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Wednesday, November 05, 2008

The real reason Obama won: he was once a law professor

In the excitement over Obama's election, pundits are offering varying explanations of this remarkable event.  But one underappreciated explanation is this: his academic temperament made a difference.

As a law professor, Obama took pains to consider, and have his students consider, both sides of every legal and policy issue.  (Or so it was reported.)  Only in this way, he believed, can one both understand the complexities of the issue, and persuade those with differing views that their views are taken seriously.

In his campaign, he was similarly nuanced, thoughtful, and balanced.  Or more precisely, he displayed these qualities as much as one could realistically expect, given the constraints of being a major party Presidential candidate  And these qualities made a difference, especially in his speech on the role of race in America, a speech remarkable for its frankness and sensitivity; and also towards the end of the campaign, when the economic crisis was most salient.  Obama's steady, cautious approach, and his reluctance to demonize his opponent or his opponent's views, reassured voters that he would handle the crisis effectively.

The upshot?  The major parties should insist that all future Presidential candidates spend some time teaching law (or political science or philosophy etc) before they receive the party's blessing as nominee.

Well, ok, maybe not.  Obama's victory no doubt reflects his ability to inspire young and minority voters, his eloquence, the unpopularity of Bush, the horrid state of the economy, and an extraordinarily creative and disciplined campaign.  But perhaps his academic temperament played a small role.  And perhaps those of us who are proud of his achievement can be a little proud, too, of what we do for a living.

Posted by Ken Simons on November 5, 2008 at 03:17 PM in Current Affairs | Permalink

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"Obama's victory no doubt reflects his ability to inspire young and minority voters, his eloquence, the unpopularity of Bush, the horrid state of the economy, and an extraordinarily creative and disciplined campaign."

Not to make a claim one way or another, but noticeably absent in this list is any substantive policy reason for Obama's victory. This matches my intuition that the election was all about Obama as an idea, and not at all about Obama as a platform.

It will be interesting to see if Obama governs per the above points---as an anti-ideological, yet inspiring, technocrat-- or not. Already the left is claiming a revolution, and the right is claiming this was terribly close.

Posted by: AndyK | Nov 5, 2008 3:42:39 PM

There's another way to look at it: a key to Obama's greatness was precisely that he didn't become a professor. He never put his hand to law review articles, tenure pieces, and so on. Famously, he turned down a sure path to prestigious clerking -- including presumably a SCOTUS clerkship that was his for the asking. Although one academic complained that Obama never stepped up the plate and took a swing, in fact Obama did. He immersed himself foremost in the worlds of direct community organizing, board work, and the state legislature.

Posted by: lawyer | Nov 5, 2008 5:16:45 PM

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