Diary

Some Random Thoughts On Comparisons Between Barack Obama And Jimmy Carter

Many of Barack Obama’s political opponents presume that Obama will be another Jimmy Carter but so many of those opponents miss some of the most salient portions of that comparison. Barack Obama is ridiculously self-confident in situations that would elicit humility from others. Obama’s major professional achievement after graduation from law school was the writing of his autobiography while working as a junior associate in a small Chicago law firm. He finagled a fellowship at the University of Chicago Law School to write his autobiography–when he was supposed to have been writing a more scholarly article concerning voting rights (the fellowship was originally given for that purpose, it was only later that Obama told people like then-Dean Douglas Baird that he was actually working on his autobiography).

Later on, Obama told Baird and Dan Fischel, who eventually became Dean of the Law School that he wanted to be a Senior Lecturer and negotiated a position for himself while at the same time, working as a state senator. To be sure, he wasn’t making all that much money and needed both jobs but for those who are unfamiliar with the law school at Chicago, Senior Lecturer positions are given to people like Richard Posner and Frank Easterbrook. Posner and Easterbrook are, you know, judges on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals and have major experience and major scholarly publications behind them. Posner in particular writes about as frequently as most people breathe. By contrast, other than an unsigned student note while on Law Review, Obama has issued no scholarly publications on any issue either as a law student, or as an attorney or as a Senior Lecturer.

It took a lot of nerve to put in the kind of request Obama put in. And even more amazingly, that request got granted.

And what was the result? Obama’s supreme self-confidence was bolstered by people like Baird, Fischel and law professor Cass Sunstein, who have fawned over Obama for as long as they have known him. This kind of treatment of another with Obama’s credentials would have been nothing short of inconceivable. And yet, amazingly, Fischel actually wanted Obama to go beyond being a Senior Lecturer and tried to give him tenure (there is controversy over whether the faculty was properly informed of this and whether it gave its consent but when the Dean of the Law School at the University of Chicago, a place famous for its insistence on scholarly production and a law school that is now probably the most rigorous in the country–Harvard Law has recently eliminated grades, after all–even goes so far as to make the offer to Obama, an offer no other person with similar credentials would have gotten, it is telling). If you believe that Obama actually wrote The Audacity of Hope, you would, of course, be appalled that a Senior Lecturer and a potential candidate for tenure got so much Con Law and basic history wrong in his discussion on jurisprudence (I am quite certain Obama used a ghostwriter but he could have actually checked the ghostwriter’s work and I doubt that a ghostwriter would have written about jurisprudence without running the language by Obama first).

Add to all of this the fact that Obama, as a Senior Lecturer, never participated in the famed faculty workshops in which scholars at Chicago would tear each other’s works apart in rigorous and oftentimes acid debate. If you think that John McCain can be brutally dismissive in a debate, you ain’t seen how Richard Epstein operates. To be fair, Obama couldn’t make these because he had to go to Springfield but even when faculty members tried to talk to him about issues, Obama would shut them out if they did not agree to his views. Epstein himself has said that Obama is almost completely averse to hearing alternative points of view and never really engaged people intellectually.

Similarly, John Lott said that the ice wall would come down if he ever tried to push his views on guns in a debate with Obama. Rather than engage Lott in a colloquy, the kind you would expect to occur between scholars, Obama simply would not give him the time of day. Of course, Chicago scholars–like any other scholars–would love to be able to say that they influenced the possible next President of the United States–a guy who was their colleague at one time. Instead, they say that he shut them out and that he never actually engaged them in anything resembling intellectual combat or give-and-take.

All of this brings to mind Jimmy Carter in 1976, a man who believed that he was the Messiah of that time. A man who compared himself and was compared by others to JFK (there actually was a Time cover in which the artist clearly went out of his way to draw Carter’s hair so that it looked like Kennedy’s). Carter, like Obama, believed that he was a World-Beater. He thought there was no challenge that he could not conquer.

We all know what happened next.

Unless you are fully prepared for the Presidency, it breaks you. And since the power is so addictive, the office virtually invites you to allow it to break you. Aides and assistants can try to protect you politically all they want but President Barack Obama is in for the rudest of awakenings. Within short order, he will learn humility.

And in the process, the country will suffer for lack of a capable President.