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Note: I'm the author of a new book about Obama, Barack Obama: This Improbable Quest, but I'm not part of the Obama campaign.

Tomorrow's New York Times (July 30) features a lengthy story by Jodi Kantor about Obama's time as a teacher at the University of Chicago Law School. Since I took a class from Obama in the mid-1990s on "Race, Racism, and the Law," I thought I could offer some insights into Obama, and what this article gets wrong. Although the article offers some interesting insights, it also distorts Obama's past and tries to attack Obama's candidacy by using his experiences at the University of Chicago as a way to confirm many of the false assertions made about Obama: that he's a politician who doesn't stand for anything, that he's an aloof elitist, that he only pretends to listen to opposing viewpoints.

The author even tries to smear Obama as someone who taught law school with an eye toward his own political ambitions:

Mr. Obama’s years at the law school are also another chapter — see United States Senate, c. 2006 — in which he seemed as intently focused on his own political rise as on the institution itself.

It's not even clear what this means, but it seems to suggest that Obama's careful, thoughtful approach as a teacher and colleague in the law school was all a guise he used to avoid taking positions which, presumably, he feared might be dug up a decade later by reporters investigating his presidential campaign. This notion is, of course, thoroughly insane. What the author should have concluded is that Obama's years at the University of Chicago Law School show without a doubt that Obama's careful, thoughtful approach to issues today is not a centrist political cop-out; instead, it's a fundamental intellectual approach that Obama followed long before he ever sought political office.

According to Kantor:

Now, watching the news, it is dawning on Mr. Obama’s former students that he was mining material for his political future even as he taught them.

This is a particularly odd comment, suggesting that Obama was simply using his students as a way to prepare for his political ambitions. In reality, Obama as teacher and Obama as politician was inspired in both roles by certain values and thinkers, and it's no surprise to see similarities.

There's a particularly offensive attempt to dismiss Obama as an affirmative-action hire given a job solely because of his race:

Mr. Obama had impressed Mr. McConnell with editing suggestions on an article; on little more than that, the law school gave him a fellowship, which amounted to an office and a computer, which he used to write his memoir, “Dreams From My Father.” The school had almost no black faculty members, a special embarrassment given its location on the South Side.

Let me assure you, it takes a lot more than that to embarrass most of the University of Chicago faculty. They have been thoroughly comfortable with the idea of an overwhelmingly white faculty teaching overwhelmingly white students about the law in an impoverished black neighborhood. Obama wasn't hired because he was black; he was hired because he was smart, and having been the president of the Harvard Law Review is a major qualification. It's routine for hiring to be made based on a personal connection, and Obama was given some office space with the hope that he would teach there in the future. I've taken classes with Michael McConnell, and although I disagree with his very conservative views, he's not somebody who goes around making cynical quota hires. The University of Chicago faculty hire whomever they want, and there is no real pressure to create diversity.

The New York Times article also tries to dismiss Obama's willingness to listen to other viewpoints as just an act:

The Chicago faculty is more rightward-leaning than that of other top law schools, but if teaching alongside some of the most formidable conservative minds in the country had any impact on Mr. Obama, no one can quite point to it. “I don’t think anything that went on in these chambers affected him,” said Richard Epstein, a libertarian colleague who says he longed for Mr. Obama to venture beyond his ideological and topical comfort zones. “His entire life, as best I can tell, is one in which he’s always been a thoughtful listener and questioner, but he’s never stepped up to the plate and taken full swings.”

Epstein is someone who regards intellectual debate as a physical sport, and Obama's thoughtful personality is the exact opposite of Epstein. I think the problem was that too many of the faculty, including Epstein, never really listened to Obama, or many other people who didn't shout their views out.

There are plenty of ways that Obama was influenced by the University of Chicago faculty. One is understanding that laws with noble intentions can have unintended consequences. A second is the complicated view of rationality that more modern aspects of the Chicago School have embraced. Unlike the Milton Friedman origins of the Chicago School of Economics, which turned every datum into an argument for the unregulated free market, the newer version of the Chicago School emphasizes the role of irrationality and the place of government in addressing these flaws. Obama has been influenced by its liberal (Sunstein) and centrist (Goolsbee) proponents.

However, there are many other ways in which Obama recognized the limitations of the University of Chicago approaches. As someone who was out in the trenches, he never accepted the ivory tower theorizing as superior to the facts on the ground.

Indeed, Obama probably learned a great deal from recognizing the flaws of his colleagues rather than swallowing their ideas wholesale. Obama embodies the University of Chicago ethic of asking "What's your evidence?" far better than most Chicago professors.

According to Kantor,

he was always slightly apart from it, leaving some colleagues feeling a little cheated that he did not fully engage.

To the contrary, Obama greatly benefitted the law school by being someone who was engaged, with the real world. The problem was that his ivory tower colleagues weren't very interested in the world of politics.

Yet Kantor writes,

Because he never fully engaged, Mr. Obama “doesn’t have the slightest sense of where folks like me are coming from,” Mr. Epstein said. “He was a successful teacher and an absentee tenant on the other issues."

I very much doubt this. Richard Epstein is an over-the-top libertarian, and his views are very consistently, and loudly, expressed at every opportunity. I think Obama, like me and everybody else, figured Epstein out very quickly. Personally, I enjoy Epstein and his machine-gun-mouth spewing out oddball ideas all the time. But Epstein is never really interested in finding out where other people are coming from, and certainly not interested in changing his mind about anything. He's exactly the kind of person Obama would tend to ignore, the ideologue with a passion only for hearing himself. Epstein was annoyed that Obama never played his intellectual mind games, and instead sought to make real changes in the political world.

The article is also insulting toward Obama's students, calling some of them "groupies" and declaring that "Liberals flocked to his classes, seeking refuge."

Refuge? Maybe some liberals like the idea of a professor whose ideas weren't as crazy as the usual right-wingers, but the truth is that there were many progressives teaching at the law school when Obama was there, and most of the conservative professors were very tolerant of liberal thinkers, too. The appeal of Obama, more than any other professor, was his ability to listen to different points of views in a serious way, and yet still move students in the direction of understanding the law. That's precisely what makes Obama so powerful as a politician: He has the ability to listen to people who disagree with him, and yet still move people in a more progressive direction. That may be the most important skill Obama honed in his years at the University of Chicago.

I don't want to give the impression that this article is entirely negative. There are many positive aspects of Obama reported in the article.

Mr. Obama had a disarming touch. He did not belittle students; instead he drew them out, restating and polishing halting answers, students recall.

But overall, Kantor takes the overwhelmingly positive comments about Obama's years at Chicago and tries to twist them into a negative portrayal. Consider this quote:

In what even some fans saw as self-absorption, Mr. Obama’s hypothetical cases occasionally featured himself. “Take Barack Obama, there’s a good-looking guy,” he would introduce a twisty legal case.

Here the author of the article misinterprets Obama's self-deprecating humor as arrogance and "self-absorption," part of the "elitist" motif being used against Obama, and uses some anonymous "fans" to justify it. I find it hard to believe that multiple students brought up these jokes by Obama to attack him. Obviously, you can see why Obama has been forced to play down his sense of humor in the campaign, because the mainstream press simply can't understand a joke with this kind of subtlety.

The article hints at Obama's "budding political caution" as a reason why he didn't loudly proclaim his views in class, once again pushing the narrative of Obama as a typical politician unwilling to stand for anything. Kantor's article repeatedly tries to falsely smear Obama as indecisive and political:

When two fellow faculty members asked him to support a controversial antigang measure, allowing the Chicago police to disperse and eventually arrest loiterers who had no clear reason to gather, Mr. Obama discussed the issue with unusual thoughtfulness, they say, but gave little sign of who should prevail — the American Civil Liberties Union, which opposed the measure, or the community groups that supported it out of concern about crime. “He just observed it with a kind of interest,” said Daniel Kahan, now a professor at Yale

.

Really? Perhaps it was a case of Obama trying to be polite and listen to two faculty he disagreed with, or simply his willingness to hear about a novel proposal. But it's simply false to suggest that Obama never took a stand. To the contrary, in the Illinois Senate Obama did the opposite of what a pandering politician would be expected to do: He refused to accept the attack on individual rights in the name of going after gangs.

Obama voted against a proposal to criminalize contact with a gang for any convicts on probation or out on bail. And in 2001, Obama opposed making gang activity eligible for the death penalty: "There's a strong overlap between gang affiliation and young men of color.... I think it's problematic for them to be singled out as more likely to receive the death penalty for carrying out certain acts than are others who do the same thing." Defending the violation of rights of gang members hardly fits with the story of the wavering Obama being created in this article.

The New York Times article concludes with this dismissive comment:

So even some former students who are thrilled at Mr. Obama’s success wince when they hear him speaking like the politician he has so fully become. “When you hear him talking about issues, it’s at a level so much simpler than the one he’s capable of,” Mr. Rodriguez said. “He was a lot more fun to listen to back then.”

This seems to be an attempt to attack Obama by dismissing him as just another elitist politician speaking down to the American people. During the campaign, Obama often spoke at a serious intellectual level. But whenever he did so, the media ignored him, or attacked him. It's because of the dumbed-down press coverage of issues that Obama has to simplify what he says. But if Obama wasn't running a University of Chicago law class at a higher intellectual level than what the general public hears from the press, he wouldn't be doing his job. Far from being a reason to condemn him, this should be the clearest evidence yet of Obama's skills as president. The current guy in the Oval Office turned out to reveal all of his intellectual abilities in his folksy campaigning style, and the result has been a disaster for the country.

We desperately need a president who's smarter than the average American. And we desperately need a media willing to report the truth about candidates without trying to spin the story against them in a way that badly distorts reality.

Crossposted at ObamaPolitics.

Originally posted to JohnKWilson on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:36 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  I just read that article (10+ / 0-)

    I didn't realize QUITE how biased it was until I just read your take down of it!

    This was actually a pretty interesting part of his life. I'm disappointed that we can't get some more insightful coverage.

    •  America hates intellectuals... (9+ / 0-)

      it's always been that way.

      •  It would be great to have one as president... (5+ / 0-)

        The price of having a moron has been well illustrated for eight long years.

        With McCain, we might be in for four more...or maybe just four years of a cranky, factually challenged gentleman who is not especially bright?

        Meanwhile, thanks for the great diary!

      •  And MSM (4+ / 0-)

        seems to have a particular dislike for everyone who has ever lived in Hyde Park.  

      •  you're right. Why are Americans afraid.... (4+ / 0-)

        of the so-called intellectual elite?  Ideas are powerful weapons.

      •  Well, usually to qualify as an intellectual (0+ / 0-)

        at least in the law school setting, one needs to publish.  And that is precisely what NYT is criticizing Obama for NOT doing.  How exactly is this a slam on intellectuals?

        •  This is where the criticism of his "thinness" (0+ / 0-)

          is valid. Lack of publishing. Lack of hearings in his sub committee. Lack of time spent with a solid legislative trail in elected capacity. And from what I read in the New Yorker piece, when he was rising and aiming toward his next move, the US Senate, he was aided in the Illinois state senate to take most of the credit for passing legislation that others had been grinding away at for a while. He was the star who would take it into the limelight.

          Here: Making it

          In the State Senate, Jones did something even more important for Obama. He pushed him forward as the key sponsor of some of the Party’s most important legislation, even though the move did not sit well with some colleagues who had plugged away in the minority on bills that Obama now championed as part of the majority. “Because he had been in the minority, Barack didn’t have a legislative record to run on, and there was a buildup of all these great ideas that the Republicans kept in the rules committee when they were in the majority,” Burns said. “Jones basically gave Obama the space to do what Obama wanted to do. Emil made it clear to people that it would be good for them.” Burns, who at that point was working for Jones, was assigned to keep an eye on Obama’s floor votes, which, because he was a Senate candidate, would be under closer scrutiny. The Obama-Jones alliance worked. In one year, 2003, Obama passed much of the legislation, including bills on racial profiling, death-penalty reform, and expanded health insurance for children, that he highlighted in his Senate campaign.

          Perhaps, despite his obvious talents - networker extraordiare, bright, articulate (yes, we can use that word, still!) it is not beyond the pale to suggest that he does have some weaknesses. It might even be to our benefit.

          Should a "progressive" Dem blog dwell in the safe zones of a tame party, or should it drive a tame party to break out?

          by NYCee on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 10:41:18 PM PDT

          [ Parent ]

          •  He dpes have weaknesses but I am not sure (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            mayim

            taking "most of the credit for passing legislation that others had been grinding away at for a while" is one of them.
            What I say will mean less because I can't easily find the links, bookmarks lost and messed up in a transfer, but I'd read several older articles about the issue (and some interesting responses in comments). That accusation largely came from Rickey Hendon, someone who had issues with Obama from the start and just had issues in general.
            It was common to give sponsorship of bills out in ways that helped careers (Hendoon himself got sponsorship of a big CTA bailout bill just before the final vote when he had two well-financed primary opponents) but that doesn't seem to be the only reason Obama got them. He wasn't just the name on the bills, one of his skills was negotiating and he really worked hard on these. That was not Hendon's skill. He had been working on the racial profiling and death-penalty reform and getting nowhere. It wasn't just republicans Obama worked with, it was community activists, rights people, the police and others. There were stories where they talked about the meetings..and the police who were against both of the bills initially (and not thrilled even in the end at least quit actively opposing them or offered mild support) felt their concerns were really heard and respected and some addressed within the final bill.
            It wasn't as simple as having the majority so now they could pass. Many Democrats were opposed to how far they went because of not wanting to look soft on crime or against police. The video-taping of both interrogations and confessions was not expected to pass and if it did it was expected to be vetoed. It passed unanimously.
            I don't know the background on the expanded health insurance for children but Obama was chairman of the committee.
            He did become much more focused and productive after his losing bid for Congress...I like positive responses to hard lessons.

            I'll defend lack of publishing too. Pragmatist that he was if he wanted a career as a professor you can bet he'd have published, it's part of it. He never planned on that. He always had other main jobs and other community obligations and he taught for the sake of teaching (and probably extra income). Don't think it shows any "thinness", he wasn't after tenure or promotions.

            If I were fashioning the perfect candidate I'd change some things. He does have weaknesses as I hear rumors he is human...I just don't think these are among them.

      •  This came up on Saturday (5+ / 0-)

        At our platform meeting.

        You probably know that the Obama campaign wanted platform meetings all over the country.

        We had ours last Saturday at one of our local library branches, and one woman commented on how she hated how this administration diminishes and insults smart people.

        Tikkun Olam...Obama '08

        by tethys on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:08:30 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I hate the media.. They really want to keep this (6+ / 0-)

    race close.. You have to be really good for students to WANT to get into your class.

    I want to know what is wrong with having a leader who is smarter than everyone else. Why is it so bad to be an intellectual. Its like Americans look down on smart people like Obama and prop up morons like our current idiot in chief.  

    Well know I hope they look into John Mc Cain's life too.

    We are watching John McCain decompose right before our very eyes..

    by TennesseeGurl on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:50:10 PM PDT

  •  I don't think he comes across so negatively (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joynow, kosophile, mayim, maggiejean, negev79

    in the NYT article, which I read before seeing this diary.  Yes, they interviewed some clearly anti-Obama people like Epstein, but I think readers are capable of taking those statements with a huge grain of salt.

    I'm not so sure there's "an attempt to attack Obama by dismissing him as just another elitist politician speaking down to the American people."  Yes, in something like his race speech he showed he is willing to develop serious ideas in the campaign.  But anyone who appreciates that Obama has to get a little impatient, as the general election approaches, with what our hero (and soon to be president, I trust) when he has to be the great strategic candidate, rather than the great thinker.

    I love Obama and am contributing to his campaign.  But to say that his repeating "Now is our moment" etc. in Berlin is not the same mode of discourse as what he's truly capable seems obvious to me, and I would guess that students who knew him as a classroom "mind on fire" would feel so even more strongly!

    It's an informative diary.  I guess my suggestion is that, for the average NYT reader with a bit more distance from & ignorance about Obama's U. of Chicago career, the effect of the article is: "Yeah, Obama is really as smart as I hoped he is!    Even if we get served up pabulum sometimes in the campaign, when he's in the oval office he really is going to be subjecting our national problems to searching & realistic scrutiny!  I'm going to vote for him for sure!"  Anyway, that was my take-away, even if the article's author did think weaknesses were being exposed.

    •  What Positive Means (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      nanobubble, mayim, sovery, DrFitz

      It's true that there's a lot of material here that's positive for Obama. That's because his teaching at the University of Chicago reveals very positive things about him. To me, it would be like writing an article about John McCain's time as a prisoner of war and finding ways to turn that heroic experience into all kinds of negatives (reflecting his anger problem, etc.). It's the dogma of objective journalism that says you have to take a positive experience and find all the negative items within it. And that's what I'm objecting to, even if on average most people might see this story as positive.

      Obama Politics (www.obamapolitics.com)

      by JohnKWilson on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:58:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  You actually got me to read the (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      tdub

      article.  Sometimes, actually many times, I get caught up in the echo chamber that is dkos and fail to do research on my own.  I agree with you.  Most people reading this will come away with a positive attitude towards our guy.  

      "Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car." E. B. White

      by maggiejean on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 10:58:21 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  I agree with you completely. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joynow, nanobubble, tdub, mayim, orca43

      I read the article with this diary in mind to see if I agreed with the diarist.  As I stated at greater length in a comment above, I don't.

      I'm a big Obama supporter as well.  I'm also a lawyer and a former history teacher and was a law review member in law school, so I have some special insight into this topic, though I know the University of Chicago only by reputation and obviously don't know the individuals quoted in the article the way the diarist apparently does.  But as I read the article, I couldn't have been more impressed with Obama's skills and attitude as a teacher or the smarts and savvy that he demonstrated.  I wondered whether those with less understanding of the situation would come away as favorably impressed as I and therefore was glad to see your take on the average NYT reader.

  •  I like your take on the anti-gang legislation... (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, sovery

    Why didn't the NYT journalist better define the proposal?  As usual, the Journalist's assumption was that Obama should favor anything pertaining to African-Americans, whether it is faulty or not.

  •  It is great to have an insiders view (0+ / 0-)

    with you knowing these people and the university I see another side to what I thought originally was a good and decent article.  Your knowledge sheds a whole new light on it.
    Thanks.

  •  For me, it always comes back to this..... (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, DrFitz, orca43

    An article in last Sunday's Chicago Tribune magazine featured Valerie Jarrett, one of Obama's chief advisors. The article describes her first meeting with Michelle Obama, but it applies equally to Barack:

    In 1991, Jarrett was the deputy chief of staff for Mayor Daley when a tall, striking-looking African-American lawyer named Michelle Robinson walked into her office for a job interview. The young woman had the whole package: Princeton University undergrad, Harvard Law School, two years at a prestigious corporate law firm.

    But she wanted more out of life than a nice office and high salary. She wanted to give back to her city and her country. When she told people that she was thinking about trading in corporate practice for public service, people laughed at her.

    Jarrett didn't laugh. She had done exactly the same thing four years earlier. "We hit it off,'' Michelle Obama told me in an interview. "She understood how I felt. It was difficult to find people who understood my desire to leave a high-paying corporate job. She went through the same kind of feelings, wanting to do more for the community, wanting to have a civic life.''

    That's the essence of who they are. That is a "moment of truth"that is inherently much more honest than the jealous whining and Kantor's condescending writing.

    Let the word go forth from this time and place...that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans--Obama '08

    by Azdak on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:57:03 PM PDT

  •  I'm of two minds about the article. (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joynow, kosophile, nanobubble, mayim, sovery

    Firstly, Epstein. I was but a lowly undergrad at the U of C 2001-2005. Even so, Epsein resonated. (At least among my friends.) I can't imagine him and Obama engaged in a productive debate. Obama doesn't strike me as the type to argue and shout for the sheer joy of arguing and shouting. So it's no wonder they didn't mesh well.

    The quote about "Barack Obama, there’s a good-looking guy" made me laugh. It strikes me as a comment made by someone who a) gets complimented on his looks a lot and b) doesn't particularly like it, because it forces him into a 'himbo' role. So he tries to own the label by using it on himself, almost like a put-down. No man who considers himself an intelligent and productive human being likes being reduced to a "pretty boy." I can almost see him make a primping gesture of some sort as he said it.

    Of course, that's just my personal gut feeling. He may well be that vain. :)

    Crescat scientia; vita excolatur

    by AxmxZ on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:57:32 PM PDT

    •  Nah, I laughed when I read that, too (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joynow, mayim, sovery, AxmxZ

      'Cause I can hear him saying it in that self-deprecating, isn't this silly? way.

      You should read the attached exam files. Some of them are pretty funny.

      Tikkun Olam...Obama '08

      by tethys on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:02:11 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Holy wow. (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        mayim

        Ok, now I'm really sad I was an undergrad at the U of C 2001-2005 instead of a law school student. If only I'd known. I'd have arranged to audit his class or something. Arg!! The dude is hilarious. I can totally see him smoking somewhere and writing these questions and giggling.

        Crescat scientia; vita excolatur

        by AxmxZ on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:21:15 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  The quote is also of another take (0+ / 0-)

      I know people who just joke about themselves and would say, or have, 'there's a good looking guy' as just funny,ect.
      Not a look at me.  Or even because it would bother the person.
      sometimes just like "yeah, I am so graceful' kind of thing.  you know what I mean?

    •  U of C profs have a reputation of interrupting (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      joynow, nanobubble, mayim, foufou, AxmxZ

      and arguing with a speaker when they say what their name is.  It's part of the macho intellectual culture.  They're famous for it throughout academia, and students of PhD programs tend to bring that combativeness with them to other universities.  I'd imagine it's the same in the law school.  So it doesn't surprise me that faculty there might have thought Barack was aloof and unegaged if he so much as listened to a complete thought before firing questions at them.  U of C tends to think of Harvard as a bit wimpy by comparison.

    •  Comment on The Caucus NYT blog by former student (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      mayim, foufou, AxmxZ, orca43

      regarding that
      47. July 29th, 2008 7:27 pm

      As a student in his seminar in 1995, I found him very humble and introspective. He did a lot of listening to the students. This was very refreshing. Many of the professors seemed to want to talk most of the time, or call on students who would parrot them.

      A common practice on law exams was for the professors to refer to themselves in hypotheticals. It’s basically quirky humor to make final exams less intimidating. I don’t think that’s an example of Obama being egocentric, so much as fitting in.

      Also, it should be noted that at least two of the professors quoted in this article are solid Republicans. The Chicago faculty had a number of Democrats (at least 1/3) and some definite progressives, but none were quoted in this article. Given the partisan nature of American politics, that seems very relevant to interpreting their remarks.

      — Posted by Susan

      •  Excellent quote! (0+ / 0-)

        Thanks for finding it!

        Crescat scientia; vita excolatur

        by AxmxZ on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 10:10:19 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  We must have shared the same experience... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        joynow

        John,  Your impressions are identical to mine when I first read the NYT article.  

        Were we in the same class?  I took Obama's seminar in 1995 and graduated that year.

        As a student in Obama's seminar, I had a mostly different impression of him than this NYT article presents.  He seemed very humble and introspective to me.  This NYT article suggests he was being politically cautious to not reveal his opinions; I think he was simply creating a very open environment for students of all political stripes to delve deeply into the issues in a seminar.  I really appreciated that.  I was able to discuss issues of concern to progressives with right-wingers and figure out where we had common ground and from where our different assumptions stemmed.

        The article also suggests that Obama was egocentric to include his own name in hypotheticals on exams.  Every professor did that.  That added a little quirky humor to otherwise stressful classroom and test situations.  So, unlike the headline's comment that he didn't fit in, I think his use of hypotheticals was actually very common.

        I would agree, though, that his seminar was unusual.  The depth that we explored issues in the seminar on race allowed us to go beyond theory and into a very realistic study of how policies impact lives and how progressive laws can be successfully enacted.  I don't recall that kind of authentic and deep pragmatism in other classes at Chicago Law.

        Also, the article notes that he didn't publish any legal articles while he was a lecturer.  But, he had a contract to write a biography and was working on that during the year I was in his class.  It would be hard to publish legal articles at the same time.  Also, lecturers don't typically publish; they typically practice law outside the university and bring more practical experience.  

        The professors interviewed in the NYT article are almost all Republicans, I believe (other than for Mikva), and are aware that their quotes have some impact in a general election campaign.  There are progressive Chicago Law professors who have provided reporters with much more favorable comments on Obama in other articles.  It would be interesting to see the full set of interviews this reporter gathered and then compare that with what she printed.  If you click on the reporter's name, it shows that she's written a number of pieces critical of Obama in recent months.

        But, I get the sense that most people who read this article feel it offers a positive description of Obama.  So, maybe you and I are taking it differently because it doesn't match our first-hand experience.

  •  Outstanding Diary (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Luthien Tinuviel

    McCain's occupation plan will achieve victory when it bestows liberty to the freedom loving people of Iraq and their freedom loving oil.

    by Lefty Coaster on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 08:58:01 PM PDT

  •  Yeah, I'll have more to say about it. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joynow, Lefty Coaster, sovery

    I did talk to Kantor for the piece.  Gosh, how many of us U of Cers are there here?

  •  I hope you send this... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nanobubble, mayim, JNSD, Luthien Tinuviel

    ...to the New York Times to see what they do with it.  I am fascinated with your take on Obama's intellectual approach.  It's that thoughtfulness that people have a hard time with.  It's as he says about himself, that people project their ideas onto him.

    Wonderful article.

  •  Thanks for the great diary and your take (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nanobubble, mayim

    on Epstein. I thought the article was a pretty thinly veiled attempt at continued character assasination. It didn't of course sway me away from Obama. I just have this really comfortable and settled feeling inside myself that says he's a really smart and thoughtful guy. I am so sick of the media spewing the presumtuous and arrogant meme. I mean, ya, the guy looks and sounds competent and presidential, you know why.....because HE IS. It would be wonderful to have a President with some intellectual couriousity... Someone that loves to gather information and form ideas for himself.

    Enough with the speeches and the big rallies!!

    by JNSD on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:07:47 PM PDT

  •  Good Insights (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nanobubble

    Thanks for sharing the insights. Unfortunately we are stuck with a mediocre media and it is hard to have any serious conversation. This is why anytone who says he supports the 2nd amendment and is support for the regulation of guns is immediateluy labelled a flip floper. This is why Iraq is considered a success, thanks to the magic of the surge.

  •  Gee, Mr. Rodriguez, I guess he's not quite an... (0+ / 0-)

    elitist after all.

    Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself - Wallace Stevens

    by catchlightning on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:09:02 PM PDT

  •  Thank you for a well-written rebuttal! (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    mayim, lovelyivy, sovery, DrFitz

    NYT is proving to be a major disappointment. This article was so patently and blatantly an insidious attempt to reinforce and further advance all the nasty little tags the GOP and the MSM are striving mightily to attach to Obama.

    Bob Marley: Don't let them fool ya. Or even try to school ya...

    by JoanMar on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:17:53 PM PDT

  •  Can you cross post this diary at (0+ / 0-)

    other sites?  The more the merrier.  I'd love for us to be able to rebut these "fair and balanced" articles as much as possible.  

    "Everything in life is somewhere else, and you get there in a car." E. B. White

    by maggiejean on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:27:15 PM PDT

  •  Great diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nanobubble, mayim, sovery

    I just spent some time reading some of the exams from Obama's class that were posted on the nytimes website.  I plan on going to law school myself in the near future, and the idea of having a president who actually taught law (and understands it) was one of the main reasons I was drawn to his candidacy during the primary.

    It's not surprising to see the media take shots at Obama (teaching future lawyers to fight racial injustice is bad?) but its still very frustrating

  •  I thought maybe the NY times was paranoid (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    nanobubble, mayim, sovery

    about being perceived as pandering media love all over Obama...and this was the best the could come up with to make the piece appear "balanced". That he put himself in hypotheticals (anyone who has been to law school knows that there are so many hypotheticals you could just slit your wrists - any attempt to make then interesting is welcome, even self-deprecating humor. Even vanity, if that's what it was. Who cares? That he had political aspirations even then. Woo. That he didn't have more beers with an outspoken libertarian professor? I found it all pretty funny.

    My review of Obama's exams? Yup, he is really really smart. Thank goodness. Could you imagine what a GWB con law exam would look like?

    Hope is bulletproof. Truth, just hard to hit. -Christopher Moore

    by negev79 on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 09:35:09 PM PDT

  •  As a former U of C Law (including Obama) student, (7+ / 0-)

    I wasn't all that put out by the article. I mean, whining from Richard Epstein? Who cares? The guy's a twit.

    Maybe I wasn't troubled by it because I was sort of "unengaged" with the Law School myself during my three years there. I loved having class with Obama, as well as David Strauss, Martha Nussbaum, Geoffrey Stone, and one or two others--and I had a rewarding year in the Clinic, representing housing-project tenants who had been brutalized by the Chicago Police. (Plus, being part of the Law School Musical was an annual blast.)

    Otherwise, though, I found U of C Law to be fairly tedious and unpleasant. Epstein is the poster child for that side of the school.

    •  I too am former U of C law student (0+ / 0-)

      not put out by article. Perhaps because I am familiar/acquainted with Epstein, Baird et al. Epstein was an interesting "personality" but small doses were sufficient. I'm sorry that my time there preceded Obama; I would have loved some of his seminars.

  •  Fantastic diary!!! Thanks for the insight from (0+ / 0-)

    direct experience.

  •  Anyone who does not realize (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    joynow, shwing, nanobubble, mayim

    that this

    "Take Barack Obama, there’s a good-looking guy,"

    is self-deprecating humor, and not self-aggrandizement does not deserve any lines in print media.

    Never get the mothers too angry.

    by pvlb on Tue Jul 29, 2008 at 10:45:48 PM PDT

  •  When I read the article (0+ / 0-)

    earlier tonight I thought there were parts that were not put together well and did come with a bit of a slant.

    As part of the author's research they came across someone who kept records and has sylabus and final exam copies.  Interesting reading, much the same style of interactivity as "Dreams of my Father".  It will be interesting tomorrow when the 3 or 4 professional reviewers post their comments on the tests etc.

  •  WHERE IS JODI KANTOR COMING FROM? (0+ / 0-)

    how do we explain this apparently willful attempt to diminish Obama and reinforce negative repug talking points?
    This makes me want to research Jodi Kantor.
    Is she a crypto-neocon? a covert likudnik? a McCain sympathizer?

    "The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried." -G. K. Chesterton

    by jorgepoemas on Wed Jul 30, 2008 at 08:46:44 PM PDT

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