July 24, 2012

In Law School, Obama Found Political Voice

Harvard Law School Library
Barack Obama in 1990, when he led the Harvard Law Review.

Published: January 28, 2007
Editors' Note AppendedCAMBRIDGE, Mass., Jan. 23 — The peers who elected Barack Obama as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review say he was a natural leader, an impressive student, a nice guy. But in the 1990 Revue — the graduating editors’ gleeful parody of their elite publication — they said quite a bit more.


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Barack Obama at his fellow student Bradford Berenson’s apartment, where he watched the 1990 election returns.
“I was born in Oslo, Norway, the son of a Volvo factory worker and part-time ice fisherman,” a mock self-tribute begins. “My mother was a backup singer for Abba. They were good folks.” In Chicago, “I discovered I was black, and I have remained so ever since.”
After his election, the Faux-bama says, he united warring students into “a happy, cohesive folk,” while “empowering all the folks out there in America who didn’t know about me by giving a series of articulate and startlingly mature interviews to all the folks in the media.”
In his two memoirs and the biographical video on his Web site, Senator Obama’s legal education is barely a blip, one of the least known chapters of his life. But for the Illinois Democrat who is all but certainly running for the presidency, Harvard was the place where he first became a political sensation.
He arrived there as an unknown, Afro-wearing community organizer who had spent years searching for his identity; by the time he left, he had his first national news media exposure, a book contract and a shot of confidence from running the most powerful legal journal in the country.
As the ribbing in the Revue suggests, Mr. Obama was realizing the power of his own biography. He proved deft at navigating an institution scorched with ideological battles, many of which revolved around race. He developed a leadership style based more on furthering consensus than on imposing his own ideas. Surrounded by students who enjoyed the sound of their own voices, Mr. Obama cast himself as an eager listener, sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once.
Friends say he did not want anyone to assume they knew his mind — and because of that, even those close to him did not always know exactly where he stood. It is a tendency that could prove perilous on the campaign trail, as voters, rivals and the news media try to fix the positions of a senator with only two years in office.
“He then and now is very hard to pin down,” said Kenneth Mack, a classmate and now a professor at the law school, referring to the senator’s on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand style.
Charles J. Ogletree Jr., another Harvard law professor and a mentor of Mr. Obama, said, “He can enter your space and organize your thoughts without necessarily revealing his own concerns and conflicts.”
Many of his former professors and classmates say they are cheering on Mr. Obama, 45, in his candidacy. But the skills he displayed in law school may not serve him as well in American presidential politics, which sometimes rewards other qualities — like delivering sound bites instead of deliberateness or fidelity to a base of supporters instead of compromise.
The law review is “fairly disconnected from the breadth and the rough and tumble of real politics,” said Bruce Spiva, a former review editor who now practices civil rights law in Washington. “It’s an election among a closed group. It’s more like electing a pope.”
Mr. Obama declined to comment about his time at Harvard. He arrived at the law school in 1988 with a well-inked passport — he had grown up in Hawaii and Indonesia, son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother — and years of community organizing experience in Chicago, making him, at 27, an elder statesman among the students who had tested and term-papered their way straight there.
Mr. Obama spent much of his time alone, curtailing his dating life after his first summer, when he met his future wife, a Harvard Law graduate named Michelle Robinson who was working in Chicago. He often played pickup basketball, replacing his deliberative off-court style with sharp elbows and aggressive grabs for the ball.
Along with 40-odd classmates, he won a precious spot on the law review at the end of his first year through grades and a writing competition. But the next year, when other students implored him to run for the presidency, he demurred; he wanted to return to community work in Chicago, he said, and the credential would be no help. Late in the process, he finally agreed, saying he might be uniquely able to heal the review’s partisan divisions.

The election was an all-day affair with the ego-crushing drama of a reality TV show. Inside Pound Hall, the editors picked apart the intellectual and social skills of the 19 contenders, eliminating them in batches. At the last moment, the conservative faction, its initial candidates defeated, threw its support to Mr. Obama. “Whatever his politics, we felt he would give us a fair shake,” said Bradford Berenson, a former associate White House counsel in the Bush administration.


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The two finalists were invited back into the room. But before the winner could be announced, Mr. Mack, a black student who had rejoined the editors after being eliminated, lunged toward Mr. Obama, so moved by the barrier that had just fallen that he embraced him tightly, tears streaming down both men’s cheeks.
Newspapers and magazines swarmed around the first black student to win the most coveted spot at the most vaunted club at one of America’s most prestigious institutions. In interviews, Mr. Obama was modest and careful. (In a rare slip, he told The Associated Press: “I’m not interested in the suburbs. The suburbs bore me.”) He signed a contract to write a memoir. A prankster posted a cast list for a movie version of his life, starring Blair Underwood. When Mr. Underwood visited the school, he questioned Mr. Obama for material for “L.A. Law.”
“People were always asking me, do young black attorneys really exist like that?” Mr. Underwood said in a recent interview. “I would refer to Barack.”
Winning the job was simpler than doing it. The president had to reject articles by some of the school’s famous professors and persuade a divided group of editors to stop arguing and start editing.
“I have worked in the Supreme Court and the White House and I never saw politics as bitter as at Harvard Law Review in the early ’90s,” Mr. Berenson said. “The law school was populated by a bunch of would-be Daniel Websters harnessed to extreme political ideologies.” They were so ardent that they would boo and hiss one another in class.
Even trickier, Mr. Obama was the most prominent minority student on a campus shaken by racial politics. A group agitating for greater faculty diversity occupied the dean’s office and sued the school for discrimination; Derrick Bell, a black law professor, resigned over the issue.
The law review struggled to decide whether affirmative action should factor into the selection of editors, and how much voice to give to critical race theorists, who argued that the legal system was inherently biased against minorities. That drew the ridicule of conservative students.
And it left the new president with a difficult choice. If he failed to use his office to criticize Harvard, Mr. Obama would anger black and liberal students; by speaking out, he would risk dragging himself and the review into the center of shrill debates.
People had a way of hearing what they wanted in Mr. Obama’s words. Earlier, after a long, tortured discussion about whether it was better to be called “black” or “African-American,” Mr. Obama dismissed the question, saying semantics did not matter as much as real-life issues, recalled Cassandra Butts, still a close friend. According to Mr. Ogletree, students on each side of the debate thought he was endorsing their side. “Everyone was nodding, Oh, he agrees with me,” he said.
As the president of the review, Mr. Obama once again walked a delicate line. He served on the board of the Black Law Students Association, often speaking passionately about the tempest of the week, but in a way that white classmates say made them feel reassured rather than defensive. He distanced himself from bombast; he did a mischievous impersonation of the Rev. Jesse Jackson when he came to speak on campus, recalled Franklin Amanat, now a federal prosecutor in Brooklyn. Mr. Obama’s boldest moment came at a rally for faculty diversity, where he compared Professor Bell to Rosa Parks.
But mainly, Mr. Obama stayed away from the extremes of campus debate, often choosing safe topics for his speeches. At the black law students’ annual conference, he exhorted students to remember the obligations that came with their privileged education. His speeches, delivered in the oratorical manner of a Baptist minister, were more memorable for style than substance, Mr. Mack said.
“It’s the inspiration of the speech rather than the specific content,” he said.
Just as he does now that he is a senator, Mr. Obama spoke then about his own biography — initially, Mr. Ogletree said, to correct anyone who assumed he had acquired his position with ease. His message, Mr. Ogletree said, was, “Don’t look at my success and assume that I have had a silver spoon in my mouth and gold coins in my hand.”
During the constant arguments about race and merit, everyone could point to Mr. Obama and find justification for their views. He had acknowledged benefiting from affirmative action in the past, so those who supported it saw him as the happy product of their beliefs.
But those who opposed it saw his presidency as the triumph of meritocracy. He was a black man who had helped one of Harvard’s most celebrated professors, Laurence H. Tribe, with an article on law and physics, and would graduate magna cum laude.
Another of Mr. Obama’s techniques relied on his seemingly limitless appetite for hearing the opinions of others, no matter how redundant or extreme. That could lead to endless debates — a mouse infestation at the review office provoked a long exchange about rodent rights — as well as some uncertainty about what Mr. Obama himself thought about the issue at hand.
In dozens of interviews, his friends said they could not remember his specific views from that era, beyond a general emphasis on diversity and social and economic justice.
Instead, they wonder how the style of leadership they observed on campus could translate to another kind of historic presidency.
“The things that make law school politics fractious are different from the things that make American politics fractious,” said Ron Klain, who preceded Mr. Obama at the law review and later served as Vice President Al Gore’s chief of staff. Mr. Klain has watched the senator’s rise.
“The interesting caveat,” he said, “is that is a style of leadership more effective running a law review than running a country.”

A front-page article on Sunday reported on Barack Obama’s years at Harvard Law School. It included a quotation from Ron Klain, former chief of staff to Vice President Al Gore, who said that Mr. Obama’s inclusive leadership style as president of the Harvard Law Review would not be as effective in running a country.
The Times later learned that Mr. Klain is an informal adviser to Senator Joseph R. BidenJr., Democrat of Delaware, who is expected to announce on Wednesday that he is running for president. Mr. Klain’s affiliation with the Biden campaign should have been disclosed in the article.
Also, a picture caption with the continuation of the article misstated the timing of the photograph, taken in the apartment of one of Mr. Obama’s friends. It was taken during the 1990 midterm elections, not during the 1990 election for the Harvard Law Review.


Exhibit 1: “Doers’ Profile” in “Harvard Law Revue” satirical edition, April 1990
A publication produced by Harvard law students in 1990 confirms Barack Obama wore a ring on his wedding-ring finger before he married Michelle in 1992.
A reference to Obama wearing a wedding ring appears in an annual satirical edition of the “Harvard Law Revue,” published for the 130th anniversary banquet of Harvard Law School.
As president of the Harvard Law Review at the time, Obama was the target of a roast.
WND reported last week that photographs of Obama at Occidental College in Los Angeles and in New York City in the years when he was supposed to have attended Columbia University show him wearing a ring on the ring finger of his left hand.
The last page of the 1990 publication by Harvard students featured a mock “Doers’ Profile,” based on the print advertisement for Dewar’s brand Scotch whiskey that was popular at the time.
The entire issue of the 1990 Harvard publication was found by blogger WTPotus and posted July 13 with links that lead to aFlickr.com page on which the entire issue can still be viewed, page by page.
As seen in Exhibit 1 above, the ad included a photograph of Obama along with a list of his “Latest Accomplishments.” One entry read: “Deflecting Persistent Questioning About Ring on Left Hand.”
The entry suggests the wedding ring was a mystery to students and Obama preferred to keep it that way by “deflecting persistent questioning.”
‘Complex’ personal history mocked
The satirical issue included on pages 8 to 10 a mock “Self-Tribute” authored by one “Baroque Yo’ Mama.” It was titled “Between Barack and a Hard Place: My First Hundred Days,” distinguished with the page heading “Obamania.”
As seen in Exhibit 2, the first page of the piece, undoubtedly not authored by Obama, makes fun of a “convoluted” family history that apparently was confusing to fellow students.
Exhibit 2: “Self-Tribute,” page 8 of “Harvard Law Revue,” April 1990
One line of the “self-tribute” said: “I invited my underlings to join me for a ‘pot luck’ dinner at my understated and mature apartment.” The line suggests Obama continued to smoke marijuana through his law school days, despite repeated assertions by his 2008 presidential campaign that he stopped using the drug either after attending Occidental College or after graduating from Columbia in 1982.
“Giving interviews and granting photo sessions has been a large burden, but when the movie rights are finally bought up I believe it will all be worth while,” the article continued, poking fun at Obama’s apparent propensity for publicity at the height of his fame as the first black president of the Harvard Law Review.
A footnote to the author’s name suggests Obama had told fellow students he was not going to clerk for a Supreme Court justice after graduating from Harvard Law School, a position that conceivably would have been available to him after serving as president of the Harvard Law Review.
The note indicated that even in 1990, Obama was openly discussing with his peers the possibility of running for president of the United States.
Not a high school class ring
A photograph of Obama with his Grandmother Sarah from his first trip to Kenya in 1987, during the summer before he entered Harvard Law School, clearly shows the ring on the wedding-ring finger of his left hand, as seen in Exhibits 3 and 4.
Exhibit 3: Obama in Africa with his Grandmother Sarah in 1987
Exhibit 4: Close-up of Obama in Africa with his Grandmother Sarah in 1987
Like the photos WND previously reported, the photograph of Obama in Africa after he attended Columbia and before he attended Harvard shows the ring as a gold band. It appears shiny in the sunlight, much as one would expect of a gold wedding ring without elaborate adornments.
In sharp contrast, as seen in Exhibit 5, the class ring of Punahou High School in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he graduated, shows a distinctive Hala tree on the raised front face.
Exhibit 5: Punahou High School class ring
The engraved Punahou class ring appears thicker in the middle, less shiny in the sunlight and more elaborate in design than the ring Obama appears to have worn for at least a decade, beginning with his attendance at Occidental College.
New York Times report
On Jan. 28, 2007, some three weeks before Obama declared his presidential candidacy in Springfield, Ill., Jodi Kantor published an article in the New York Times that featured a discussion of the Harvard Law Review’s 1990 satirical edition.
The focus of Kantor’s article was to argue that Obama first became “a political sensation” at Harvard Law School.
“He arrived there as an unknown, Afro-wearing community organizer who had spent years searching for his identity,” Kantor wrote, “but by the time he left, he had his first national news media exposure, a book contract and a shot of confidence from running the most powerful legal journal in the country.”
The Kantor article included a photograph of Obama identified as having been taken in 1990 in fellow student Bradford Berenson’s apartment. The photo is incorrectly identified by the newspaper as having been taken during the 1990 election for president of Harvard Law School. It actually was taken during the 1990 mid-term congressional elections.
As seen in Exhibits 6 and 7, the photograph published by the New York Times in conjunction with the Kantor 2007 article shows Obama with a gold band on his left hand. The t-shirt he wore promoted Democratic candidate Harvey Gantt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate.
Exhibit 6: Obama at Harvard
Exhibit 7: Close-up of 1990 photo
Gantt, the mayor of Charlotte, N.C., who ran twice for U.S. Senate as a Democratic Party candidate, lost to Republican Sen. Jessie Helms in the mid-term elections of 1990.
The Kantor article makes no mention of the ring comment in the “Doers’ Profile” mock advertisement of Obama displayed on the last page of the 1990 satirical edition.

Why Progressivism is a Mental Illness

by Lewis Loflin
What is a Progressive? As I watched Hillary Clinton during the 2008 election she said she rejects the term liberal and prefers to be called a Progressive. She also said she was an admirer of Neo-Marxist Saul Alinsky (1909-1972), the inspiration behind ACORN. In fact she was offered a job by him. In 1969 she wrote There is Only the Fight...

An analysis of the Alinsky model. To quote Hillary on page 74 of her thesis which in many ways I believe she was speaking for herself: "The middle class is fertile ground for organizing, and Alinsky thinks, for radicalizing...(their frustration)...could be channelled into achieving radical goals. The secret...is that such goals must be perceived as paralleling self-interest."
The Republicans have turned the word liberal into a dirty word without really knowing what it used to mean. So perhaps she wants to avoid a negative label being pinned on her for political reasons during an election. If she is a Progressive and I believe her when she says so, then what exactly is a Progressive? They deny labels such as Marxist, leftist, and fascist, and I believe the labels are inaccurate. Progressivism seems to borrow a little of everything from all of them and combine them with a mob-style democracy. The idea is to "radicalize" but control the mob. But it's simply more than just a lust for power.
So what do Progressives believe? According to Michael Schwalbe (Common Dreams, May 30, 2008), a professor of sociology at North Carolina State University, you might be one if:
  • You think health care is a basic human right, and that single-payer national health insurance is a worthwhile reform on our way toward creating a non-profit national health care service.
  • You think that human rights ought always to trump property rights.
  • You think U.S. military spending is an obscene waste of resources, and that the only freedom this spending protects is the freedom of economic elites to exploit working people all around the planet.
  • You think U.S. troops should be brought home not only from Afghanistan and Iraq, but from all 130 countries in which the U.S. has military bases.
  • You think political leaders who engage in "preemptive war" and invasions should be brought to trial for crimes against humanity and judged against the standards of international law established at Nuremberg after World War Two.
  • You think public education should be free, not just from kindergarten through high school, but as far as a person is willing and able to go.
  • You think that electoral reform should include instant run-off voting, publicly-financed elections, easy ballot access for all parties, and proportional representation.
  • You think that electoral democracy is not enough, and that democracy must also be participatory and extend to workplaces.
  • You think that strengthening the rights of all workers to unionize and bargain collectively is a useful step toward full economic democracy.
  • You think that as a society we have a collective obligation to provide everyone who is willing and able to work with a job that pays a living wage and offers dignity.
  • You think that a class system which forces some people to do dirty, dangerous, boring work all the time, while others get to do clean, safe, interesting work all the time, can never deliver social justice.
  • You think that regulating big corporations isn't enough, and that such corporations, if they are allowed to exist at all, must either serve the common good or be put into public receivership.
  • You think that the legal doctrine granting corporations the same constitutional rights as natural persons is absurd and must be overturned.
  • You think it's wrong to allow individuals to accumulate wealth without limits, and that the highest incomes should be capped well before they begin to threaten community and democracy.
  • You think that wealth, not just income, should be taxed.
  • You think it's crazy to use the Old Testament as a policy guide for the 21st century.
  • You believe in celebrating diversity, while also recognizing that having women and people of color proportionately represented among the class of oppressors is not the goal we should be aiming for.
  • You think that the state has no right to kill, and that putting people to death to show that killing is wrong will always be a self-defeating policy.
  • You think that anyone who desires the reins of power that come with high political office should, by reason of that desire, be seen as unfit for the job.
  • You think that instead of more leaders, we need fewer followers.
  • You think that national borders, while sometimes establishing territories of safety, more often establish territories of exploitation, much like gang turf.
  • You are open to considering how the privileges you enjoy because of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and/or physical ability might come at the expense of others.
  • You believe that voting every few years is a weak form of political participation, and that achieving social justice requires concerted effort before, during, and after elections.
  • You think that, ideally, no one would have more wealth more than they need until everyone has at least as much as they need to live a safe, happy, decent life.
  • You recognize that an economic system which requires continuous expansion, destroys the environment, relies on rapidly-depleting fossil fuels, exacerbates inequality, and leads to war after war is unsustainable and must be replaced. Score a bonus point if you understand that sticking to the existing system is what's unrealistic.
I think he says it pretty well. Most of it seems to be Marxism, but not outright state ownership of everything. There is no tolerance for individual autonomy, responsibility, or personal freedom, no respect for private property, and secularism/humanism as a religious creed. Much of the same thinking is found in the Humanist Manifestos put out by the Humanist Society mostly written by a disgruntled communist known as Paul Kurtz. In his tract In Defense of Eupraxophy he says, "Marx was no doubt the greatest humanist thinker of the nineteenth century..." He goes on how terrible it was that the Soviet Union couldn't wipe out the belief in God after 70 years of terror. While his focus is mostly promoting atheism, his various manifestos mimic much of the above but on a global scale.
So just what are Progressives like Hillary, Alinsky, Michael Schwalbe, Paul Kurtz, etc. really looking for and just what is a Progressive? None of these people have ever worked a real job in their lives being mainly academics, lawyers, etc. and have never struggled to put a meal on their table. They like Karl Marx have never set foot on a factory floor other than to visit or grip about those working there. They mostly hold them in contempt.
So why would they so want to destroy what gives them material comfort and freedom unknown anywhere in the world? Because they are the disgruntled and radicalized upper/middle class brats that believe they know what's better for everyone else. It's about them and their desire for a purpose in life. Marxism is the opiate of these disgruntled rich and middle-class brats. A Progressive is simply a disgruntled Marxist looking for a way to make the pseudo-religion of Marxism work in the real world without starving everyone to death or becoming a dictatorship. They deny reality. In other words Progressivsim is thus a mental illness.