August 5, 2008


Where’s the Landslide? (DAVID BROOKS, 8/05/08, NY Times)

Last week Jodi Kantor of The Times described Obama’s 12 years at the University of Chicago Law School. “The young law professor stood apart in too many ways to count,” Kantor wrote.

He was a popular and charismatic professor, but he rarely took part in faculty conversations or discussions about the future of the institution. He had a supple grasp of legal ideas, but he never committed those ideas to paper by publishing a piece of scholarship.

He was in the law school, but not of it.

This has been a consistent pattern throughout his odyssey. His childhood was a peripatetic journey through Kansas, Indonesia, Hawaii and beyond. He absorbed things from those diverse places but was not fully of them.

His college years were spent on both coasts. He was a community organizer for three years but left before he could be truly effective. He became a state legislator, but he was in the Legislature, not of it. He had some accomplishments, but as Ryan Lizza of The New Yorker wrote, he was famously bored by the institution and used it as a stepping stone to higher things.

He was in Trinity United Church of Christ, but not of it, not sharing the liberation theology that energized Jeremiah Wright Jr. He is in the United States Senate, but not of it. He has not had the time nor the inclination to throw himself into Senate mores, or really get to know more than a handful of his colleagues. His Democratic supporters there speak of him fondly, but vaguely.

His candidacy is, on the one hand, completely dependent on that vagueness--so that he could be all things to all people in the primaries--and, on the other, doomed by it--as Republicans get to fill in the hollow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at August 5, 2008 7:35 AM

"Where is the earth shattering kaboom, I'm very very angry, oh wa. . ."

Posted by: narciso at August 5, 2008 8:47 AM

Brooks sets up but never delivers the most devastating line of all:

"He was in America, but not of it."

Posted by: Mike Earl at August 5, 2008 10:06 AM

But I think it's important to note the why of the vagueness: his intellectual upbringing and beliefs are extreme left, and extreme leftists rarely get elected in the US. So he's trying to do something contradictory: trying to disguise his true beliefs while running as a reformer and truth-teller.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 5, 2008 12:42 PM

Which is to credit him with beliefs when there's little evidence he believes in anything but his own Obamaness.

Posted by: oj at August 5, 2008 1:39 PM

He's kind of like Kerry that way, isn't he?

Posted by: Bryan at August 5, 2008 2:57 PM

A stranger in a less-strange land.

Posted by: ghostcat at August 5, 2008 4:09 PM

He has deliberately kept himself vague so he can be all things to all people at all times.

Posted by: Mikey at August 5, 2008 4:21 PM

I think his voting record, legislative proposals, and personal associations all show his leftist core. If you are merely an ambitious narcissistic Democrat like Bill Clinton, you try to preserve your electability by tacking to the center more often, not by hanging out with Marxists and voting to the left of Bernie Sanders.

Posted by: PapayaSF at August 5, 2008 4:49 PM

Kantor and Brooks miss that Obama never was a "professor." He was just a lecturer, not in a tenure-track position. Faculty conversations and meetings, and scholarship, were not part of his deal. His job was just to lecture and do whatever else he felt like.
The guy was president of the Harvard Law Review but never wrote an article, which is highly unusual. Harvard Law Review presidents typically go on to clerk for federal circuit court judges and US Supreme Court justices, to develop their talents and their contacts in the public sphere. That's hard work. This guy didn't do that either, instead going back to Chicago to hang out with radicals and write a bio about himself.
During college he hung out with the intellectual flitterbugs.
Disengaged? Lazy?

Posted by: Steve at August 6, 2008 3:10 AM

Interesting speculation at the VC that Obama turned down an offer of an unheard of tenured position from the University of Chicago.

Posted by: erp at August 6, 2008 2:59 PM
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