a "postracial" America?
HBP: The very election of Barack Obama as president marks a watershed in race relations in this country and, indeed, the world. I tend not to think or worry about whether there's such a thing as a postracial America. The key, to paraphrase Rodney King, is whether we're gradually learning to get along.
When you look at Obama's ascendancy, the election of a black man as governor of Massachusetts and the selection of another as the Democratic nominee for governor in Mississippi, no less — the relentless rise of blacks to the top echelons of every sector of American society — my answer to that question is a resounding, "Yes!"
TR: In what areas of public policy, if any, do you believe Obama has most neglected the concerns of black Americans?
HBP: I honestly do not believe that President Obama has neglected or intends to neglect the needs of the black community. He has been besieged by a daunting confluence of economic, political, national-security and global forces that, of necessity, have competed for his attention. His strategies for dealing with the domestic challenges have basically been generic, as opposed to ethnic, in nature. That's fine by me because what's most important is the bottom-line impact, not the label.
Tomorrow: Stanford Law School's Richard Thompson Ford 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.