(Do we agonize? Maybe the law school class is some sort of theater of agonizing over whatever it is we're talking about as we do what we can't do — or we'd be lying/putting ourselves out of work — just tell the students what the answer is.)
But when I click on the link I get to this Ruth Marcus column which begins: "No doubt: Barack Obama has what it takes to be a terrific law student. It’s less clear those are the ingredients of a successful president." So... not even a law professor. A law student. I guess the WaPo couldn't bring itself to tease us with "The U.S. needs a leader, not a law student."
Marcus tells us that a "terrific law student" analyzes everything "in a dispassionate, balanced way" without necessarily really taking much of a position, which is what, she says, Obama did in his speech last week at the National Defense University. "Barack Obama... the Agonizer" is at least way better than "George W. Bush... the Decider," because Obama must be better than Bush, because Bush was terrible. Bush was so not terrific. Bush, Marcus tells us, "decided too precipitously and agonized too little." But Obama is just too thoughtful.
Marcus compares Obama's speech to "scribbling exam answers in a blue book." She calls him "ever the A-plus student," even as she looks ready to give him a C- as he calls Guantanamo "this legacy problem" that ought to be "resolved, consistent with our commitment to the rule of law."
This answer doesn’t even pass the law student test. How, exactly? That the solution is elusive does not justify this blatant dodge.The lawprof in me wants to say that if Obama's speech is the text to be understood, Marcus is the one who's not a terrific student. Her writing rests on the presumption that the words of his speech are the same words that run through his head as he thinks about the various problems and the words that he speaks in private. I say "her writing" because I'm not deluded enough to think that the words in the Washington Post are the words inside Marcus's head. She's arguing to him and his advisers that he needs to do something different and he's not getting away with the seemingly dispassionate, balanced analysis. She'd like to manipulate his mind.
And Obama, in his speech, was attempting to manipulate our minds. The performance in the Theater of Agonizing is for a purpose. We can try to discern his purpose — perhaps to get us to trust in his caretaking and to be patient while he continues to do the things that need to be done and not to look too closely at the incoherencies and possible illegalities. This is what leaders do.