Grading Obama: Ralph Richard Banks


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.

For the third in the series, The Root interviewed Ralph Richard Banks, the Jackson Eli Reynolds 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?

Ralph Richard Banks: Barack Obama had a vision that he would bring the nation together around shared ideals. His vision was, and is, an inspiring one. Unfortunately, it has not been realized. I attribute that failure to the recalcitrance of many Republican members of Congress.

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

RRB: No. To his credit, President Obama expected that political opponents would be open to reason and willing to compromise. His conciliatory attitude has not served him well. He has only belatedly shown an inclination to fight for policies he believes in.


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

RRB: It reflects the sense of informality that many blacks feel toward each other; I doubt that the president would have taken such a tone with a non-African-American group.


TR: Do you believe that Obama has made marked strides toward a "postracial" America?

RRB: Neither Obama nor any other individual has the power to make our nation postracial. We will only become postracial when we are "post-racial inequality." Pervasive racial inequalities in our society sustain the cultural and social significance of race.


TR: In what areas of public policy, if any, do you believe Obama has most neglected the concerns of black Americans?

RRB: To the president's credit, he has attempted to improve primary and secondary education, which is crucially important for African Americans.


Tomorrow: Princeton's Eddie S. Glaude Jr. 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.

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