Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Mr. Obama was in the business of complication"

I know that most of my readers here are regulars at The Obama Diary. But I want to make sure that all of you have read the wonderful post there by zizi2 titled: Hey Ta-Nehisi Coates, Pres Obama is No Paul Ryan. In it she quotes from a fascinating article from back in 2008 by Jodi Kantor about Barack Obama's days as a law professor at the University of Chicago. I was particularly struck by a couple of the things his former students said about him.
For one thing, Mr. Obama’s courses chronicled the failure of liberal policies and court-led efforts at social change: the Reconstruction-era amendments that were rendered meaningless by a century of resistance, the way the triumph of Brown gave way to fights over busing, the voting rights laws that crowded blacks into as few districts as possible. He was wary of noble theories, students say; instead, they call Mr. Obama a contextualist, willing to look past legal niceties to get results...

In class, Mr. Obama sounded many of the same themes he does on the campaign trail, Ms. Callahan said, ticking them off: “self-determinism as opposed to paternalism, strength in numbers, his concept of community development.”

But as a professor, students say, Mr. Obama was in the business of complication, showing that even the best-reasoned rules have unintended consequences, that competing legal interests cannot always be resolved, that a rule that promotes justice in one case can be unfair in the next.
Anyone who has ever read President Obama's book The Audacity of Hope is aware that he has always leveled critiques at liberal orthodoxy. He studied the outcomes and - as a pragmatist - often found them wanting. That's why he's no stranger to the kind of attacks he's received as President from many progressives. He's used to it.

I see President Obama's ability to challenge these kinds of things as a mark of maturity. Whether you agree with his conclusions or not, it is important that we ALWAYS ask the tough questions and push ourselves to find more effective answers.

But in the end, his questions and critiques have always been about strategies - not goals. Too many people miss that. In case you had any doubts about that, listen to this interview from 2001 of then-law professor and state senator Barack Obama (just ignore the hyperbolic warnings, this video was obviously posted by wingers obsessed about our soshulist prez).

Now...anyone who wants to claim that this President is naive or needs to be lectured about progressive goals for social justice can just go take a seat!


  1. Thanks a bunch Nancy for the plug of my piece at TOD, but more importantly the incisive analysis you make here.

    1. You nailed it today...absolutely nailed it!!!!!!!


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