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Barack Obama and John Roberts:
Maybe this is a quirky reaction, but the more I get to know Barack Obama, the more he reminds me of Chief Justice John Roberts. Their politics are very different, of course — perhaps 180 degrees apart. But there is something about the two men that strikes me as similar.

  First, it seems that both Obama and Roberts were identified at a very young age as having truly exceptional talents that would likely take them to the top. Both were naturals; not just bright and charismatic, but really standouts. As young men, both had an easy manner, and both got along well with others with very different views. And while both clearly had a side, both generally avoided taking controversial positions along the way. Both were very ambitious, extremely bright, and remarkably articulate, and they played their cards with a rise to the top very much in mind. They spent years building their resume and biding their time (eschewing high income positions, at least initially) until they would be ready for their chance.

  By the time they became nominees — Roberts as Chief Justice, and Obama as President — both men were the subject of tremendous admiration by their political allies. For many conservatives, Roberts was nearly ideal as a Supreme Court nominee; for many liberals, Obama is nearly ideal as a Presidential candidate. Of course, political opponents tend to see both men as wolves in sheep's clothing. For many liberals, Roberts is a hard-core conservative who faked being principled to get confirmed. And for many conservatives, Obama is a hard-core liberal who is just pretending to be some sort of post-partisan moderate to win the White House.

  And meanwhile, I think it's hard for outside observers to get a sense of either of them as people. Now I suppose you never actually really know public figures, so I'm just focusing here on public perceptions. But both Obama and Roberts come off as unusually measured and in control in public; public observers of them don't expect to see the kind of personal quirks that would reveal their personalities. Indeed, their most human public moments are when we see them with their adorable young children.

  Anyway, I don't want to take this too far. Obama and Roberts are obviously very different people in many ways. (Among other things, Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review and Roberts was Managing Editor — totally different jobs!) But I do see some interesting similarities.
twwren:
Except Roberts resume was built on achievement. Quirky indeed.
8.28.2008 2:14pm
OrinKerr:
twwren,

I'm not saying you have to vote for one or the other: In fact, when given the chance, Obama voted against Roberts. I'm just pointing out possible similarities in their personal styles and histories.
8.28.2008 2:20pm
Hoosier:
Both were publicly subjected to shallow criticism by Joe Biden (?).
8.28.2008 2:27pm
alkali (mail):
I think this is very perceptive. I would add to this comment ...

[P]olitical opponents tend to see both men as wolves in sheep's clothing. For many liberals, Roberts is a hard-core conservative who faked being principled to get confirmed. And for many conservatives, Obama is a hard-core liberal who is just pretending to be some sort of post-partisan moderate to win the White House.

... that I suspect that it is also true of both men that to the extent they dissent from their own side's orthodoxy, and they are each thoughtful enough that they probably have a few such disagreements, they keep those disagreements under their hats.

That is certainly not to say that Roberts is really a secret liberal or that Obama is a secret conservative. But some people highlight such disagreements (which is fine, it takes all kinds) and some people don't, and Roberts and Obama seem to me to be among those that don't.
8.28.2008 2:28pm
krs:
another important difference is that Roberts is qualified to be Chief Justice.
8.28.2008 2:29pm
SATA_Interface:
8.28.2008 2:39pm
Constantin:
I would disagree with the characterization of Obama as "remarkably articulate". They guy who writes the speeches isn't bad at one genre of political speech. Obama is mediocre-to-brutal when speaking without that script, and we have virtually nothing he can claim as his writing to compensate.

And I guess I'll say it, no affirmative action for Roberts. Obama himself admits that he likely benefitted from it in college and law school.
8.28.2008 2:48pm
OrinKerr:
Constantin,

Given that Obama graduated from Harvard Law magna cum laude, which at the time was about the top 10% of the class, I don't know why it matters how Obama got in to law school. Can you explain why you think it matters?

As for writing the script, my understanding is that Obama's best known addresses -- and his very articulate books -- were written by himself. Is that wrong?
8.28.2008 2:53pm
Old33 (mail):
Except Roberts resume was built on achievement.

You're limiting what counts as "achievement."

Roberts and Obama chose different career paths. Do you doubt that Obama, had he chosen to do so, could have left Harvard and gone directly into DOJ, or could have clerked for an appellate judge (and, likely, SCOTUS)? Editors-in-chief of HLR have an ability to punch that ticket, if that's what they want.

Instead, Obama chose the political route. And achieved election to the state senate, U.S. Senate, and now his party's nomination for President. That's not achievement to you?
8.28.2008 2:54pm
krs:
SATA_Interface, nicely done.

Constantin, Obama had good grades at Harvard Law and went on to be a law professor at U. Chicago, a state legislator, a senator, and now the first black candidate from a major party for president of the United States. If AA got him into Harvard, then his story provides strong support for that policy. He succeeded at Harvard and afterward. If he can thank AA for giving him the chance to succeed, then good for AA.

I think AA is a generally misguided policy, but I don't see how it undermines Obama's achievements.
8.28.2008 2:57pm
Joe Kowalski (mail):

Obama is mediocre-to-brutal when speaking without that script, and we have virtually nothing he can claim as his writing to compensate.

While Obama clearly has a mild stutter when speaking extemporaneously, which certainly puts off people expecting a certain level smoothness, I believe the content of what he says does demonstrate depth of knowledge. You may disagree with what he says, but the content is there if you are patient enough to hear him through.
8.28.2008 2:59pm
Frog Leg (mail):
Constantin: And I guess I'll say it, no affirmative action for Roberts. Obama himself admits that he likely benefitted from it in college and law school.

Is there a better argument possible for affirmative action than this? If somebody so obviously talented needed AA to get in, maybe AA is not so bad.
8.28.2008 3:00pm
Constantin:
I will plead oversight, egregious at that, on the books. I was focused on his political items. On the speeches, there's conflicting evidence. The race speech, which I'd say looks foolish after the Wright disavowal, allegedly was his pen. Not so for the famous 2004 Convention speech, the lauded post-Iowa speech, etc., where Jon Favreau was toasted in the media as at least part-author.

I stand by my assessment of his extemporaneous speaking, which I'd classify as the most commonly held example of articulation. He's as bad as Bush, at least.

On affirmative action, you cite Obama as a standout from a very young age. Had this been true up until and including college, I'd have to wonder why he asserts he needed AA to get into Harvard law. In total, I think it's willfully blind to discuss Obama's record of pre-political achievement without at least broaching the subject of affirmative action, particularly when he doesn't dispute that he benefitted from it.
8.28.2008 3:03pm
Old33 (mail):
On affirmative action, you cite Obama as a standout from a very young age. Had this been true up until and including college, I'd have to wonder why he asserts he needed AA to get into Harvard law.

Obama doesn't assert that he needed AA to get in. In fact, he declined to fill in the box for racial group on the HLS application (although, with a name like Barack Obama...)

What Obama has written and said is that he believes he likely benefitted from AA; not that he sought it out. Again, with a name like Barack Obama, the admissions officer reviewing that file can safely assume that he's not a WASP.
8.28.2008 3:08pm
OrinKerr:
Contantin,

I don't understand how the subsequent Wright issues makes the speech inarticulate -- how do future events impact the articulateness of a past speech?

As for Obama and Roberts being standouts at a young age, I was thinking of both of them starting being standouts when they got to law school in their 20s and stood out at Harvard. I don't know much of consequence that either Obama or Roberts did before law school, so I don't know of either of them being "standouts" at that point. (In my view, early 20s counts as a young age -- we're talking about public figures, not child actors or sports stars.)
8.28.2008 3:10pm
SPO:
I don't recall Roberts changing his tune on positions based on which which way the wind blows, see, e.g., missile defense.
8.28.2008 3:11pm
Michael J.Z Mannheimer (mail):
Let's put this affirmative action thing to rest once and for all. No one who has served on the editorial board of a top-ranked law review could honestly think that the outgoing board of the Harvard Law Review achieved a consensus on the following proposition: "The hell with the best qualified candidate for President [Editor-in-Chief]. Let's pick the black guy."

Those of us who have been in that position know that the one and only concern in picking one's successors is the continuation of the tradition of excellence that has prevailed for close to a century or more. To those of us in the know, any suggestion that Obama's ascension to President of Harvard Law Review was a result of affirmative action is utterly and completely asinine.
8.28.2008 3:13pm
Anon21:
In total, I think it's willfully blind to discuss Obama's record of pre-political achievement without at least broaching the subject of affirmative action, particularly when he doesn't dispute that he benefitted from it.

All he has said is that he may have, and he doesn't know. That's understandable caution, because he won't speak to something he has no way of knowing. If he checked the box on his application, it was taken into consideration, but he cannot know with certainty whether or not he would have been admitted absent that factor. Many students apply to HLS each year not knowing if they're quite good enough to get in. Obama is no exception.

In any event, once he was admitted, his achievements there were virtually unsurpassed by his classmates. You seem to have answered Orin's question as to why possible AA help for Obama is relevant by asserting that it is. I'm not convinced.
8.28.2008 3:14pm
OrinKerr:
Michael J.Z Mannheimer,

Actually, I don't think anyone here has claimed that Obama became President of the HLR due to affirmative action. It's possible that he became a *member* due to affirmative action, but then I don't know if the HLR had instituted its affirmative action plan by then. (Full confession: I was merely a non-HLR commoner at HLS; I was happy just to carry the bags of those able to be a part of the Law Review's tradition of excellence.) In any event, I think the claim was about admission to HLS, not ascension to the heavens by becoming the President of the HLR.
8.28.2008 3:19pm
KWC (mail):
Orin: Was it not obvious from its conception that this post would yield nothing but "how dare you compare our precicious Roberts to that lowly Obama"-type criticism?

The youngest Chief Justice ever and no one thinks that maybe he's not qualified for the role? Hmm, I wonder if that's becuase, I don't know, you're biased?
8.28.2008 3:22pm
M (mail):
Is it that people thought Roberts was lying about being principled or that they thought he had very conservative principles? The latter, I'd think. It's not as if "principles" are ideologically neutral, after all. It seems to me that he is a quite conservative man who applies his conservative principles in a quite consistent way, just as we all should have expected.
8.28.2008 3:25pm
Norman Bates (mail):
When considering the obviously impressive achievements of Obama at Harvard Law, it is also worth considering that some person with better entering credentials might have met or even exceeded Obama's achievements except he was denied admission because of his skin color. We can never know with a certainty and that is another affirmative action tragedy.
8.28.2008 3:28pm
OrinKerr:
Norman Bates,

If you had gone to Harvard Law School, you would know that this about as likely as your chances of being hit by an asteroid.
8.28.2008 3:31pm
Houston Lawyer:
While Roberts was on every short list to be a justice on the supreme court, just a few months ago Obama was on almost no one's list to be president.

And give me the names of the terrorists that Roberts has been hanging out with lately.
8.28.2008 3:32pm
anon101:
Norman Bates:

(Assuming that someone with better entering credentials was indeed turned away due to skin color), that person surely would have been accepted at at least one of the other top law schools in the county and also achieved great things.
8.28.2008 3:33pm
PaddyL (mail):
Roberts is honest and honorable. Obama is a serial liar and amoral. Other than that they appear to be similar.
8.28.2008 3:33pm
GV:
Interesting comparison, and I think right on the money, although I agree with the comment from "M" directly above.

As sort of an aside, I read an article about how Obama was strongly encouraged to go the clerkship route, and had appellate judges tell Harvard professors that they would be happy to hire Obama, but he chose not to apply. I thought that was interesting. Given that he likely could have worked for a feeder judge and had a reasonably good shot at clerking at the Supreme Court (something most law students would consider the pinnacle post-law-school achievement), it’s hard to believe he turned that down. But maybe I’m just projecting.
8.28.2008 3:34pm
PhanTom:

Roberts is honest and honorable. Obama is a serial liar and amoral. Other than that they appear to be similar.


The point of the post was to compare him to Roberts, not McCain, but the similarities are duly noted.

--PtM
8.28.2008 3:36pm
GV:
Orin, just curious since you’re obviously a sort of politically moderate person: Would you ever, and have you ever, voted for a democrat? (Feel free to ignore, so your potential judgeship is not scuttled.)
8.28.2008 3:37pm
Constantin:
Michael, doesn't Orin's citation to affirmative action slots on the Harvard Law Review (I didn't know they existed) refute your assertion? If it's formal policy for HLR to "pick the black guy", as you phrased it, for membership based on race, is it so hard to think that similar thought processes overrode a commitment to excellence when it came to the editor in chief spot?

To be sure, I have no proof or even suggestion that Obama was elected editor based on race. But I'm not so naive to discount it, either. Especially at a place that twenty years later, in less PC times, ran out its president to appease a politically correct mob.
8.28.2008 3:37pm
Steve H. (mail):
I'm not taking sides in the "Did Obama benefit from affirmative action?" debate here.

But something about it strikes me as notable.
Were Obama a complete goof who had never achieved anything at Harvard, he'd be roundly criticized for getting ahead based on his skin color and held up as proof that affirmative action is awful.

As it is, Obama wasn't a goof at Harvard, and has managed to put together a respectable career afterward. Yet he's still knocked (at least by Constantin) as somehow getting over on his skin color, and as proof that affirmative action is awful.

Isn't that having it both ways? Shouldn't the debate be more honest in acknowledging both the downsides and, perhaps, the up-sides of the program?

If Barack Obama did, indeed, benefit from affirmative action, doesn't that support, on at least one level, its necessity?

(apologies to Orin if I'm hijacking the thread here, which isn't really about affirmative action.)
8.28.2008 3:41pm
krs:

No one who has served on the editorial board of a top-ranked law review could honestly think that the outgoing board of the Harvard Law Review achieved a consensus on the following proposition: "The hell with the best qualified candidate for President [Editor-in-Chief]. Let's pick the black guy."


As Orin says, this accusation hasn't been leveled at HLR, but I don't think it's as outlandish a suggestion as you say it is. They thought this was scholarship of some kind.

I wouldn't rule it out, but then again, the issue's irrelevant because you're responding to an argument no one's making.
8.28.2008 3:44pm
Ohio Scrivener (mail):
I agree with twwren. Roberts had a significant record to stand on when he was nominated for Chief Justice.

Before being appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals, John Roberts won 25 out of 39 cases he argued before the Supreme Court. He is regarded by many as one of the great Supreme Court litigators of his generation. He earned that distinction by his record not vague promises of hope and change. In contrast, Obama has had a host of people, including some in his own party, question his readiness to be President.

While it is certainly true that Obama and Roberts have been criticized for ideological reasons, those types of criticisms by their nature have a more limited audience (partisans). If you can successfully question a candidate's competency, however, then that criticism may become more broadly disqualifying. Just ask Harriet Miers.
8.28.2008 3:45pm
LNT:
Could someone please enlighten me as to what Obama's achievements actually are?

He was a community oraganizer: What did he do to improve the lives of the community?

He was director of the Chicago Annenberg School Challenge, which doled out $100 million but was deemed ineffective at improving the schools (an impossible job, perhaps, but does this count as an achievement?).

He won state political office because he was unopposed (after Obama's team had all other candidates disqualified).

The head of Illinois State Senate admitted that Obama was given credit for a number of bills--that had been brought forth or pushed by other members--in order to build up Obama's thin record.

He won his current Senate seat after his opponent's divorce records were unsealed and revealed salacious details that assured Obama of a win.

Roberts, on the other hand built a nationally recognized appellate practice and was regarded as one of the nation's top Supreme Court practitioners before being appointed to the D.C. Court of Appeals. He then gained experience on that court before being appointed to the Supreme Court.

The two are not comparable.
8.28.2008 3:47pm
Old33 (mail):
While we're on the topic of AA in the legal profession, surely we can all agree that the biggest beneficiary of AA in the legal profession was Clarence Thomas.

General counsel for a second-tier federal agency.

One year on the DC Circuit with no paper trail.

Then proclaimed the "most qualified" person in the entire country to sit on the Supreme Court.


/back to your Roberts/Obama debate...
8.28.2008 3:48pm
Michael J.Z Mannheimer (mail):
Orin,

But that's really the point, isn't it? Consider the following two propositions: (1) He got into HLS because of affirmative action, the implication being that he couldn't have gotten in on his own merits; and (2) He ascended to Presidency of HLR on his own merits.

Huh??

They couldn't possibly both be true. And since we agree that #2 is true, #1 must be false, either on its face (i.e., Obama did NOT get into HLS b/c of affirmative action) or in its implication (i.e., that Obama got into HLS because of affirmative action says nothing about his merit). And, finally, if we agree that affirmative action probably played some part, so that the very last proposition is true, then it means that affirmative action gave an extraordinary individual the chance to prove himself at Harvard by being elcted President of HLR on his own merits. So in this instance, at least, affirmative action did exactly what it was supposed to do.

Granted, this is not a full-throated endorsement of affirmative action because Obama may be an outlier in this respect. But maybe the handful of pull-themselves-up-by-their-own-bootstrap stories we always hear are the outliers and Obama is the norm.
8.28.2008 3:49pm
Constantin:
Steve, I'll respond since you mention me. I am against affirmative action because I think it's constitutionally and morally wrong to disrcminate against people based on their skin color. The consequences of whether it's good public policy or not are irrelevant to me (even though, as many have shown, in total the policy appears to do more harm than good for the people it is intended to help).

I concede that people can disagree about what Obama proves regarding the policy worth of affirmative action, if he indeed did benefit from it. Your argument is one side, but isn't the other that the guy would have succeeded in life whether he went to Harvard or Michigan for law school, with the later option foregoing racial discrmination?
8.28.2008 3:49pm
Anderson (mail):
He won his current Senate seat after his opponent's divorce records were unsealed and revealed salacious details that assured Obama of a win.

Alan Keyes had a salacious divorce?
8.28.2008 3:59pm
Fredrik Nyman XXX (mail):
For many liberals, Roberts is a hard-core conservative who faked being principled to get confirmed. And for many conservatives, Obama is a hard-core liberal who is just pretending to be some sort of post-partisan moderate to win the White House.

This seems testable to me, since we can observe the actual votes both men have taken. For Roberts: are there any court decisions he has made that are principled (=applying the law as written) while leading to a result we can reasonably believe he didn't like as a conservative/republican/whatever?

Similarly for Obama: are there any votes he has cast that have gone against the party line?
8.28.2008 4:00pm
anon252 (mail):
Hmm. People who wind up being extremely successful in life tend to show extraordinary promise at an early age. People who get elected or appointed to high office tend to know how to get people to like them. I doubt Roberts and Obama are the only examples.
8.28.2008 4:02pm
mac (mail) (www):
Comparing Obama with Roberts is a no-go for a 10 reasons:

1. Roberts is only reality-based in theory - Obama can actually 'get down.'

2. Obama inspires - Roberts informs.

3. Obama runs in the surf and mesmerizes the world's females - Roberts runs in the surf and they become bored out of their skulls.

4.Roberts is the type of conservative America needs delivered from - Obama is the type of new-breed progressive America needs to embrace.

5. Roberts muses - Obama dreams.

6. Most young people have never heard of Roberts, never want to hear of Roberts and couldn't give a flying toss about Roberts - most young people on the other hand, can't get enough of Obama.

7. Roberts comes across like a middle-tier accountant - Obama comes across like a tres cool CEO.

8. Roberts appears vitamin D deficient - Obama not.

9. Obama plays basketball - Roberts does crosswords.

10. Obama is loved around the globe - citizens of the globe are unaware that Roberts exists.

Night and day ladies and gentlemen.
8.28.2008 4:03pm
Anderson (mail):
Night and day

Metaphorically speaking.
8.28.2008 4:04pm
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
Constantin and krs,

It's unfathomable to me. I've been in that room, not at HLR but at another top-five journal (hint: it rhymes with "Bolumbia"). We took our jobs very seriously. Probably way too seriously, but that's beside the point. You might get one or two voices, such as the author of the student note cited by krs, who would look primarily to the color of the candidate's skin, but they would be shouted down. There is no way -- no way -- the editorial board is going to pick anyone for Editor-in-Chief who is not extraorinarily well qualified for the job.
8.28.2008 4:04pm
SP:
Did Roberts have a book deal coming out of law school? Has Larry Tribe claimed he was somehow above other students, and didn't need to bluebook?

The difference is, Roberts is good, and did work hard. Obama worked hard, too, but at working the system, not at knowing the law. In other words, the difference between the two is that one wanted to be a judge, and the other wanted to get elected.
8.28.2008 4:15pm
LNT:
SP -

Back to the AA stuff. How many HLR editors have book contracts coming out of law school, particularly with no noteworthy scholarly work? That is entirely explained by the fact that he was the first black HLR editor.

Retrospecitve musings by Tribe, who is also a comsummate politician, are essentially worthless (as debated here in an earlier post).
8.28.2008 4:26pm
Dave N (mail):
He won his current Senate seat after his opponent's divorce records were unsealed and revealed salacious details that assured Obama of a win.

Alan Keyes had a salacious divorce?
Anderson, you are usually much, much better than that. You know, as well as I do, that the 2004 Illinois election was much messier than that.

First, Blair Hull, who spent $29,000,000 of his own money in the primary, imploded when it became apparent that he had battered one of his former wives. This paved the way for Obama to win the Democratic primary.

Next, the Republican nominee, Jack Ryan, was forced to withdraw when a sealed record from his divorce from actress Jeri Ryan was unsealed, revealing that he wanted her to go with him to sex clubs and engage in sexual activities with other people.

Then, and only then, when no one else wanted the nomination, did the Republicans put forth Alan Keyes, who was clearly a carpetbagger and a bit of a nut. At that point, Obama might as well have been seeking re-election to his state senate seat given the level of opposition he faced.

Now, I do not dispute either Obama's intellect or that in life you often make your own luck (which Obama clearly did when he gave up his safe state senate seat knowing that Blair Hull was going to outspend everyone). But even snarks should have a grain of truth.

To the commenter above who noted that John Roberts is the youngest Chief Justice, I would note that had Chief Justice Rehnquist died at any time other than when he did, John Roberts would not be Chief Justice today.

Remember, he was nominated for Justice O'Connor's seat and was cruising toward confirmation when then Chief Justice Rehnquist died, President Bush withdrew Roberts' nomination for the O'Connor seat and substituted it with the nomination for Chief Justice.

Had Roberts already been confirmed for the O'Connor seat, I cannot imagine him immediately being nominated for Chief. Likewise, had Rehnquist died earlier, I suspect (but cannot prove) that someone else would likely have been chosen.

I do not take away either man's accomplishments. I do know which one I respect more, but that is an entirely different issue.
8.28.2008 4:31pm
Ben P (mail):

They couldn't possibly both be true. And since we agree that #2 is true, #1 must be false, either on its face (i.e., Obama did NOT get into HLS b/c of affirmative action) or in its implication (i.e., that Obama got into HLS because of affirmative action says nothing about his merit). And, finally, if we agree that affirmative action probably played some part, so that the very last proposition is true, then it means that affirmative action gave an extraordinary individual the chance to prove himself at Harvard by being elcted President of HLR on his own merits. So in this instance, at least, affirmative action did exactly what it was supposed to do.


It seems to me the last of these is most likely.

I have no information as to the degree or method that HLS uses to consider minority applicants, but I suspect it's probably not as pronounced as some imagine it to be. I would imagine that the admissions committee does make a serious attempt to comply with Gratz and Grutter and not merely pretend so.

Granted, Gratz and Grutter were not around when Obama was applying to law school, but given HLS's presumed focus on academic excellence, I don't know how much it might have changed.

If you look at any top tier school's admissions process, they probably have several layers. There's a number of students that are more or less "sure thing" admits comprising probably less than half of the class. Another group becomes "maybe" and get subject to further review, and another group are summarily rejected.

When they look at the "maybe" category, is where lots of other considerations come in. If I were an admissions counselor I might well decide to give preference to someone who has a mediocre undergrad GPA and a 168 LSAT but has an impressive work resume over someone who has a very solid undergrad GPA and the same or higher LSAT but is straight from college.

I also might consider that I want geographic diversity in this. Given GPA's and LSAT's all within a standard deviation,it might well be rational to choose individuals from the Southeast, or the West Coast when the class already has significant numbers from the east coast.

Race might well, and probably does play a part here too. But it's between relatively similar candidates. Sure, any one of those candidates **Might** actually turn out to be a standout, but admissions people have to make decisions somehow.

Basically what I'm arguing in this already too long post is that when a lot of people here talk about Obama "being the subject of AA" they seem to assume Obama was lifted out of the "no chance" category into the "sure thing" category. I don't think AA, even at HLS, is anything close to that drastic.
8.28.2008 4:32pm
Carl W. (mail):
As someone who graduated middle of the class (without honors or HLR) from HLS in this decade, it is astounding that Obama graduated magna from HLS. Coupled with Pres of HLR, you should trust that Obama was one without many equals at HLS. It is quite revealing how many of the commenters here have attempted, in quite a silly fashion, to discredit some of Obama's most impressive achievements.
8.28.2008 4:36pm
Thales (mail) (www):
Roberts is an elitist arugula eating crypto-Muslim crazy black militant Christian that hates America and hides his birth certificate too? How'd he get that one past the Judiciary Committee?
8.28.2008 4:37pm
Toby:
I think it is funny that the nitpickers can't seem to remember (a) how Allan Keys got into the race and (b) who is more likely to have a vitamin D defficiency when living in North America.

While ignoring commonly known facts cal open opportunities for amusing quips, being soon to do so in the pillars of an argument does tend to case doubt on the other pillars used.
8.28.2008 4:38pm
Crunchy Frog:
I'm wondering which one (Obama or Roberts) would be most offended by the comparison.

Methinks Michael J.Z. Mannheimer doth protest too much. There's always a way.

Frederick Nyman XXX: Roberts took a ton of flak for one of his earliest opinions regarding the girl in Georgia(?) who got strip-searched (I'm far too lazy to look it up, but I do real work for a living). In it he explains that it's only what the Constitution says that matters, not his personal preferences. Does that count?

mac: A middle-tier accountant with a hot wife. Major points in his favor.
8.28.2008 4:45pm
Ben P (mail):

I'm wondering which one (Obama or Roberts) would be most offended by the comparison.


I may be putting to much of my own values into both of them, but it seems to me that either would be relatively pleased to be compared to the other.

What Professor Kerr wrote put words to some extent to the way I feel about both of them. I don't necessarily agree with Obama's politics, but the more I look at Obama the more I come to the conclusion that while he may have liberal ideals, he is very pragmatic and very evidence focused in the way he considers problems. He seems to be more concerned with the way something will work rather than some preconcieved notion of how "things should be."

Roberts is much the same way. I don't doubt that his political and judicial views are mainstream conservative, but in nearly all of his opinions I don't think that he made a hasty decision about the matter.
8.28.2008 4:59pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
Methinks Michael J.Z. Mannheimer doth protest too much. There's always a way.
Who cares what some guy who went to Wolumbia thinks, anyway?
8.28.2008 4:59pm
OrinKerr:
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer,

My point is that to the 99.999995% of the population that wasn't on the HLR, being President of the HLR is one of the least notable and least interesting parts of Obama. I gather to you it was some sort of crowing achievement, but the rest of us plebes aren't seeing it that way.

GV,

Someday the Daily Princetonian's archives from 1991-1993 will be posted online, and the deep secrets of my political past will be revealed.
8.28.2008 5:00pm
Elliot (mail):
Professor - I've had much the same thoughts.
8.28.2008 5:01pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
Can anyone explain me what it means to "get down"?
8.28.2008 5:13pm
James Lindgren (mail):
Barack Obama is a very smart, very decent, very open-minded guy. Indeed, he is in personality a moderate, which is one reason that people have trouble understanding his politics, which are extremely left for a presidential candidate, though they wouldn't stand out among academics at all.

People need to read his issue positions on his website to get a better feel for his approaches to problems. I think people understand his (admirable) approaches to people quite well, which is a big part of his popularity.
8.28.2008 5:16pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Given that Obama graduated from Harvard Law magna cum laude, which at the time was about the top 10% of the class, I don't know why it matters how Obama got in to law school. Can you explain why you think it matters?


It depends on the coursework he took that lead to it. If he got it by taking substantive (and more difficult) courses like administrative law, then I would say it’s an achievement worthy of respect. If on the other hand he boosted his GPA by taking mainly bulls*** electives akin to the “Modern Issues of Racism and the Law” course that he taught, then it’s not so impressive that he had a higher GPA.
8.28.2008 5:19pm
Troll Feeder:
"Roberts is a hard-core conservative who faked being principled to get confirmed"

That is a nonsensical statement. Hard-core conservative equals principled.
8.28.2008 5:23pm
hawkins:

If on the other hand he boosted his GPA by taking mainly bulls*** electives akin to the “Modern Issues of Racism and the Law” course that he taught, then it’s not so impressive that he had a higher GPA.


If both classes are graded on a curve, a "bulls*** elective" is no easier to get a good grade in that a more difficult class.
8.28.2008 5:24pm
Waldensian (mail):

He's as bad [at public speaking] as Bush, at least.

You must be talking about Jeb Bush? Because Obama talks circles around the other one.
8.28.2008 5:25pm
Aultimer:
Since no one else is willing to suggest the obvious - maybe Roberts is also a Manchurian Candidate-type sleeper. Anyone checked his birth certificate and travel records to see when his foreign masters might have implanted the program?
8.28.2008 5:35pm
CJColucci:
I can't help but wonder whether these Obama posts are written for the very purpose of provoking the by now entirely predictable comment threads.
8.28.2008 5:44pm
titus32:
If both classes are graded on a curve, a "bulls*** elective" is no easier to get a good grade in that a more difficult class.

Not true in my experience. At my law school (a different top school) the curves in the softer seminar classes were more lenient. Plus, professors tended to test differently in the softer classes -- there is less emphasis on analytical reasoning. But from what I've seen, all of this is speculative with respect to Obama.
8.28.2008 5:46pm
Hoosier:
Consider the following two propositions: (1) He got into HLS because of affirmative action, the implication being that he couldn't have gotten in on his own merits; and (2) He ascended to Presidency of HLR on his own merits.

Huh??

They couldn't possibly both be true.


You conclusion does not follow at all. Consider Dean Acheson, who needed the Groton-Yale Old Boy network connection to get into Harvard Law, due to his C's in college.

But at Harvard, he blossomed, and became a clerk for Brandeis after graduation. He was neither admitted on the basis of his own merits, nor successful at HLS on the basis of any factor other than his merit. So it certainly is possible.

In Obama's case, I have no idea. No one has presented evidence that he somehow did not deserve admission to HLS. Nor that he received any benefit from his skin tone one enrolled.

For what it's worth, from a veteran academic: Both students and faculty who receive benefits due to race-based affirmative action tend to perform at the required level once they are admitted or hired. (Speaking from my own experience, and recognizing that there are exceptions to all generalizations.)

Re: Roberts--McCain should choose him as his running mate. Midwesterner. Worked in a steel mill. Catholic. Appeals to the conservative base. Great story of adopting his children.

What's not to love?
8.28.2008 5:48pm
Hoosier:
Aultimer: Is Buffalo in Manchuria? Otherwise, I think we're safe.
8.28.2008 5:49pm
Hoosier:
Methinks Michael J.Z. Mannheimer doth protest too much. There's always a way.
Who cares what some guy who went to Wolumbia thinks, anyway?


"Wolumbia"? Ah yes!

That's where my lawyer took his JD.

Is it a good school?
8.28.2008 5:52pm
Carl W. (mail):
Thorley Winston, your extremely ridiculous bias is telling re whether Obama's performance is an "achievement worthy of respect". Are you really suggesting that we now discount Obama's (or ANYONE's) magna at HLS based on the specific courses that he chose? As a someone who actually attended, BS'ing your way through class selection to magna at HLS is about as conceivable as my winning the gold in the gymnastics all around in 2012.
8.28.2008 5:54pm
asdf:
Ben P has absolutely no idea what he is talking about. The vast majority of African Americans at HLS would not be accepted under a race blind admissions process. The median African American LSAT is 3 standard deviations away from the true median.

In fact, because he was apparently NOT accepted to Yale--and thus did not have an extraordinary academic profile--he almost certainly would have been denied at Harvard if he was not African American.

Of course he was probably well qualified as President of HLR, since his grades placed him in the top 10% of his class, and his personality inspires and motivates crowds.

In a way, affirmative action provided Obama with extra chances and time to grow up, and opportunity that is not provided to the average white American. If they don't rock the LSAT and undergrad, they simply get denied at Harvard. And nothing they can do short of curing cancer will give them the same admissions advantage Obama received to get in HLS.
8.28.2008 6:04pm
anon252 (mail):
Race might well, and probably does play a part here too. But it's between relatively similar candidates. Sure, any one of those candidates **Might** actually turn out to be a standout, but admissions people have to make decisions somehow.

Basically what I'm arguing in this already too long post is that when a lot of people here talk about Obama "being the subject of AA" they seem to assume Obama was lifted out of the "no chance" category into the "sure thing" category. I don't think AA, even at HLS, is anything close to that drastic.


Yes, it is. Grutter revealed that white U. Mich students had an average LSAT of 168, blacks between 155 and 158, depending on the year. Mid-150s is a third-tier law school's average. In some years, not a single black LSAT-taker gets an LSAT as high as the average at Harvard, yet Harvard still has about ten percent black students, and has to compete with Yale and Stanford for them. That said, Obama may have had the grades and LSAT to get into Harvard without AA, and, if he didn't, he's clearly an AA success story. If I were an AA opponent, I certainly wouldn't want to talk about Obama as an example of AA.
8.28.2008 6:06pm
MarkField (mail):

I can't help but wonder whether these Obama posts are written for the very purpose of provoking the by now entirely predictable comment threads.


While I sometimes share this view when it comes to other posters, I don't believe it for a moment with Prof. Kerr.
8.28.2008 6:06pm
Bob from Ohio (mail):

Obama was President of the Harvard Law Review and Roberts was Managing Editor — totally different jobs


For us mere mortals, what's the difference?
8.28.2008 6:08pm
asdf:

For what it's worth, from a veteran academic: Both students and faculty who receive benefits due to race-based affirmative action tend to perform at the required level once they are admitted or hired. (


I think this guy is even more clueless than Ben P, unless he means to say that "not failing out" is "performing at the required level." Racial minorities disproportionately place in the bottom 25% of their law classes; you can't fight the data.
8.28.2008 6:08pm
Hoosier:
In a way, affirmative action provided Obama with extra chances and time to grow up, and opportunity that is not provided to the average white American.

Well, yes. But the average African American lacks other opportunities that the average white American has, right?
8.28.2008 6:10pm
Hoosier:
I think this guy is even more clueless than Ben P,

I must be: I don't even know who Ben P is!
8.28.2008 6:12pm
Dave N (mail):
Hoosier,

The problem with McCain choosing Roberts as his running mate are 1) Vice President would be a step down for Roberts; and 2) running for political office is considered unseemly for judges, even the Chief Justice of the United States. As a result, he would have to resign to run and I really don't want the office to be vacant on January 20.
8.28.2008 6:14pm
asdf:
Of course African Americans face discrimination--that is why we have affirmative action.

But only a political hack or ignoramus could honestly claim that Obama would have gotten into HLS without affirmative action! Yale would not have denied him as an African American if he had numbers that Harvard would accept from a non-minority.
8.28.2008 6:15pm
David Hinz (mail) (www):
The analogy is a stretch. Sen Obama graduated Harvard Law School...fine.

The difference is accomplishment v image.

Sen Obama has two -- exactly two accomplishments on which to hang his hat. Funding for Chicago area schools through his efforts on the Annenberg Challenge, and funding for low income housing throughout the Chicago area.

The Annenberg challenge was a failure -- studies demonstrate NO difference in achievement gains between schools which participated and those that did not.

Nearly all of the housing for which he gained funding is now abandoned and falling apart. So, he has NO accomplishments to speak of.

But, he gives a good speech.

Hope and Change is a fortune cookie, not a governance philosophy.
8.28.2008 6:16pm
Hoosier:
Dave N: Yeah, I know. And Charles Evans Hughes lost to Wilson; I admire Roberts tremendously, but he doesn't look like Jove. So it's probably best to keep your guaranteed lifetime job if you have it.
8.28.2008 6:22pm
Dave N (mail):
Bob from Ohio,

I am not an alum of the Harvard, so obviously I did not work on HLR. However, I was Executive Editor of two secondary law reviews at my law school, so I might be able to answer IF the Harvard structure is at all comparable to the one I dealt with:

1) The Editor in Chief (or at Harvard, the President) of the law review is the student who coordinates with teh other editors and presides over editor meetings to determine which articles/comments/notes, etc. to accept.

2) The Managing Editor is responsible for coordinating with the various authors of various pieces and making sure that the authors are aware of deadlines and meet them.

3) The Executive Editor (my title) is ultimately responsible for ensuring that the pieces match the law review style, which really means learning and applying the arcania of the Blue Book.

4) Articles Editors (and Note and Comment Editors) work with the Managing Editor on specific articles, notes, and comments.

Different law schools have different titles for the same positions--but I think my description reasonably describes what the titles mean at most law reviews.
8.28.2008 6:27pm
howardl:
Obama's achievements are a central issue in the election. But the word "achievement" is used in two different senses: what he has been and what he has done. Obama supporters want to talk about what he has been -- president of the review, state senator, US senator, community organizer, board chairman. With Roberts, one can point to what he has done: argued these cases; written these decisions; written these articles. I sense (see Karl Rove today in weekly standard or wsj) a growing definition of Obama that he doesn't have accomplishments in the sense of this what-he-has-done category. I think this is a drum that the McCain camp can beat over and over and over until the election.
8.28.2008 6:48pm
Perry:
David Hinz (et al),

I suppose that beating one of the strongest and well funded democratic candidates in recent times, writing two bestselling books, overcoming being black WITH a muslim sounding name in this country to actually be thisclose to being the President of the US?!? and graduating in the top 10% of one of the best law schools on the planet don't qualify a person for being talented, driven and accomplished.

I'd like to see what YOU have done, sir.

To the 'AA' folks - i'd like to see where most of you would be in life in this country if you were black and were raised by a single mother. Do people try to take away what you've accomplished in life because your parents had enough income to send you to good schools and/or were upper-middle or upper class? probably not.
8.28.2008 6:57pm
Perry:
(to add to the above post)
which is in no way a defense of AA, just an indictment of the self righteousness of the people bringing this up.

How does someone look at Barack Obama and tell me that he is unworthy and only succeeded in life because of AA while at the same time likely believing that George W Bush deserves what he has gotten in life? really?
8.28.2008 7:00pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):
Thorley Winston, your extremely ridiculous bias is telling re whether Obama's performance is an "achievement worthy of respect". Are you really suggesting that we now discount Obama's (or ANYONE's) magna at HLS based on the specific courses that he chose?


Yes actually I am saying just that. If someone graduates with honors because they took easier and fluffier courses than someone who took more difficult and substantive coursework, then it is perfectly fair – and indeed appropriate - to discount their “achievement” accordingly.


Whether this applies to Barack Obama we don’t know for certain because we don’t know what courses he took that earned him a comparatively higher GPA then his classmates. Given that he seems to have a fondness for injecting racialist politics into the courses he teaches and that he couldn’t come up with a better reason to oppose the Roberts nomination than “empathy,” I think it’s fair for people to question whether Obama achieved his “honor” shows whether his GPA shows that he set out to make himself look good on paper rather than actually learned anything of substance in law school*.

* Insert joke here.
8.28.2008 7:05pm
Thorley Winston (mail) (www):

writing two bestselling books,


Given the nature of the current bestselling book on the NYT non-fiction list, do you really want to give this as qualification to become President?
8.28.2008 7:08pm
MarkField (mail):

But only a political hack or ignoramus could honestly claim that Obama would have gotten into HLS without affirmative action! Yale would not have denied him as an African American if he had numbers that Harvard would accept from a non-minority.


Only a partisan hack would express such confidence in the complete absence of actual data.
8.28.2008 7:13pm
Carl W. (mail):
Thorley Winston, my point was that your assertion (and attempts at masquerading your bias as an objective critique of Obama's achievements) is entirely silly. One cannot take "easier and fluffier" courses at HLS and coast to magna. It is just not possible. I think just about any alum would tell you the same.

Also, I took one of those "racialist" courses at HLS from a visiting Prof Sunstein and there was nothing easy or fluffy about it. In fact, Admin law was a cakewalk in comparison.
8.28.2008 7:17pm
OrinKerr:
One cannot take "easier and fluffier" courses at HLS and coast to magna. It is just not possible. I think just about any alum would tell you the same.

I disagree, actually. The real trick is clinical courses, which are given full class grades. If you take a 5 credit clinical and schmooze up to the folks you're working with, that can give you 5 credits of an A or A+ without any intellectual heaving lifting.
8.28.2008 7:24pm
Carl W. (mail):
Orin, noted on clinicals. I didn't take any nor do I know many folks who did (nor am I familiar with the HLS clinical program when Obama was in school). But I still stand by the idea that an otherwise unremarkable student can't waltz their way into magna.
8.28.2008 7:29pm
David Warner:
Orin,

I think the Obama you describe here is the one we've wished we had instead of the one it turns out that we do.

I don't fear that he's a wolf in sheep's clothing, I hope that he's a sheep in the wolves' clothing he was forced to wear to get where he is. Preferably a ram.
8.28.2008 7:31pm
Bill Dyer (mail) (www):
With due respect: There are some similarities between the two men. That does not mean that they are alike, or mostly alike, or even very much alike.

I don't think they're alike in any way that's important to the performance of the job Chief Justice Roberts has or the job Sen. Obama wants.
8.28.2008 7:32pm
LM (mail):
When I asked a conservative friend what he thought of Obama after the race relations speech, he said (I'm paraphrasing), "pretty much what you think of John Roberts." Nobody would suggest the comparison is perfect, but I suspect the inability to see its validity might be a decent litmus test of partisan extremism. In fact, other than his gratuitous cheap shot at asteroids, I agree with everything Orin said.
8.28.2008 7:33pm
LM (mail):
James Lindgren:

Barack Obama is a very smart, very decent, very open-minded guy. Indeed, he is in personality a moderate, which is one reason that people have trouble understanding his politics, which are extremely left for a presidential candidate, though they wouldn't stand out among academics at all.

I agree that (like Roberts) his personal moderation and open-mindedness don't advertise an ideology, and his is mainstream liberal. But I disagree that he's as liberal as you say. Other than Bill Clinton, who was aberrationally centrist among recent Democratic candidates, Obama's as moderate-liberal as any Democrat since at least Jimmy Carter. And he's certainly no more liberal than John Kerry who came one state (Ohio) from being elected.
8.28.2008 7:47pm
Mike& (mail):
These comment threads are great.

Let's see... Obama graduated in the top 10% of Harvard Law School, and was the President of the Harvard Law Review.

What did you haters accomplish that make you feel qualified to pass upon his educational accomplishments.
8.28.2008 7:49pm
OrinKerr:
LM,

It's true: I hate those god-damned asteroids. We'd all be better off without their kind.
8.28.2008 7:50pm
MarkField (mail):

It's true: I hate those god-damned asteroids. We'd all be better off without their kind.


Apparently we wouldn't.
8.28.2008 7:56pm
Michael Drake (mail) (www):
"For many liberals, Roberts is a hard-core conservative who faked being principled to get confirmed. And for many conservatives, Obama is a hard-core liberal who is just pretending to be some sort of post-partisan moderate to win the White House."

Probably true in both cases. But then most of us are already political realists.
8.28.2008 8:03pm
LM (mail):
Everybody's a big shot for a few million years while asteroids aren't wiping out much life on Earth. But when they do get us, they don't need affirmative action to do it.
8.28.2008 8:08pm
Swede:
No one who has served on the editorial board of a top-ranked law review could honestly think that the outgoing board of the Harvard Law Review achieved a consensus on the following proposition: "The hell with the best qualified candidate for President [Editor-in-Chief]. Let's pick the black guy."

Why not? The Democrats just did it last night.
8.28.2008 8:26pm
p. rich (mail) (www):
This is a gross suckup to Obama and an unconscionable put down of the Chief Justice, Kerr. Did you forget the pills this morning?
8.28.2008 8:30pm
LM (mail):
Swede:

Classy.
8.28.2008 8:38pm
Hoosier:
LM
Everybody's a big shot for a few million years while asteroids aren't wiping out much life on Earth. But when they do get us, they don't need affirmative action to do it.

Weird coincidence.

My son and I were talking about the Cretaceous Extinction this morning while I was driving him to school. Your stoical comment reminded me of the line that the father-son team of paleontologists who cam up with the "Killer Asteroid" theory used to introduce their findings: Sometimes you have a really bad day, and something falls out of the sky.

Now that, my friends, is "sceince writing" at its best.
8.28.2008 8:42pm
Hoosier:
I'd like to see what YOU have done, sir.

I discovered Bolivia. (I don't know about the others.)
8.28.2008 8:44pm
Jim Miller (mail) (www):
Ben P. says:
I don't necessarily agree with Obama's politics, but the more I look at Obama the more I come to the conclusion that while he may have liberal ideals, he is very pragmatic and very evidence focused in the way he considers problems. He seems to be more concerned with the way something will work rather than some preconcieved notion of how "things should be."

Let me agree and disagree. On political tactics, Obama seems entirely focused on what works. (You can decide for yourself whether that is a positive quality.)

On substantive issues, he seems almost entirely concerned with "how things should be". With exceptions for political reasons.

For example: Consider what he did with the Annenberg Challenge money. We don't have the full story yet, but we know that he passed out millions of dollars to leftwing extremists -- and did nothing to improve the Chicago schools.
8.28.2008 8:52pm
Swede:
Swede:

Classy.


You left out "funny" and "true".

Because we both know that's what happened.
8.28.2008 9:29pm
MQuinn:
Orin Kerr,

This was a refreshing post, and I enjoyed it very much.
8.28.2008 9:31pm
David Warner:
"When I asked a conservative friend what he thought of Obama after the race relations speech, he said (I'm paraphrasing), "pretty much what you think of John Roberts." Nobody would suggest the comparison is perfect, but I suspect the inability to see its validity might be a decent litmus test of partisan extremism. In fact, other than his gratuitous cheap shot at asteroids, I agree with everything Orin said."

They both demonstrate the capacity to articulate the arguments of the "other side", often more effectively than those on that side itself. The problem I see for libertarians is that Obama unfailingly demonstrates this capacity by articulating social conservative arguments, about abortion for instance, and not the benefits of economic freedom. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

So I'm not yet convinced that my concern with Obama's lack of sympathy for libertarian ideas indicates that my political pH is extreme.
8.28.2008 9:32pm
David Warner:
"I agree that (like Roberts) his personal moderation and open-mindedness don't advertise an ideology, and his is mainstream liberal. But I disagree that he's as liberal as you say."

He's not saying he's liberal. He's saying he's (at least somewhat) left. These two words do have different meanings for large chunks of the electorate. Ideas like "educational debt" are associated with the latter, not the former. Just because Rush Limbaugh thinks liberal=left, it does not therefore follow that, say, my mom does.

Report in above link co-authored by Linda Darling-Hammond
8.28.2008 9:43pm
ATM (mail):
They both demonstrate the capacity to articulate the arguments of the "other side", often more effectively than those on that side itself. The problem I see for libertarians is that Obama unfailingly demonstrates this capacity by articulating social conservative arguments, about abortion for instance, and not the benefits of economic freedom. Please correct me if I'm mistaken.

I can't even begin to comprehend this statement given his rather extreme and obtuse rhetoric against the born alive legislation.
8.28.2008 9:54pm
Benjamin Davis (mail):
I am always amazed at how the group here just feeds on Obama - gnawing on that bone, finding it so impossible for him to measure up for them. It seems it gets to a point of almost a pathological obsession with putting him down.

I think the "not ready" slogan of McCain is not about Obama but more about encouraging persons to be comfortable with the notion in their head that they are not ready to have a person of color in this role.

As to affirmative action, I am just way too tired of watching you folks gnaw on that bone. I have seen people gnaw on that bone for so long. If you were really active on social justice issue maybe I would listen, but I sense most of the time what is going on is an effort to protect privileges that have been in place in this country for hundreds of years.

Affirmative action is such a pale sliver of activism compared to what a true social justice movement would entail.

Best,
Ben
8.28.2008 10:11pm
The General:
Instead, Obama chose the political route. And achieved election to the state senate, U.S. Senate, and now his party's nomination for President. That's not achievement to you?


No.

The Democratic Party just spent it's entire primary season lowering the bar for this black candidate (and the woman candidate, too) because he is black, despite the fact that he has no major accomplishments in the private or public sector, aside from being elected in races in which he was basically unopposed. No white candidate (other than that woman I mentioned) would ever get this sort of special treatment. There wasn't an official program, but considering how liberals think, there's no question he benefited from electoral affirmative action.

He's never pushed through any major controversial legislation that required real leadership. He didn't do very much as a "community organizer" or agitator, or whatever that is (most people can do without it.) He's a paint by numbers lefty who's good at reading a teleprompter. He's never "crossed the aisle" in any meaningful way, despite his claims. He isn't post-racial (ask the Rev. God Damn America Wright) but rather was a member of a black power church for 20 years. He has no significant accomplishments, but the Dems are willing to take a chance because he's liberal and black.
8.28.2008 10:26pm
Swede:
I think the "not ready" slogan of McCain is not about Obama but more about encouraging persons to be comfortable with the notion in their head that they are not ready to have a person of color in this role.

If Condi Rice had wanted to be the Republican candidate for President of the United States of America, it would be hers and she'd win.

And the fact that so many liberals wouldn't have voted for her also says they're still too sexist and racist.

Wow, this game is easy.
8.28.2008 10:27pm
OrinKerr:
This is a gross suckup to Obama and an unconscionable put down of the Chief Justice, Kerr. Did you forget the pills this morning?

I suppose it's too much to ask for a commenter who writes this to offer a reason why. Ah, gotta love the internet.
8.28.2008 10:38pm
Brian K (mail):
It seems it gets to a point of almost a pathological obsession with putting him down.

what do you mean almost?
8.28.2008 10:42pm
OrinKerr:
Swede,

I assume you think the long history of blacks winning the Democratic nomination shows just how biased they are?
8.28.2008 10:43pm
davod (mail):
"Orin: Was it not obvious from its conception that this post would yield nothing but "how dare you compare our precicious Roberts to that lowly Obama"-type criticism"

This comment is more approptriately - "how dare you compare The One to that lowly Roberts"
8.28.2008 10:47pm
Swede:
No Orin,

My "concern" is how easily the left writes off as racist the fact that so many people won't be voting for the black Democrat candidate. They've chosen to ignore the reasons given (No experience, flaming liberal, hateful church member, gun grabber, etc, etc). It makes them feel superior to realize that at last, AT LAST, they can prove they're not racist but everybody else is. Because, apparently, that's important to them. At least more important than choosing the candidate that was FAR more qualified for the position.

And no, I wouldn't have voted for her, but even those on the right can see she towered over him. When he loses, I wonder if the Democrats are going to, once again, come to the conclusion that their candidate wasn't liberal enough, and that's why he lost.
8.28.2008 10:56pm
Michael Drake (mail) (www):
"At least more important than choosing the candidate that was FAR more qualified for the position. "

No matter -- Obama can get someone just as qualified as Joe Lieberman to whisper corrections in his ear when the time comes.
8.28.2008 11:19pm
David Warner:
davod:

"Orin: Was it not obvious from its conception that this post would yield nothing but "how dare you compare our precicious Roberts to that lowly Obama"-type criticism"

If you're determined to see nothing but that, that is indeed what you will see. There are other, more substantive views expressed.

Orin:

"I suppose it's too much to ask for a commenter who writes this to offer a reason why. Ah, gotta love the internet."

It is your choice to whom you respond.

Ben:

"I am just way too tired of watching you folks gnaw on that bone. I have seen people gnaw on that bone for so long. If you were really active on social justice issue maybe I would listen, but I sense most of the time what is going on is an effort to protect privileges that have been in place in this country for hundreds of years."

You folks? Is that like "you people"? How do you know we're not really active on a social justice issue (or more than one, as many conservatives are, especially those who actually do the work on the ground)? The most bigoted post I've seen on this thread is your own.
8.28.2008 11:20pm
OrinKerr:
Swede,

You indicated that the Democrats had picked Obama because he was black rather than less qualified. And then in defense of your statement, you say that you're really just concerned that the left is accusing others of being racist. But what do the two have to do with each other? I don't follow.

I suppose I should add that although I am a Republican, have endorsed McCain, and am on the McCain Advisory Committee, I would have picked Obama over Clinton in a heartbeat and frankly have trouble understanding those who wouldn't. Obama would make a vastly better president, it seems to me: he has much better judgement, he is much better organized, he is much more thoughtful, he doesn't alienate his enemies, and he lacks the pettiness and spitefulness of HRC. I hope you don't think I'm a racist (for whichever side) for reaching that conclusion, although I understand if you do.
8.28.2008 11:49pm
OrinKerr:
Make that, "You indicated that the Democrats had picked Obama because he was black rather than would be a better President."
8.28.2008 11:50pm
Hoosier:
"It seems it gets to a point of almost a pathological obsession with putting him down. "

Ben! Dear oh dear.

I enjoy having you on here tremendously. But . . . ouch.

Obama is one of only two people who might be president of this country come January 20. OF COURSE we are "obsessed" with him. With McCain too. But we know a lot more about him, since he's been around for much longer.

The accusation of racism really bugs me. *My* reason for refusing to vote for Obama has, since the beginning, been that I don't consider the presidency an entry-level position. I say he is "not ready" because he is not ready. He spent 2006 campaigning, and raising money, for Democratic candidates. Since the polls closed that November, he has been running for president.

Ben-- he has spent ONE YEAR as an active member of the US Senate. Can you honestly tell me that you would not call a Republican presidential nominee unqualified if he were in the same boat?

For the record, I said here and elsewhere long ago that I could not vote for Romney for the very same reason: One term as governor of a state in which the other side has (practically) all the seats in the state legislature does NOT tell me enough of what I need to know about what a guy thinks, and how he'd act.

Do you consider me anti-Mormon for taking this position? If not, why not?

Do you consider me a racist due to my position on Obama's résumé? It would appear so.

Which raises the question: If I come to your conference in Toledo, will you force me to sit in the corner and wear a white hood? 'Cause that'd pro'ly make me uncomf'terble. (Sorry. That's the best stereotypical redneck accent I can do online.)

Final, broader note--not directed at Ben, but only at one choice of words: We in academe NEED to retire the phrase "person of color."

It is not a descriptor used by most of the people in the world who are not of European descent. What it really means is simply "not-white". Thus, in an effort to be "progressive," academe actually asserts the normativity of whiteness every time it speaks of people who are NOT white.

That's just nuts.
8.28.2008 11:52pm
Hoosier:
"I hope you don't think I'm a racist (for whichever side) for reaching that conclusion, although I understand if you do."

No, Orin. THAT position makes you a chauvinist. (It really was impossible to avoid being some sort of bigot this time around, I s'pose.)
8.28.2008 11:56pm
OrinKerr:
Hoosier,

Having already confessed to hating asteroids, I guess that's okay.
8.28.2008 11:58pm
GWU Law '08:

If on the other hand he boosted his GPA by taking mainly bulls*** electives akin to the “Modern Issues of Racism and the Law” course that he taught, then it’s not so impressive that he had a higher GPA.


I couldn't get into Harvard Law (and if I had, I would never have had Orin Kerr as a professor and wouldn't be reading his insightful posts). But, I just thought I'd throw it out there that, as far as I know, all law schools require first year students to take the exact same courses, none of which are fluffy. The first year GPA is the most important, and the one that determines who gets on law review. And although you can select "fluffy" courses in second and third year, most students will take at least some "bar" courses, all of which are decidedly non-fluffy. So if HLS operates similarly to the less-worthy law schools out there, Obama couldn't have got by on all fluff.

Also for what it's worth, I took Racism &the Law the same semester that I took Admin, and I had more reading for Racism than for Admin. Our Racism prof also wielded the Socratic method with a power unmatched by professors of "fluffier" topics. It wasn't the most useful class I ever took, but I did learn alot about the affirmative action laws that everyone on this post is talking about, so it couldn't have been totally worthless.
8.29.2008 12:19am
RPT (mail):
Once again, I am overwhelmed by the volume and depth of the analysis offered in support of the election of Sen McCain. When was the last time there was a favorable post about him on any thread of the VC (in contrast to the usual jibes at Sen Obama)?
8.29.2008 12:49am
LM (mail):
Ben,

While everything you said is true of some of the commenters here, you know it's not of many of the others. It's unlike you to paint with such a broad brush, so I'm betting you'll come to the same conclusion.
8.29.2008 1:38am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
gv:

Given that he likely could have worked for a feeder judge and had a reasonably good shot at clerking at the Supreme Court (something most law students would consider the pinnacle post-law-school achievement), it’s hard to believe he turned that down.


I think he decided that instead of "a reasonably good shot at clerking at the Supreme Court" what he wanted instead was a reasonably good shot at appointing people to the Supreme Court. And that's what he now has. As someone else said:

the difference between the two is that one wanted to be a judge, and the other wanted to get elected
8.29.2008 2:13am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
hoosier:

we know a lot more about him [McCain], since he's been around for much longer


It's true that McCain's been around for much longer. But in one of the first threads here (that I know of) where the subject of his adultery came up, I was struck by the number of people who chimed in and said 'I didn't know that.' Likewise, Keating Five happened a long time ago ('91 and earlier), so there is a fairly large group of voters that probably knows little or nothing about it. I think our 'liberal' MSM is mostly giving McCain a free ride on these two subjects (as well as other subjects).
8.29.2008 2:14am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
he has NO accomplishments to speak of


This is repeated like a mantra. Others have mentioned his books. I want to highlight that for a second.

Obama came from nowhere, and made something of himself, and eventually became rich by creating something that lots of people wanted to buy. In what way is this not the exact model of what conservatives claim every young person should attempt to do?
8.29.2008 2:14am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
crunchy commenting on something mac said:

A middle-tier accountant with a hot wife. Major points in his favor.


If we decided to choose the president based on those kind of points, I think the next president would be Kucinich. Just my personal opinion.
8.29.2008 2:14am
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
Wow. You take a few hours to cook up some chicken tikka masala, eat it, give your son a bath, and put him to bed, and you miss an avalanche of comments. Where to begin?

Orin, I think you're just wrong. For those who understand its significance, I think President of HLR is a big deal and it's seen as one of the more impressive parts of Senator Obama's CV. In any event, I'm not sure how that detracts from my point which is that the editors of HLR certainly think that HLR is a big deal, and they wouldn't just turn over the reins to someone unqualified for the job.

The whole argument that his failure to get into Yale somehow shows that his entry into Harvard was an act of charity is downright silly. The law school admissions process is not an exact science that follows the USN&WR rankings to the letter. I was wait-listed at Northwestern but got into Penn, NYU, and Columbia, all of which were higher ranked. Does that mean the schools to which I was accepted were practicing affirmative action for Jewish kids from Long Island? And are we to believe that Yale didn't practice affirmative action at the time?

I find it highly unusual that in all this talk about affirmative action, and the comparisons between Senator Obama and Chief Justice Roberts, no one has mentioned the likely advantages Chief Justice Roberts received in the college and law school admissions process in being from Indiana. I think the Chief is a brilliant guy (though I agree with Justice Scalia about his "faux judicial restraint"). But if you walk through the halls of Bronx Science or Stuyvestant High School in New York, or any of the better high schools in the northeast, you will find kids who are just as brilliant but who will never make it to Harvard Law because the competition coming out of that environment is just too steep.

And as far as the difference between Managing Editor and Editor-in-Chief is concerned, from my standpoint ME was a much tougher job, so Roberts wins on that score. But EIC was no cakewalk either. As I recall, those were the only two jobs I did NOT apply for.
8.29.2008 2:16am
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
Oh, I also meant to say that I've seen lots of transcripts from Harvard and they never, at least as far as I can recall, struck me as being packed with "fluff" courses with inflated grades. In fact, the Harvard transcripts always seemed to me to reflect a pretty tight curve. This is in stark contrast with Yale and Columbia, whose grading systems were inscrutable (Columbia changed a few years after I left), and another top ten school I won't name which sticks out in my mind as having many "fluff" courses.
8.29.2008 2:33am
OrinKerr:
But if you walk through the halls of Bronx Science or Stuyvestant High School in New York, or any of the better high schools in the northeast, you will find kids who are just as brilliant but who will never make it to Harvard Law because the competition coming out of that environment is just too steep.

This is way off topic (as is most of the thread!), but I couldn't disagree more. The competition out of those places is fine, but Roberts went head to head with them in college and law school and kicked their rear-ends. And since when does the HLS admissions process favor people from Indiana?!?

As for the importance of the HLR Presidency, I will defer to your superior wisdom and intelligence (which of course you have, having been on the law review) on that one.
8.29.2008 2:44am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
since when does the HLS admissions process favor people from Indiana


I don't know about HLS, but I'm under the distinct impression that one or more other Harvard grad schools tries pretty hard to achieve geographic diversity. And I think this would have the effect that Michael described.
8.29.2008 2:52am
LM (mail):
David Warner,

I'd consider it odd if you didn't have concerns about Obama. I have plenty about Roberts. But what I find admirable about Roberts is that he seems self-confident and comfortable enough to be curious, and personally respectful enough to listen with an open mind. He usually ends up someplace I don't like, but not before, I believe, he's sincerely considered the alternatives. Though he's unlikely to be convinced out of his ideology very often, I think that style facilitates more meetings of the mind than the guy who listens only to inform his counter-argument. And likewise, according to Brad Berenson, the HLR conservatives backed Obama not because they expected him to adopt their beliefs; they just trusted he'd give them a fair shake. And he did, apparently to the consternation of some editors on the left.

Whether Obama has articulated libertarian economic positions as cogently as he has culturally conservative ones, not that I can think of, but I don't know when it's come up. If there were a libertarian Rick Warren to solicit his opinion and let him talk in more than 30 second sound bites, I'd expect him to treat this as thoughtfully as he has the social issues.

As for the meaning of "liberal," I think it's ironic you'd want to appropriate a word conservatives and some libertarians have done so much to denigrate. I understand the whole "buy low, sell high" thing, but that's really shameless. That said, I have no emotional attachment to terminology, so to save you arguing this on multiple fronts, I give Dilan my proxy. If you convince him, I'll walk away from "liberal" and never look back.
8.29.2008 3:08am
LM (mail):
MJZM and jbg,

IIRC Roberts graduated #1 in his class as HLS. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet he didn't need any geographical diversity help getting in.

Now where's Zarkov to tell me I'm all wet?
8.29.2008 3:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
lm:

IIRC Roberts graduated #1 in his class as HLS. I'm going to go out on a limb and bet he didn't need any geographical diversity help getting in.


I completely agree. Thanks for helping me realize that I should have been clearer. I didn't mean to imply that Roberts himself did "need any geographical diversity help getting in." I only meant that this sort of thing probably happens, more generally.

At least at one or more other Harvard grad schools that I know a little about. Not necessarily HLS. Although I would be inclined to guess that they might do something similar.
8.29.2008 3:35am
LM (mail):
David Warner,

You got your posters mixed up. Davod was only responding to the comment you criticized, which, as far off as it was, was still a hell of a lot more accurate than Davod's alternative:
8.29.2008 3:42am
LM (mail):
jbg,

Although I would be inclined to guess that they might do something similar.

I'd guess likewise, though I don't know for certain. I just don't think Michael should distract from his otherwise valid argument with an unlikely suggestion about Roberts.

But to Michael's main point, all the reporting on Obama's election to President of the HLR indicates clearly that the editors took the election quite seriously.
8.29.2008 4:08am
David Warner:
LM,

"If you convince him, I'll walk away from "liberal" and never look back."

That is the opposite of my intention. What I'd like is for yourself, Dilan, myself, and people like Orin and EV to all be on the same side. A side we can rightly and proudly call "liberal". Then again, if the other side ever won an election, there might not be another.

Yes, I'm a dreamer. Takes all kinds.

"Whether Obama has articulated libertarian economic positions as cogently as he has culturally conservative ones, not that I can think of, but I don't know when it's come up."

Well isn't that the point? He's often the one who chooses to bring up the cultural ones. I'll grant that he displays the liberal temperament you noted in Roberts.

"As for the meaning of "liberal," I think it's ironic you'd want to appropriate a word conservatives and some libertarians have done so much to denigrate. I understand the whole "buy low, sell high" thing, but that's really shameless."

With apologies for challenging your proxy vote (I like Dilan, but you're a lot more interesting) and for venturing so far off topic, I'm neither a conservative (politically) nor a libertarian who has denigrated the word "liberal". I don't see the shame in reasserting the proudest tradition known to man, and doing so by its true name.

“Few new truths have ever won their way against the resistance of established ideas save by being overstated.”

- Isaiah Berlin
8.29.2008 6:12am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
lm:

I just don't think Michael should distract from his otherwise valid argument with an unlikely suggestion about Roberts.


I think an important distinction is getting lost. Michael didn't say Roberts needed help getting in. Michael only said that Roberts received help getting in. I see how the latter might imply the former, but it doesn't have to be read that way. I can believe that Roberts was the most qualified person in the applicant pool, and also believe that his geographic heritage nevertheless worked in his favor. A powerful car that would have won the race under any circumstances might still have been granted a head start, even though it made no effective difference in the end.

all the reporting on Obama's election to President of the HLR indicates clearly that the editors took the election quite seriously


Indeed. But certain people persistently claim that AA didn't just get him into HLS (which may or may not be true), but also got him onto HLR, and also got him to be president of HLR, and also got him his excellent grades. You captured this phenomenon perfectly when you said this:

If William Shockley impregnated his own wife with Barack Obama's sperm you'd probably chalk it up to affirmative action.


Above Orin said this:

I don't think anyone here has claimed that Obama became President of the HLR due to affirmative action


As if on cue, constantin showed up a scant 18 minutes later, to say what Orin thought no one would say:

If it's formal policy for HLR to "pick the black guy", as you phrased it, for membership based on race, is it so hard to think that similar thought processes overrode a commitment to excellence when it came to the editor in chief spot?

To be sure, I have no proof or even suggestion that Obama was elected editor based on race. But I'm not so naive to discount it, either.


And constantin has made that same insinuation before on VC:

I'd also be interested in learning about the process leading to his election as president of the Law Review.
8.29.2008 9:30am
jukeboxgrad (mail):
david:

Yes, I'm a dreamer. Takes all kinds


Do you think maybe you're "not the only one?"

Let me point out that I respect this. I think dreaming is underrated. I also think Obama is a dreamer, too, in the best sense (while also being very pragmatic). I also think Obama's enemies use the word "dreamer" against him as an epithet (even when they aren't literally using that word). A headline that captures this idea is here.

Just a few thoughts on the role of 'dreaming' in politics.
8.29.2008 9:33am
Dreadnaught (www):
Not to call into question your perceptive abilities, but, this may not be the most insightful revelation. Both of these men are extraordinarily bright and talented, and these abilities have enabled them to excel. And? You could probably have written similar things about any of the members of VC. Just a hunch, but you all appear to be exceptionally bright and have risen to the top of your fields. Good post, but not earth shattering.
8.29.2008 10:34am
justaguy (mail):
Although I think too many of the postings here are off track but probably emotionally satisfying to the writers- Orin had an interesting point that hasn't beed addressed. Looking at these tow- there seems to be the need to "lay low" and play their cards right to get where they are. One had to avoid votes-voting present on numerous occassions,and the other had to worry about a paper trail to get confirmed. It is interesting that these two positions (conservative supreme court nominee wanting confirmation, and Democratic Presidential nominee) needed to be gained through the adroit and perhaps deceptive proper playing of their cards that hid who they are/would be and did not give their opponents the target of their true positions. I also note that it took two extremely smart lawyers to thread the path. What law school did they graduate from?

Conversely, a liberal supreme court nominee and a republican presidential nominee needs a record to be judged by the various litmus tests.
8.29.2008 11:20am
Michael J.Z. Mannheimer (mail):
Orin,


The competition out of those places is fine, but Roberts went head to head with them in college and law school and kicked their rear-ends.


Exactly. But that doesn't mean he didn't receive geographic diversity points on the way in, just as Obama may have received ethnic diversity points on his way in. Roberts helps demonstrate why schools OUGHT TO seek geographic diversity — and of course they do, and you know it — just as Obama helps demonstrate why schools OUGHT TO seek ethnic diversity. Both are success stories.

So this just helps proves your original point that the two men are very similar. So what are we arguing about?

And why the snarkiness? Did I ever imply that I have "superior wisdom and intelligence" because I was on law review? No — I have superior EXPERIENCE to everyone who never went through that process. If I'd ever taken apart a carburetor — I haven't — you'd think I could write about what that's like without being accused of having an outsized sense of superiority. So why is this any different?

Come on, Orin. You're better than that. I'll chalk it up to the fact that you posted at 2 in the morning.
8.29.2008 11:53am
Hoosier:
Re: Affirmative action for people from Indiana--

More. Give us more.
8.30.2008 11:55pm
r.friedman (mail):
OMG Orin, you couldn't have stirred up more fuss if you had compared Saraf Palin with Harriet Miers.
8.31.2008 10:33pm