August 5, 2008

Would you trust a law professor to be President?

Okay, this annoys me, because Steve H. asserts that I was annoyed by something, which I wasn't — I was just making fun of him — but I'm going to talk about it anyway, not to demonstrate that I'm nowhere near as irascible as you may think, but because it looks somewhat interesting.

Titled "The Dalai Obama v. Karma/Pedal Your Tricycle Back to the Faculty Lounge," it begins with an assertion that Steve has the "wonderful feeling" that Obama has "royally shafted himself over the last month," a time period which, I note, includes the "fortnight" Andrew Sullivan has termed "objectively miraculous" for Obama. (Actually, it would be objectively miraculous if Obama could royally shaft himself.)

But Steve's idea of the self-shafting consists Obama's failure to admit that he was wrong about the surge, his waffling on offshore drilling, and his increasingly apparent egotism. He connects egotism to law professing and says he's "horrified by the prospect of a law professor running the country" (the point he's supposedly made before that supposedly annoyed me).

What's so bad about lawprofs? Steve thinks they are the "idiot-savants of the profession," who couldn't "hack it" in legal practice, and took "asylum" in the cushy world of law school where we are paid too much — he estimates the salary at $100,000 — and work very little — he estimates 15 hours a week. In Steve's view, most lawprofs are "pathetic," "socialist nutwads," who act "brave and rebellious, while working tenured jobs with outstanding benefits, and while toeing the administration line with a scrupulousness worthy of OCD." We "rebel by doing exactly what people in authority tell" us to do. Protected from the demands of the real world we ran away from, lawprofs spend our lives concocting phony theories that would self-destruct on contact with the real world.

That's Steve's theory anyway.

So let's see.

1. Of course, it's fun to attack lawprofs, and many of us have retreated from the demands of clients, billable hours, and the practical application of legal knowledge. It's fun to attack lawyers too, and not being the lawyer type could be seen as a good thing. A lawyer must work in the client's interest — which is why everyone else is rightly suspicious of him — but a law professor wants to take a wider view and be free to look at problems from different perspectives.

2. Obama did not retreat from the world to become a law professor. He even turned down the job of full-time, tenured lawprof. He was always pursuing his political career, working as a legislator, or doing "community organizing," while putting in extra hours hashing through the constitutional law cases with students. He was only attracted to the teaching side of the lawprof job, the part that puts you in a lively room full of demanding, competitive individuals. He entirely eschewed scholarship, so it's irrelevant that a lot of lawprofs while away their time with unworkable theories or sucking up to other academics.

3. You certainly wouldn't want a typical lawprof to be President, but Obama was a lawprof the way Bill and Hillary Clinton were lawprofs. That is, he's a politician. Basically, we always get a politician for President.

34 comments:

Craig said...

It's really not so surprising that someone would hate a professor, law or otherwise. If all the professors in the country had a dollar for every time someone made an anti-intellectual comment like this guy does, maybe professors would actually make the amount of money these people seem to think they do.

What I will never understand -- do they not want anyone to teach anyone else anything at all?

Meade said...

"...Obama was a lawprof the way Bill and Hillary Clinton were lawprofs."

That's right. Bill and Hillary were lawprofs, they made it to the White House. How'd that work out?

Meade said...

Were/Is

Pogo said...

"What's so bad about lawprofs?"
Nada, but they get the blame for animosity directed at the lawyers they train:

*who let loose legal theories that wreak havoc (e.g. the tobacco litigation that made a few lawyers hundreds of millions of dollars, or 'Critical legal studies').

*who create a regulatory morass and litgatory kudzu that obviates liberty and reduce quality of life (approaching the Soviet manner where you can quite easily be found guilty of something at any time; just ask the IRS ...if they want you taken down, there's not a g-damn thing you can do about it).

*lawyers as a group are almost entirely Democrats and their income is generated not by creating new wealth, but forcibly redistributing it. This colors how they view government.

*were they to abandon teaching skills like "community organizing" (= identity politics plus government handouts) and making end-arounds the popular will by judicial fiat (e.g. negating marriage laws excluding SSM), that animosity might be reduced.

Someone who seems to be lawprof material is "one of us" (lawprofs) i.e. believes what lawprofs believe. In general that's far left legal theory, something the US need far far less of.

Chip Ahoy said...

Hog on Ice. Titus, is that you?

Points 1,2 and 3 are irrelevant to Obama voters and the unnumbered fourth point is wrong. Yet the writer thinks himself often right. That's pretty much how I live too, within my own perception bubble.

I thought Obama was screwed several flips ago yet those dueling Obama posters facing outward from apartment windows remain. Democrat voters are impervious to revelation. They have their bubbles too. I'd think flying around in a jumbo jet with unfixed leather seating emblazoned with 'president' would put them off but it doesn't.

Jonathan said...

I think the country would be better off if fewer of its elected officials were lawyers. As a group, the kinds of lawyers who go into politics tend to be meddlers who confuse law with right and wrong and have little understanding of markets, history or the informal institutions of civil society.

By the same token, we would be better off if more elected officials and bureaucrats had professional backgrounds in business, medicine, the military, etc.

AllenS said...

"Would you trust a law professor to be President?"

Last year I believe, I said something to the effect that Tiger Woods looked more Oriental than black. You accused me of using a word Oriental that you considered to be racist in meaning, and that I should have used Asian. When I pointed out the dictionary definition of the word, you said something to the effect of: "I don't care what the dictionary says." Do you remember that?

Would you trust a law professor who didn't care what the dictionary says?

Would you trust a law professor who didn't care what the constitution says?

Would you trust a law professor who didn't care what precedent had been set?

Would you trust a law professor who didn't care what a statute says?

Do you pass and fail people on a spur of the moment whim?

Have people passed or failed your class when you went all, [Labels] Emotional Althouse?

P. Rich said...

Businesses provide gainful employment and meet market needs, engineers design products, manufacturers create them, law schools... generate more lawyers. Yuppers, that's just what every country needs. Lots and lots and lots of lawyers. An endless, constant stream of lawyers. I mean, God knows we wouldn't ever want to run out of them.

So, Althouse. Just out of curiousity, how many of your bunkmates in the law barracks at the UMW Gulag are identifiably conservative?

dr kill said...

If not for Law Professors, no one would laugh sadly at my lawyer jokes.

Did you hear the one about the divorce lawyer who fell onto the spikey, cast-iron fence surrounding his mansion while he was cleaning the gutters and died a horrible death, writhing in pain?

Ruth Anne Adams said...

This issue has been burbling for awhile. And Obama was not a law professor.

Middle Class Guy said...

"He connects egotism to law professing..."

I do not know about that. I know a few current and former law professors. They are very down to earth people. Kind of normal, you know just like you and I.

Like any profession, there are probably a few with their heads up their posteriors so far that it would take ten proctologists and a tow truck to help them, who give their fields a bad name.

Elisson said...

"Did you hear the one about the divorce lawyer who fell onto the spikey, cast-iron fence surrounding his mansion while he was cleaning the gutters and died a horrible death, writhing in pain?"

Good one, Dr Kill...'cause everyone knows a divorce lawyer would never stoop so low as to clean his own gutters...

Thorley Winston said...

Obama did not retreat from the world to become a law professor. He even turned down the job of full-time, tenured lawprof.

Jim Lindgren over at the Volokh Conspiracy investigated this story and after talking to the faculty who were at the University of Chicago, concluded that it wasn’t true. Apparently the faculty (or some of them) have to be consulted in advance before an offer of tenure is made and as they were never consulted regarding Obama – who has zero scholarship – there couldn’t have been an offer of tenure made to Obama.

But to answer your question regarding whether a law professor should be elected President (again), it depends on the professor. We don’t know that much about Obama but from the syllabus, reading list, course description and old final exams we can learn a bit about him. He’s very obsessed with race and gravitated towards those classes which were either engrained in racialist politics or chose to emphasize that in the three classes he taught. He has no apparent understanding or belief in free markets and his politics skew pretty far to the left (even on his final exams he encouraged his students not to become “corporate lawyers” but instead to join plaintiffs or “public interest” firms).

One doesn’t have to make any disparaging comments about law professors in general to conclude that this particular “law professor” (or senior lecturer) is not someone that a person of a conservative, libertarian or moderate political persuasion would want in the White House.

Trooper York said...

No offense, but I wouldn't trust any professor to pour piss out of a boot.

Bissage said...

The only person who should be trusted to be President is Ross Perot.

Trooper York said...

I vote for Rachael Ray. She could be perky and cook really great White House dinners.

Or Joe Torre. He would be a steady hand on the tiller.

Or we could wait for Rachael to turn fifty. Then she would start to look like Joe Torre. Yeah that might be best.

Ann Althouse said...

AllenS: "Last year I believe, I said something to the effect that Tiger Woods looked more Oriental than black. You accused me of using a word Oriental that you considered to be racist in meaning, and that I should have used Asian. When I pointed out the dictionary definition of the word, you said something to the effect of: "I don't care what the dictionary says." Do you remember that?"

I don't remember, but I can look it up. It's here.

You were gently prompted by Meade to use the word "Asian" instead of "Oriental" when referring to human beings. You said, "Checking my Webster's College Dictionary, I'm sticking with oriental. Notice the lower case o. Oriental rug is a separate entry. Used with an upper case O."

I then wrote: "If people don't want to be called oriental (which just means eastern, I think), I can't imagine why you wouldn't just accept that. It's irrelevant what's in the dictionary."

You now want to portray yourself as the one who cares what words mean, but you are not using words carefully. Where did I accuse you of racism? Do you not understand why my point was independent of what is in the dictionary? Where the hell do all your questions come from and why are they legitimate?

My point is about human relationships and how people feel, not the meaning of words. A dictionary is not a proper source for that. Once you know that people don't want to be called "oriental," why would you want to persist in using the word? It's not a question of the meaning of the word, but a question of how you relate to other people, so the dictionary is irrelevant. Frankly, you are the one who is not taking language seriously.

AllenS said...

You said: "If people don't want to be called oriental (which just means eastern, I think), I can't imagine why you wouldn't just accept that. It's irrelevant what's in the dictionary."

I tried to look up the original post, but wasn't able to. Tell me how you looked it up. My apologies, let me try again:

Would you trust a law professor who says it's irrelevant what the dictionary says?

Would you trust a law professor who says it's irrelevant what the constitution says?

Would you trust a law professor who says it's irrelevant what precedent had been set?

Would you trust a law professor who says it's irrelevant what a statute says?

Dust Bunny Queen said...

Steve thinks they are the "idiot-savants of the profession," who couldn't "hack it" in legal practice, and took "asylum" in the cushy world of law school where we are paid too much — he estimates the salary at $100,000 — and work very little — he estimates 15 hours a week. In Steve's view, most lawprofs are "pathetic," "socialist nutwads," who act "brave and rebellious, while working tenured jobs with outstanding benefits, and while toeing the administration line with a scrupulousness worthy of OCD." We "rebel by doing exactly what people in authority tell" us to do. Protected from the demands of the real world we ran away from, lawprofs spend our lives concocting phony theories that would self-destruct on contact with the real world.

Take out the word "Law Professors" and substitute almost any professor this holds true. Double true for teachers in general.

Disconnected from the real world and living in a la la land of theory. Most (not all) have never had to interact with people outside of their academic bubble. They drift through a tenured world.

In my world (finance and advisory) the general rule is that people to avoid as clients are teachers, (except for those in the hard sciences disciplines) because they don't have the sense that God gave a cat. 90% are liberals leaning to socialism and communism and invariably make wrong headed financial decisions based on their ridiculous political leanings and then want to blame YOU because their portfolios underperform. Also, avoid engineers because they want to analyse everything in excruciating detail. However, I get along fine with the engineers because that's my personal style and like in depth technical discussions.

I agree with Trooper.

Pastafarian said...

Would I trust a law professor to be President? It wouldn't be my first choice, if all we knew about the candidate was his former profession.

Most of the professors I knew were brilliant people, of course; but most were math professors. I wouldn't even trust these professors to be president, as they were pretty narrowly focused on their field, to the point that they knew nothing of whole topics (like politics).

I'm sure many law professors are brilliant people too; but are they likely to be well-rounded, or will they be very narrowly focused on some arcane aspect of constitutional law that they've spent years researching? What would they know about economics, for example?

And then there's the aspect of this that other commenters have done a very good job of pointing out: Law professors train and produce lawyers. Talk about a group that's overpaid, overvalued, and over-numerous: Lawyers, not law professors.

And then there's the fact that probably 90% of all law professors are quite liberal. (I'm guessing -- am I wrong?)

But most presidential candidates and most politicians have backgrounds in law, don't they? Which is unfortunate. If I had to choose the former profession most likely to produce a decent president, I'd probably suggest the president of a company, preferably one that produces an actual physical product, competes globally, and employs people in the US.

Pogo said...

As Krazy Kat once put it: "Them ornamentals and us occidentals - never the twain shall meet."

Methadras said...

I don't even trust lawyers to hold any positions of office. As a matter of fact it should be illegal for lawyers to be politicians.

Bruce Hayden said...

Regardless of what you think about "real" law profs, Obama, Hillary, and (probably) Bill Clinton weren't "real" law profs like Ann is. Even though Obama ultimately got the title, that was never his "real" job. Rather he was just a jumped up adjunct professor.

I had a number of adjunct profs in law school, and they were mostly practicing attorneys and judges who did the law school teaching as a side line. In many classes, I preferred such, because they could bring real world experiences to their teaching of the law. Unfortunately, the ABA isn't as enamored by adjuncts as I am, and keeps the number of them down through the accreditation process.

William said...

Life is the ultimate IQ test. McCain, for example, was given the problem of how to exit a damaged plane on a burning flight deck. Steep learning curve there. Obama was given the problem of getting into Harvard Law and becoming editor of the review. He mastered the problem. If he used race for advancement, well that's ok too. How to game the cards, including the discard ones, is part of the test....My argument with academics is that they isolate their form of intelligence and give it pride of place among all forms of wisdom. And it just aint so. Rational analysis, used properly, is an excellent way of avoiding and denying problems. It should never be used to actually solve real life problems....In my opinion the most pernicious American President of the 20th Century was Woodrow Wilson. It is no coincidence that he was a successful academic. Only an academic could come up with a rational principle like self-determination to solve the problems of the Balkans.

blake said...

I'm not sure this thread ameliorates the impression of irascibility.

veni vidi vici said...

"My point is about human relationships and how people feel, not the meaning of words. A dictionary is not a proper source for that. Once you know that people don't want to be called "oriental," why would you want to persist in using the word? It's not a question of the meaning of the word, but a question of how you relate to other people, so the dictionary is irrelevant. Frankly, you are the one who is not taking language seriously."

This little sideline colloquy between Ann and Allens epitomizes the shiftless, niggardly level of intellectual discourse around here sometimes...

veni vidi vici said...

Incidentally, most of my law professors were the human equivalent of flaming bags of poo, but then everyone's got a right to seek prosperity.

Obama definitely shares with most professors of all stripes (not just, but perhaps especially, law) the towering arrogance and inestimably high self-regard frequently (in the male profs' case) compensating for having a rolling-pin-wielding battle-axe of a wife waiting at home.

Joseph said...

I'd be more concerned about FIGHTER PILOTS than law profs.

Bissage said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bissage said...

There are things in this world more concerning than mere fighter pilots. Link.

veni vidi vici said...

Well, according to some likewise-inane comment thread I foolishly read too much of yesterday, there's apparently a huge difference between fighter pilots and "fighter-bomber" pilots... so much for the clever retort by Joseph, in other words!

Ok, enough goofing off... time to get back to splitting hairs!

Kev said...

By the same token, we would be better off if more elected officials and bureaucrats had professional backgrounds in business, medicine, the military, etc.

Amen. This is why there should be term limits for not only Congress, but bureaucrats as well. Nobody spends more than 10, 12 years in government, which, as someone pointed out earlier, doesn't actually produce anything. You bring your knowledge of, and experience from, the real world into government to help make it better, and then, after a short time, you rejoin the productive class again. Nobody suckles at the government teat for his/her entire career.

rightwingprof said...

Not only do I agree with Steve, I would expand it to any field, not just law. Nobody who has ever held any kind of academic appointment in any field should be allowed to hold any office, elected or appointed.

Zekarias said...

If most law prof are like you, I would vote for them. You are very interesting in your writings even when you take them lightly as in this blog. I have alway enjoyed your appearance at WPR morning shows.