One More Post on Obama at Harvard:

N.Y Times (This is old news, but it was new to me):


In the satirical issue of the Harvard Law Review, the editors wrote in Obama's voice "I was born in Oslo, Norway, the son of a Volvo factory worker and part-time ice fisherman," a mock self-tribute begins. "My mother was a backup singer for Abba. They were good folks." In Chicago, "I discovered I was black, and I have remained so ever since."

Obama demonstrates his political skills, and wins the rodent vote while showing tolerance for even the nuttiest arguments:

"Another of Mr. Obama's techniques relied on his seemingly limitless appetite for hearing the opinions of others, no matter how redundant or extreme. That could lead to endless debates — a mouse infestation at the review office provoked a long exchange about rodent rights — as well as some uncertainty about what Mr. Obama himself thought about the issue at hand."

And hints of youthful radicalism: Derrick Bell, then a professor at Harvard, demanded that Harvard immediately offer a tenured position to Regina Austin, a black visiting professor, solely on the grounds that Harvard didn't have any black women on the faculty, and despite a firm rule that visitors would not be voted on while visiting. Bell, of course, is prominent critical race theorist, most famous for his rather ridiculous assertion that the lot of black Americans hasn't improved since Jim Crow days, and for his "convergence theory" that white Americans only have, will, and do support civil rights when it serves their self-interest, narrowly defined. He also, based on a speech I saw him deliver, is a strong proponent of race-consciousness (not just with regard to affirmative action, but that white people should walk around thinking of themselvs as white people, to better recognize their role as oppressors)--or at least was at the relevant time period. Obama's verdict? "At a rally for faculty diversity, ... he compared Professor Bell to Rosa Parks."

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. One More Post on Obama at Harvard:
  2. Barack Obama and the Presidency of the Harvard Law Review:
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
Whom are you quoting in the last paragraph of this post? The satirical law review piece? Or someone else?

In any case, I think the evidence of "radicalism" here is pretty thin. Rosa Parks is not noteworthy for being a pathbreaking social or political thinker. She is noteworthy for helping to pave the way in the struggle for racial equality. I believe Bell was the first black law professor at Harvard. That makes the comparison apt, without any need to read it as somehow expressing a "verdict" on Bell's various social and political beliefs.
3.15.2008 1:22am
DavidBernstein (mail):
It's all from the Times. I'm assuming that the analogy was that just as Parks refused to sit in the back of the bus, Bell refused to stay on the Harvard faculty if they didn't hire a black woman, and he indeed did leave. On the one hand, you're right that there's not enough context to know exactly what he meant, which is why it's only a "hint" of radicalism. OTOH, Derrick Bell is one of the best examples in academia I know of a "divider, not a uniter," and thus is not someone who meshes with Obama's current political persona.
3.15.2008 1:25am
DavidBernstein (mail):
Oh, and if that's what you meant, the words in the last paragraph, beyond the quotes, are mine.
3.15.2008 1:38am
TGGP (mail) (www):
At a rally for faculty diversity, ... he compared Professor Bell to Rosa Parks.
Could we get his actual words?
3.15.2008 1:42am
DB's Obama pieces are making me like Obama more, not less. I'm assuming this was not the intended effect, based solely assumptions made from DB's other posts, but the effect is so strong I am sincerely starting to wonder.
3.15.2008 2:05am
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
Now I follow. The suggestion is that Obama thought Prof. Bell's stand over Prof. Austin was comparable to the stand that Rosa Parks took in the bus. That's a plausible reading, I guess.

Except: Is it really accurate to characterize Bell's stand as a specific demand that Harvard hire Prof. Austin? I don't know the particulars. But this article from the 4/24/90 New York Times reports that Bell "requested a leave of absence without pay until Harvard appoints a tenured black woman to its law faculty." I read this to mean any tenured black woman, not Prof. Austin in specific. The article quotes Prof. Bell as being "particularly disappointed over the case of Regina Austin," but from the article, the subject of his protest appears to have been the faculty's lack of even one black woman professor. So if it's the request for a leave of absence that Obama may have been commenting on, again the comparison would seem apt, with no evident basis for an inference that Obama intended a "verdict" on all of Prof. Bell's opinions.

Harvard itself, by the way, apparently perceived the absence of black women from the faculty demographic as a problem. The article quotes an associate dean to the effect that Harvard Law was trying to recruit black women faculty. The article also says that the rule against appointing visitors was "sometimes broken."

I should add, by way of full disclosure, that Prof. Austin taught at Penn Law, where she is now tenured, when I attended. I didn't have the pleasure of taking her classes. But by reports, it was Harvard's loss. I don't know that I agree with every opinion she may have. I don't even profess to know what all of her opinions may be. But I don't need to agree with her in all particulars to respect her and speak highly of her.
3.15.2008 2:08am
DavidBernstein (mail):
I'm not commenting at all on Prof. Austin or whether Harvard should have hired her. I'm suggesting, and I don't think that this is controversial, that Bell is a far-left radical who was extremely confrontational in pursuing his demand that Harvard hire someone (anyone!) of a particular race and sex. Not someone you'd think that Obama in his current political persona would be drawn to. But then again, there's Rev. Wright.

The comparison with Rosa Parks is apt only if you think "willing to be confrontational to stick up what he believes in" and not "civil rights hero fighting for justice." If the former is all Obama meant, there's not much to it. But if the thought Bell had a similar moral status to Parks, the one demanding a race/sex quota and the other fighting de jure segregation, that would be a lot more interesting.
3.15.2008 2:28am
DavidBernstein (mail):
FFFF, since I think that the vast majority of people's votes are not determined by anything resembling reasoned analysis, and even among those who do the vast majority are unswayable for ideological reasons, I don't post anything to try to persuade people to like or dislike a candidate, since that would be a largely futile waste of time. But Obama is a fascinating figure whom we know little about, and as I come across interesting stuff, I'm sharing it with readers.
3.15.2008 2:32am
Free Trader:
All I know for sure...

David Bernstein is really into guilt by association. Which is kind of pathetic for an educated individual.

Maybe he could learn something from John McCain, who has asserted in a forthright manner on Hannity and Colmes that both Hilary Clinton and Barack Obama have integrity and refusing to use guilt by association. Bernstein could really learn something from the far more honorable John McCain.
3.15.2008 2:37am
DavidBernstein (mail):
The likelihood that McCain, Clinton, and/or Obama have integrity yet have nevertheless become very powerful politicians strikes me as small in each case.
3.15.2008 2:48am
Sua Tremendita (mail):
Bell inspires me to demand that Harvard hire a fat midget transvestite for a tenured post immediately. I will hold my breath and stomp my feet until this FMT is hired.
3.15.2008 2:58am
talboito (mail) (www):
"But Obama is a fascinating figure whom we know little about, and as I come across interesting stuff, I'm sharing it with readers."

...if it reflects poorly on Obama.

I finished your statement for you.
3.15.2008 3:14am
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
In calling the comparison apt, I meant only that someone could regard the two cases as comparable without intending any "verdict" on particular beliefs and opinions held by either Prof. Bell or Ms. Parks. The comparison might be criticized as overblown, but that's another matter. The comparison would be overblown, I think, if Bell had done nothing more than demand the appointment of a particular professor. But Harvard Law being the leading institution it was and is, it seems less overblown to the extent Bell's demand was that black women not be excluded in general from the front of the law school's bus.

My point about Prof. Austin was not to charge you with denegrating her, as you very plainly did not do in any way. My point was more that if a student has high praise for a professor, it doesn't necessarily imply political agreement.

As for quotas and affirmative action: Again, I don't know the particulars of the Harvard controversy. I don't think the press reports portray Bell as having advocated quotas, but for all I know, at some point he did. If he did, I'm not sure that would qualify him as a radical -- let alone hint at "youthful radicalism" on Obama's part. Affirmative action (a phrase that means different things to different people) has fallen, somewhat, from political favor since 1990. But to favor it in some form, at that time, you didn't have to have a Che Guevara poster hanging in your dorm room. Still less did you need a charter membership in the Socialist Youth League to think that Harvard Law might try to roust itself up at least one tenured black woman.

All in all, I think "hints of youthful liberalism" would be about as far as these facts could take you.
3.15.2008 3:43am
Free Trader:

The likelihood that McCain, Clinton, and/or Obama have integrity yet have nevertheless become very powerful politicians strikes me as small in each case.

Your view strikes me as immaturely cynical.
3.15.2008 3:49am
joeblow (mail):
because the road to the presidency is paved with integrity, as all us mature people believe. no one ever got elected president by compromising their beliefs and telling people what they want to hear
3.15.2008 4:05am
Thoughtful (mail):
Free Trader:The likelihood that McCain, Clinton, and/or Obama have integrity yet have nevertheless become very powerful politicians strikes me as small in each case.
Your view strikes me as immaturely cynical.
Your view strikes me as incredibly naive...
3.15.2008 4:09am
Thoughtful (mail):
Free Trader:The likelihood that McCain, Clinton, and/or Obama have integrity yet have nevertheless become very powerful politicians strikes me as small in each case.
Your view strikes me as immaturely cynical.
Your view strikes me as incredibly naive...
3.15.2008 4:09am
Syd Henderson (mail):
My feeling is McCain has integrity in a lot of things, so does Obama, and probably Clinton (although I'm more skeptical about her), and that any of them will say or do things in pursuit of the Presidency that they would not otherwise do. The pursuit warps people.

I'm much more interested in the list of things Obama has earmarked than anything his minister or wife may say. (The earmarks are pretty innocuous, and much, like spending money to sequence the genomes of farm animals, strikes me as exactly the sort of thing worth spending money on.) It's also interesting that he has submitted such a list, and shows a certain amount of integrity. He also hasn't particularly favored the University of Chicago, although his earmarks, of course, do go to Illinois.

Wouldn't you like to see a complete list of all the things Robert Byrd or Ted Stevens have earmarked?
3.15.2008 4:53am
Gaius Marius:
Obama is just going to turn out to be another Kwame Kilpatrick.
3.15.2008 7:43am

Obama is just going to turn out to be another Kwame Kilpatrick.

Please explain. Is it because they both have law degrees? Because they both hold elective office? Because they are Midwesterners? What exactly are you saying?
3.15.2008 9:23am
It is interesting that exactly as articles showing Obamas humanity are posted and that increase my interest in him, the staliinist lack of humor of his supporters drives me away.

Or is that your purpose, Free Trader?
3.15.2008 11:52am
CLIENTNINE (mail) (www):
When they arrested Haji Bashir Noorzai in 2005 the prosecutor was Boyd Johnson.

As the case approaches its May 2008 trial date, allegations of misconduct by Johnson got him removed and put on the witness list. Risen's story says there was some funny business with a company that actually did the Noorzai rendition and it was brought up by Ivan Fisher who represents Noorzai.

And then everyone forgot Johnson. Until, this week with the Spitzer call girl case. Guess who the prosecutor is? Boyd Johnson. Is this a case of what comes around goes around or something like that?
3.15.2008 12:29pm
Obama clearly supported Affirmative Action as late
as 2006, when he taped a radio ad opposing the
Michigan Civil Rights Initiative.

Supporting AA is not the same as supporting Che Guevara,
but it is a noxious position to many people -- MCRI
passed with 58% of the vote in the same state that
re-elected a Democratic Governor and Senator by wide
3.15.2008 12:47pm
Elliot Reed (mail):
Supporting AA is not the same as supporting Che Guevara, but it is a noxious position to many people
What's the point of making this statement, except to imply that support for affirmative action somehow suggests support for mass murderers as long as they're on the "left"? This strikes me as little different from saying that opposition to embryonic stem cell research isn't the same as supporting the Khmer Rouge.
3.15.2008 1:40pm
frankcross (mail):
Free Trader, do you know what "guilt by association" means? There is none in this post. It talks about Obama's personal views.

Unless the "guilt by association" is involving the association with one's younger self. I think that sort of association is pretty meaningless, except as historical anecdote. If a mature person today is not today somewhat embarrassed by some of the beliefs he or she had in college, I think there is something wrong with that person now (or then).
3.15.2008 2:35pm
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
Elliot Reed: I believe sbron was referring back to an earlier Che Guevara reference in a post of mine, where Che came up in response to the suggestion that support for some form of affirmative action would make someone a radical.

sbron: Support for AA may be a "noxious position" to many people, but this didn't start out as a post about whether Obama had ever voiced support for AA. It started out as a post suggesting (as I read it) that a specific statement made by Obama in or around 1990 might warrant the inference that Obama endorsed certain specific views allegedly held by Prof. Bell.
3.15.2008 2:42pm
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
frankcross: The post actually talks about Derrick Bell's personal views and then invites us to impute them to Obama, as a kind of fellow-traveler, because Obama once said something nice about Bell.
3.15.2008 2:49pm
glangston (mail):
"Obama Hears a Who"
3.15.2008 2:56pm
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
P.S. If this should turn into a thread on whether the candidates have ever supported affirmative action, here's John McCain in 1999.
3.15.2008 3:01pm
frankcross (mail):
No, Peter, you are not applying the last line of the post. It involves Obama embracing Bell on the particular issue for which Bell was being criticized. That is not guilt by association. When Person A embraces Person B (like McCain and Hagee) it is no longer "guilt" by association, it is "guilt" by personal choice.
3.15.2008 3:15pm
Peter B. Nordberg (mail) (www):
The inference you propose to draw from the post, frankcross, rests on no real basis that I can see, apart from the post's use of the word "verdict." That word is of Prof. Bernstein's authorship, not Obama's. Apart from the surmise invited by that word (or by "embrace," if that's the inference-licensing word you'd prefer), there is no evidence in the post that Obama accepted the views on no-progress-since-Jim-Crow or "convergence theory" or "race consciousness" that Prof. Bernstein criticizes Prof. Bell for holding. As already discussed, there is reason to believe the Rosa Parks comparison (which the Times piece ascribes to Obama but does not quote) related to a particular stand that Prof. Bell had taken on faculty diversity -- a controversial stand, perhaps, but a far less incendiary one than the other views ascribed by Prof. Bernstein to Prof. Bell.

I certainly do agree with you that if anybody is unembarrassed by some of the things that he or she said or believed during law school, that person has a problem.
3.15.2008 4:13pm
frankcross (mail):
Ok, you're right about that. I was addressing the Austin controversy and took the remainder as just a shot at Bell.
3.15.2008 4:27pm
Tony Tutins (mail):
white people should walk around thinking of themselves as white people

Such an exercise is designed to make white people realize that they have a race, just like every other person has. White people tend to believe that they are the norm -- that they are just "people," and every other group somehow deviates from the standard of humanity.
3.15.2008 9:21pm
Dilan Esper (mail) (www):
Professor Bernstein, I am sure I am not alone in thinking that you have a bad feeling about Obama's fitness to be President for some reason (it could be related to Israel policy, it could be related to something else) and are focusing your fire on him. After all, there's plenty of stuff the public doesn't know about McCain and Hillary Clinton too, but you haven't been posting any of that stuff. Nor have you posted very many unequivocally positive things about Obama (although the current post starts out with a positive and continues with a negative).

Look, I'm all in favor of you speaking out about Obama if you choose to. But when you say you really aren't attacking Obama, I think you are being disingenuous.
3.15.2008 10:03pm
Spartacus (www):
The details of my life are quite inconsequential... very well, where do I begin? My father was a relentlessly self-improving boulangerie owner from Belgium with low grade narcolepsy and a penchant for buggery. My mother was a fifteen year old French prostitute named Chloe with webbed feet. My father would womanize, he would drink. He would make outrageous claims like he invented the question mark. Sometimes he would accuse chestnuts of being lazy. The sort of general malaise that only the genius possess and the insane lament. My childhood was typical. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons. In the spring we'd make meat helmets. When I was insolent I was placed in a burlap bag and beaten with reeds- pretty standard really. At the age of twelve I received my first scribe. At the age of fourteen a Zoroastrian named Vilma ritualistically shaved my testicles. There really is nothing like a shorn scrotum... it's breathtaking- I highly suggest you try it.
3.17.2008 1:20pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

The New York Times article goes to lengths to paint a picture of Obama "stay[ing] away from the extremes of campus debate, often choosing safe topics for his speeches." For example:

"He then and now is very hard to pin down," said Kenneth Mack, a classmate and now a professor at the law school, referring to the senator's on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand style.

Whatever Obama said about Bell and Rosa Parks -- the Times does not say, so perhaps it was part of a on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand moment -- in the article it is an example of atypical conduct for him, his "boldest moment" in three years characterized by a different approach to things.

Characteristically, Bernstein has extracted this "boldest moment" and has tried to transform it into the telling moment, emphasizing it by placing it at the end of the post.
3.17.2008 2:33pm
Tyrone Slothrop (mail) (www):

I might add:

Love your enemies; you made them.
3.17.2008 2:45pm