October 19, 2008

"I think Barack took 10 times as much grief from those on the left on the Review as from those of us on the right."

Conservative Bradford Berenson talks about what Obama was like as president of the Harvard Law Review:
The law school generally at that time was riven ideologically, and not just in terms of Republican/Democrat partisan politics, but there were contending schools of legal thought at the time, represented on the faculty, that really polarized both the faculty and the student body....

... [R]ace was at the forefront of the agenda. There were intense debates over affirmative action...

[A]fter [Obama] became president of the Review, he was under a lot of pressure to participate and lend his voice to those debates. And he did, I think, to some degree. But I would not have described him as a campus radical or a campus political leader....

You don't become president of the Harvard Law Review, no matter how political, or how liberal the place is, by virtue of affirmative action, or by virtue of not being at the very top of your class in terms of legal ability. Barack was at the very top of his class in terms of legal ability. He had a first-class legal mind and, in my view, was selected to be president of the Review entirely on his merits....

[T]he conservatives were eager to have somebody who would treat them fairly, who would listen to what they had to say, who would not abuse the powers of the office to favor his ideological soul mates and punish those who had different views.....

We had all worked with him over the course of a year. And we had all spent countless hours in the presence of Barack, as well as others of our colleagues who were running, in Gannett House [the Law Review offices], and so you get a pretty good sense of people over the course of a year of late nights working on the Review. You know who the rabble-rousers are. You know who the people are who are blinded by their politics. And you know who the people are who, despite their politics, can reach across and be friendly to and make friends with folks who have different views. And Barack very much fell into the latter category....

[As president of the Law Review,] Barack took 10 times as much grief from those on the left on the Review as from those of us on the right. And the reason was, I think there was an expectation among those editors on the left that he would affirmatively use the modest powers of his position to advance the cause, whatever that was. They thought, you know, finally there's an African American president of the Harvard Law Review; it's our turn, and he should aggressively use this position, and his authority and his bully pulpit to advance the political or philosophical causes that we all believe in.

And Barack was reluctant to do that. It's not that he was out of sympathy with their views, but his first and foremost goal, it always seemed to me, was to put out a first-rate publication. And he was not going to let politics or ideology get in the way of doing that. ...

He was unwilling to undermine, based on the way I viewed it, meritocratic outcomes or democratic outcomes in order to advance a racial agenda. That earned him a lot of recrimination and criticism from some on the left, particularly some of the minority editors of the Review. ...

It confirmed the hope that I and others had had at the time of the election that he would basically be an honest broker, that he would not let ideology or politics blind him to the enduring institutional interests of the Review. It told me that he valued the success of his own presidency of the Review above scoring political points of currying favor with his political supporters.
I'm inclined to believe Berenson's account of how Obama handled himself in the role of leading a group of ambitious students as they all needed to work together to publish a journal. But let's interpret and extrapolate. What does this say about how he will govern as President of the United States, working with a Congress dominated by members of his political party?

I certainly don't think it means he will give equal treatment to conservatives. He won't be publishing a journal, he'll be pursuing a successful presidency, the preservation of the Democratic majority in Congress in 2010, and re-election. So I would predict that Obama will methodically rack up important legislative accomplishments, probably the very things he's been telling us he plans to do. He'll be excellent at explaining why these things are good for us and creating the feeling that he's figured it all out very competently and deserves our trust.

I found the Berenson piece through Mickey Kaus who says: "If (like me) you want to feel better about Barack Obama, try reading conservative Bradford Berenson's Frontline comments...."

Should we want to feel better?

28 comments:

Meade said...

Feelings, wo-o-o-o feelings...

Ben (The Tiger) said...

If we're conservatives who have to accept an Obama presidency and who don't want to act like our opposite numbers did after the 2000 and 2004 elections, yes, we probably should want to feel better.

Still, he hasn't won just yet.

former law student said...

If you feel an Obama presidency would be a net negative, then I conclude you'd want to feel better.

ron st.amant said...

The Frontline piece was, as usual for Frontline, very well done and more informative about the two candidates that the fluff or the smear pieces that have been floated throughout the campaign.

Palladian said...

"Barack was at the very top of his class in terms of legal ability. He had a first-class legal mind and, in my view, was selected to be president of the Review entirely on his merits...."

Another reason not to want him for a President. We have too many "first-class legal minds" fucking our country down the drain.

"Should we want to feel better?"

Liberals and women always want to feel better.

God, I sound like rhardin!

Rose said...

No.

Bissage said...

Professor Althouse asked: Should we want to feel better?

What kind of a question is that?!

Of course we should want to feel better!

How else are we all going to learn that pressing the bar gets you a pellet of rat chow when the light is green but it gets you an electic shock when the light is red?

And you, a psychology professor . . . Sheesh!

(This message brought to you by the Universal Church of Bokonon.)

Rose said...

I do not feel better.

I might feel better if Barack were not stonewalling and refusing to be forthcoming about so many simple basic things. Those things are very troubling. And they color all else.

Ann Althouse said...

"We have too many "first-class legal minds" fucking our country down the drain."

What an image! Maybe Joe the Plumber can help us with the drain.

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

"What an image!"

Thank you! Since plumbing and intercourse imagery are often commingled, I decided to go with it.

"Maybe Joe the Plumber can help us with the drain."

Let's hope he's still around. After the hair clog of the Obama administration, we're going to need something stronger than Liquid-Plumr®.

rhhardin said...

eecummings said something about firstclass minds somewhere, probably in six nonlectures...

Google is no help, let's dig it out and see...

John,viii,7.
So now let us talk about something else. This is a free country because [of] compulsory education. This is a free country because nobody has to eat. This is a free country because not any other country was is or ever will be free. So now you know and knowledge is power.

An interesting fact when you come right down to it is that simple people like complex things. But what amounts to an extraordinary coincidence is mediocre people liking firstrate things. The explanation can't be because complex things are simple. It must be because mediocre people are firstrate.

So now let us pull the woll over each other's toes and go to Hell.
John,viii.7.


p.67

remembered apparently on the word firstrate applied similarly.

Bob said...

Jimmey Carter wanted to do all of the aims articulated (increase majority, reelection, yadda yadda). How did that work out for Americans? Not so well.

Obama's biggest problem is going to be leading his party if they get a big win. Nancy and Harry are not going to be the pair to help. Bush has taken the current Congress to the woodshed and steamrolled them on all of their promises in 2006.

rhhardin said...

I'd fear Obama accomplishing anything at all he desires. Every one has overwhelming perverse consequences.

Only about half of McCain's plans have bad consequences, and Congress will stop the rest.

jdeeripper said...

And you know who the people are who, despite their politics, can reach across and be friendly to and make friends with folks who have different views. And Barack very much fell into the latter category....

Hasn't John McCain been reaching out to his opponents and others with different views during his entire career in the Senate?

He has repeatedly attempted to work with Republicans to get things done!

William said...

There was probably sufficient Byzantine intrigue around the offices of the Review, but was there really such huge ideological differences. Obama was polite and reasonable among polite and reasonable peers....And this is, after winning the Democratic nomination, his largest life achievement to date. I'm glad he didn't screw it up, but, my goodness, what a puny accomplishment for a Presidental candidate.

Pastafarian said...

I'd say that the way that Obama will govern is foreshadowed more accurately by the more recent way in which he won this election, than it is by how he behaved in college 25 years ago.

He paid ACORN $800,000 so that they could pay people in Ohio $10 to register and vote over and over, to the tune of 200,000 registrations that don't match BMV or SSN records. Your own son saw the brownshirt intimidation tactics that they used in the primaries.

And yet you, a law professor, support this criminal, because...why? Do the ends justify the means?

Uggh. Just uggh. I thought I'd come to know you a little bit, by reading your posts, which are much more revealing of your thought processes than any other blogger I've read. And from what I've read, I really expected a backlash from you over this sort of thing. It's not possible that you're unaware of it, is it?

You must know that ACORN has stolen Ohio for Obama. Right?

You've seen the stories of interviews with people who have admitted that ACORN paid them to vote over and over, right? And the stories of Obama's own staffers who were temporarily in Ohio and voted illegally here? And the story of how Ohio's Democratic Attorney General sat on those 200,000 suspect registrations, telling no one of how many there were til she had to, and refused to turn them over to local elections boards, right?

Does this not bother you just a little bit?

At this point I don't give a damn what his policies are. He could come in and eliminate the corporate income tax, and support school vouchers, and lower tax rates across the board, and I wouldn't support this bastard.

I don't care whether the dictator is benevolent -- the fact that he's a dictator, in the sense that he's forced down our throats by thuggery and a short-circuit of democracy, makes him absolutely unacceptable.

Mike said...

This made me feel a little bit better. And then I realized just how comical it is that we may be about to elect as President a man whose most relevant experience is as EIC of the Harvard Law Review.

Joan said...

This is the part of the Berenson passage that jumped out at me: ...there was an expectation among those editors on the left that he would affirmatively use the modest powers of his position to advance the cause, whatever that was. They thought, you know, finally there's an African American president of the Harvard Law Review; it's our turn, and he should aggressively use this position, and his authority and his bully pulpit to advance the political or philosophical causes that we all believe in.

Obama didn't do that, and Berenson interprets this positively, saying that he was most interested in putting out a first-rate publication.

But why didn't Obama do both? Why couldn't he advance his cause and produce a first-rate publication? What was stopping him? Harvard Law isn't exactly a conservative think tank.

As far as I'm concerned, Obama's tenure at HLR was just another example of voting "present". He could've worked hard and really shaken things up, but it was just easier to go with the flow.

I don't think anyone should be taking any comfort in that at all.

Original George said...

This tells you how much experience Sen. Obama has..hearing about his law school leadership ability.

In most presidential candidates' resumes, this would be utter trivia.

Irene said...

Does experience as an EIC speak to performance as a successful executive? Law Reviews are peculiar animals. First, the ability to work with people of varying political views is a product of the cliquish environment in which members of a Law Review bond. Members view each other as part of a select set, and they transform their non-Review classmates into outsiders. This mindset trumps ideological differences. Second, an EIC who cannot transcend political fractures will fail because a board of editors that sizzles with personal hostility will produce no quality publication. To run a well oiled journal, the EIC must manage an environment that operates in at least a perception of team-like comradery.

blake said...

He's a pig in a poke.

Will he just vote "present" for four years?

Will he pursue an aggressive socialist expansion?

Will he waffle and vacillate to try to avoid responsibility?

The only thing that's guaranteed, from what I can see, is that his supporters will continue using thuggish tactics to suppress dissent.

Oh, the irony.

Sissy Willis said...

I feel ill. Then as now it's all about Obama. He talks about not taking sides, just as he perennially voted "present" in political office to avoid leaving a paper trail.

gregq said...

And you know who the people are who, despite their politics, can reach across and be friendly to and make friends with folks who have different views. And Barack very much fell into the latter category....

I think, unfortunately, that this dovetails perfectly with what I wrote about Obama in my first ever blog post. Barack Obama is the antonym of "intellectually curious". He's the guy who "makes friends with people of differing views" but never actually talks with them about those views, not in a way that might lead him to learning something, or changing an opinion.

Barack Obama is 47 years old, and so far as we know, no one else has ever changed Barack Obama's mind about anything. He has changed his mind. But no on else has ever been let far enough "in" to tell Obama something, to argue with him, to convince him to change his mind.

Alcibiades said...

It told me that he valued the success of his own presidency of the Review above scoring political points of currying favor with his political supporters.

Sounds like the same BHO who only rejected Jeremiah Wright when JW dissed him personally. Here, too, it's all about Obama, not about the publication, but the success of his Presidency.

I think it shows that he was very directed and goal oriented by that point. And he knew that if let the HLR go down the path that some people were advocating, that reputation would stick to him. Instead, he took a different path, and never published anything in it himself, which would reveal his thinking, but instead used the position to serve his position.

But once he has reached his goal, what is to stop him from doing what he actually thinks?

a psychiatrist who learned from veterans said...

Obama’s health plan aspirations seem to offer a tragedy of the commons. It offers people the idea that currently terribly expensive problems are going to be newly covered. The attempt to do this is going to be painfully bureaucratic and ultimately will delivers less care to people for the money and less control to those who put in the money. Greg Mankiw has a similar viewpoint. The first thing is to contribute to the RNC. Accepting that God is rolling the dice, I hope to be comforted by the traditional readings.

Dudley Do-right said...

Why all this talk about how Barack will govern? He's not going to govern, he's just the figurehead. Soros, the media, ACORN, Pelosi and Reid, among others on the far left, will govern.

They bought and paid for this Presidency by funding and covering for Captain Zero ten ways from Sunday. Obama simply served as the magical African shield that could turn aside every flaming arrow launched by whitey against the plans of the far left.

After this campaign, it is not possible for him to be his own man. He owes way too much to way too many people. He's being used, bigtime.

Balfegor said...

So I would predict that Obama will methodically rack up important legislative accomplishments,

Something he has conspicuously failed to do in his entire government career thus far. I think it's more likely the Democratic Congress will rack up significant legislative achievements, and Obama will be there with his rubber stamp when they've worked out the fiddly bits.

probably the very things he's been telling us he plans to do. He'll be excellent at explaining why these things are good for us

I'm sure he'll be an excellent spokesperson for Democratic policies.