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February 19, 2010

Judging Obama: the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations

Is there anything Barack Obama isn't qualified to do? Not according to his supporters. As I pointed out during the campaign, America's post racial President is routinely exempted from the standards used to judge other men. His nomination and electoral victory were historic in more ways than one:

Since the Civil War, 49 men have won a major-party presidential nomination. Only three of these nominees were less qualified, by traditional measures of leadership and experience, than Obama.

That puts Barack Obama at or around the 6th percentile of presidential candidates chosen by a major party in the last century and a half, experience-wise. But we are not allowed to notice this, because it would be racist to elevate experience over skin color.

Interestingly:

None of those men was able to win the White House.

Not content with having elected one of the least qualified Presidents in modern history, Jeffrey Rosen thinks Obama deserves a position on the Supreme Court, too! Unsurprisingly (at least to those who watched the presidential campaign coverage in stunned outrage), Obama's chief qualification for this elite position appears to be ... drum roll... his temperment:

He's too detached and cerebral. Too deferential to Congress. Too willing to compromise. And he's too much of a law professor and not enough of a commander in chief, as Sarah Palin recently admonished.

These are some of the qualities for which the president, rightly or wrongly, is criticized. They are also the qualities that make him well suited for another steady job on the federal payroll: Barack Obama, Supreme Court justice.

Think about it. Though Obama has struggled to find his footing in the White House, his education, temperament and experience make him ideally suited to lead the liberal wing of the court, especially at a time when a narrow conservative majority seems increasingly intent on challenging progressive economic reforms for the first time since the New Deal. Obama is clearly eager to take on the four truly conservative justices -- Samuel Alito, John Roberts, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas -- as his State of the Union smackdown suggests. But as president, he's constrained by that pesky separation of powers. So what better way to engage the fight than to join the bench?

Rosen's argument - that Obama's failings as President uniquely qualify him for a lifetime appointment to the highest court in the land - ought to be damning. Is there any other profession in which failure at something else would be advanced as a compelling argument for hiring a job applicant? But the rules that apply to others seem to be suspended when Obama's name comes up. Read Rosen's entire essay. Notice anything missing? References, perhaps, to actual legal experience? Rosen is smart to gloss over the pesky question of experience because, as it turns out, Obama did precious little of note during his brief stint as an attorney:

"He was doing the work that any first-year or second-year associate would do," Miner said. "In litigation he was doing basic research and writing memos. ... In the first couple years he would play a very minor role. He wouldn't know (much) so he would take the lead from whoever was supervising his work."

...Obama did not work long as a full-time attorney.

The law firm says he logged 3,723 billable hours during his tenure from 1993 to 2004, most of it during the four years between 1993 and 1996.

In 1995, the year his first book came out, Obama started his successful run for the Illinois state senate and stopped working full time once he took office in 1997.

Hmmm... let's see. Just as a rough tally, 3723/4 years equals about 930 billable hours a year.

For comparison purposes, the ABA's Model Law Firm Policy Regarding Billable Hours prescribes an average of 1900 billable hours per year. Over a four year period, a typical associate would rack up about 7,600 billable hours. Obama billed about half of that. But since we're applying a different standard to Obama, let's give him another chance.

Perhaps the type of work he did is somehow remarkable? A few excerpts from a Chicago Sun Times piece about Obama's legal career quickly dispel that notion too:

"He wrote lots of substantial memos, but he didn't try any cases," said Judson Miner, a partner in the firm who was Obama's boss.

A search of all the cases in Cook County Circuit Court in which Obama made an appearance since he graduated from Harvard in 1991 shows: Zero.

His practice was confined mainly to federal court in Chicago, where he made formal appearances in only five district court cases and another five in cases before the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals -- a total of 10 cases in his legal career. He was on the winning side of just about all those cases. Miner said there were 30 cases to which Obama contributed in some way.

Contrast Rosen's tough, detailed review of a far more experienced nominee. The widely dissed Harriet Miers also had far more experience than Barack Obama.

Although their legal resumes eclipse Obama's in both breadth and depth of experience, both Sotomayor and Miers faced significant debate about their qualifications. In what rational universe would Barack Obama, whose legal resume is perilously thin by any objective standard, be considered a serious candidate for the highest court in the land?

Oh, wait. This is a man who was elected President of the world's largest superpower without a single shred of executive experience to his name. Why am I not surprised?

Posted by Cassandra at February 19, 2010 07:02 AM

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Comments

Wasn't that the drum the Obama campaign beat all the time against Sarah Palin? Her lack of experience? Especially as the governor of Alaska who in a non-partisan way, got rid of corruption?

*thud*

Posted by: Cricket at February 19, 2010 08:50 AM

Q: "In what rational universe would Barack Obama, whose legal resume is perilously thin by any objective standard, be considered a serious candidate for the highest court in the land?"

A: The one that exists between JR's ears. Though I wouldn't define it as a "rational" universe, there is certainly alot of dark, empty space between them.

Posted by: Craig at February 19, 2010 09:52 AM

*snort* :)

I think Jeff Rosen is the one who was going on and on about the Constitution in Exile conspiracy a few years back. Having had time to check on that.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 19, 2010 10:02 AM

I think the real issue behind Rosen's column may be panic: the sense of 'Oh, my god, we're stuck with this loser as the head of our movement for another three years.' The spectacle of watching a supermajority go completely to waste is probably alarming to a lot of liberals.

So, first blow: "Maybe Obama should nominate himself to the Supreme Court." If that fails, we'll eventually get to, "Maybe Obama should admit he is inept and resign." But that's too painful as an opening position.

Posted by: Grim at February 19, 2010 10:19 AM

Rosen forgot to mention Obama's total ignorance of, and disregard for the Constitution. Those really ought to be considered in a Supreme Court nomination.

Posted by: Dr.D at February 19, 2010 10:22 AM

900 hours a year, that cracks me up. The ABA's 1900 hrs/yr figure is moderately respectable but probably won't let you make partner. At tough firms 2200/2400 is routine, and I've known more than one go-getter who routinely broke 3000/yr.

900/yr is someone who doesn't really work there. If he's not fired, it's because he's someone's nephew. Or the firm doesn't have any work and is about to go out of business.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 19, 2010 11:14 AM

So which is it here? Was he someone's nephew, or was the firm going out of business?

Or is there a third option as to why a young man might not be fired for turning in such a poor performance?

Posted by: Grim at February 19, 2010 12:21 PM

You want a third option? The guy is connected in the community--but is a relatively unskilled lawyer. So while he stays with the firm a while, the partners don't give him work. If his skills were well thought of, his work would be in demand. But he's just passing through on his way to somewhere else--and no reason to screw up the case or matter I'm working on just to give some work to an associate who's not the sharpest pencil in the law firm box.

I'd add that normally a President of the Harvard Law Review would get a Supreme Court clerkship, followed by his choice of big firms in New York or Washington D.C. It sounds like the white shoe boys took a pass on this Law Review President. I'm not certain that Obama gave up the "big bucks" in big law firms as a matter solely of his own choosing.

Posted by: Mike Myers at February 19, 2010 12:37 PM

It's Chicago. He had connections, connections that someone at that law firm anticipated using at some point. So he was kept on to provide access to those connections at a later date.

Or: because they needed to tweak their affirmative action statistics.

Posted by: RonF at February 19, 2010 01:08 PM

Posted by: bthun at February 19, 2010 01:11 PM

Well, he wrote two books (allegedly).

Maybe he could teach English at a community college?

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 19, 2010 01:25 PM

Oh, wait. This is a man who was elected President of the world's largest superpower without a single shred of executive experience to his name. Why am I not surprised?

Worse than that. If a President has to do anything, he has to make decisions. Obama's experience in the Illinois General Assembly was pretty much devoid of that. In that body the decisions are pretty much made by the legislative leaders - the majority and minority leaders of each body. The rest go along or else they find their campaign funds dry up and their own party runs someone against them in the primary. Oh, you'll get to stick your name on a few bills and make pretty speeches - which he's good at - but you don't get much chance to make any substantial decisions.

Posted by: RonFOh, wait. This is a man who was elected President of the world's largest superpower without a si at February 19, 2010 01:52 PM

Although their legal resumes eclipse Obama's in both breadth and depth of experience, both Sotomayor and Miers faced significant debate about their qualifications.

Well ... DUH! They are wimmen!! We all know that wimmen are only good for a very few things ... like doing laundry, cooking, chauffeurring kids around town to school-soccer- hockey-4H-ballet-music-baseball-the dentist-the doctor-playdates, cleaning the house, balancing the household books, taking the sick dog to the vet, waiting for the cable guy and the exterminator and the roofer and the painter ("the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker"), greeting hubby at the front door in the evening wearing the French maid's outfit and holding a dry+icy martini and satisfying his EVERY NEED (wink wink, nudge nudge), and getting pregnut ...

Posted by: I Call BS at February 19, 2010 04:35 PM

Rosen is smart to gloss over the pesky question of experience because, as it turns out, Obama did precious little of note during his brief stint as an attorney:

Yea, and I bet if he were an experienced trial lawyer, you'd have no trouble finding fault with that too.

Maybe it's time you got over the fact that he won the election and that he's the Prez and try instead to WORK WIH IT, much the same way I vaguely recall you admonishing people to let go of the Gore-winning-the-popular-vote meme .... Mkay?

Posted by: I Call BS at February 19, 2010 04:42 PM

Yea, and I bet if he were an experienced trial lawyer, you'd have no trouble finding fault with that too.

You haven't been around here long enough if you think Cass is a lawyer basher.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 19, 2010 04:59 PM

IIRC, bashing lawyers is one of the few topics that have gotten people banned (or very close to it) here.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 19, 2010 05:02 PM

That's right, Mr BS, he won the election "fair and square". The problem is there was precious little critical analysis of just what Mr. Obama's credentials, abilities and even what he did in the past. So now people heap criticism on him because of some frankly poor decisions he has made. Experience matters, and so does an understanding of what he has actually done in his life.

He supposedly ran the Chicago-Annenberg challenge, but when Byron York tried to look into the records of that educational initiative, someone that held the archives of the operation tried very hard to limit his access.

What were his grades in college at Occidental, Columbia, and then at Harvard Law?
Who remembers him from those years?

Suprisingly, quite a few people remember the hated Shrub from his college years, and even remembered him from his days with the Texas ANG.

This man who is the president is a mystery inside and enigma. Still.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at February 19, 2010 05:05 PM

BO appointed Eric Holder, and neither of them seem capable of recognizing a legal issue AFTER it has bitten them in the a...

Here's the latest: Holder doesn't understand the fundamentals of something called "recusal".

http://ace.mu.nu/archives/298543.php

No, BO is not qualified to serve on the Supreme Court.

Posted by: Valerie at February 19, 2010 05:24 PM

If he actually wrote some legal memoranda during his 900 hr-a-year vacation at that firm, I'd love a chance to read some of them.

ICBS -- I imagine you're right that if the President had a background as a slick and highly successful litigator, he might well come in for some bashing on that score. That might be true if he'd ever been particularly successful at anything, particularly something so likely to rile people up as membership in the great Lawyers Conspiracy of which I admit my small part. (And everyone here has always been pretty nice about it, compared to what I face elsewhere in life.)

But the fact is, he looks to have been an ersatz lawyer, a chairwarmer, someone who draws a salary for doing not just a whole heck of a lot. That feeds strongly into the impression he's given us over the last year, not to mention his record as a state and federal legislator. There's no chance he gets a pass on that. If he were a barn-burner today, a quick-study hands-on guy who burns the midnight oil, stories about his lackluster past wouldn't get the same traction. As it is, he looks like a guy who gets a pass and isn't even all that embarrassed about it.

In some law firms, there's a nice-looking young man who dresses well and never seems to do a whole lot of actual, you know, work, but you understand that his whole family is stuffed full of rich people who may well send the firm work from time to time. The equivalent role here may have been the President's political connections, which can be extremely important to some law firms.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 19, 2010 06:07 PM

Maybe it's time you got over the fact that he won the election and that he's the Prez and try instead to WORK WIH IT

Don brings up a good point. We got no problem that he won. He flat out beat McCain and is unquestionably the legitimate president of the US. And we are more than willing to work with him on matters where our interests overlap.

When you are in Oklahoma and you both want to go to Virginia you can "work with each other" on whether you take the interstates or the scenic highways.

But when one wants to go to Virginia and the other wants to go to California there can be no "working together" here as each wants something diametrically opposed to the other.

And frankly, when the other guy has called your side an angry mob and bitter clingers (among others) it doesn't exactly inspire cooperation.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at February 19, 2010 06:19 PM

"Is Barack Obama "qualified" to be a Supreme Court justice?" Hmmmm.... What a deliciously wicked question! Any answer is, of course, completely irrelevant to the troubling immediacy of President Obama’s (increasingly) lackluster performance as Chief Executive. (“Work with it” Mr. ICBS? Work with what? Everything springs from either end of Pennsylvania Avenue as a fully decided act, if only partially formed thought. Perhaps you meant to say “deal with it,” or “flow with it,” or, “suck it up,” or something along those lines? Such is, of course, the only practical option ever available to any loyal opposition, although it, too can become dangerous if reminded of that condition too often, or in a disrespectful or boastful manner.)
So where was I? Ah, yes, I was remarking that asking whether Barack Obama is qualified to be a justice of the Supreme Court is like asking whether Sylvester Stalone is qualified to be Pope. (Well, let’s see now…they’re both Catholic…”). Because it’s late on a late Friday afternoon, and all of the really smart people have gone home, I feel qualified to answer the question with an unqualified ”Who cares?” Call me when Cardinal Balboa gets nominated.

The genius of the question lies not in the straight-faced straight-line inquiry posed by its words, but belongs to that devilishly grinning elf peek out from over the questioner’s shoulder. The question asked by our small friend is not whether President Obama is qualified to be a Supreme Court justice,” but “Whatever shall we do with this plainly talented, but woefully inept, human being?”

Honestly, I can’t think of any better to the imps question than Supreme Court Justice, either. But its late, and I need to go jump off before the ledge gets any more crowded. Think about it, and I’ll get back to you.

Posted by: Edito Ratlarge at February 19, 2010 07:17 PM

I don't see why he can't become Chairman of the Democratic Party or some such thing. He's good at raising money and composing catchy if entirely meaningless brief inspiring slogans.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 19, 2010 07:42 PM

Ah, yes, I was remarking that asking whether Barack Obama is qualified to be a justice of the Supreme Court is like asking whether Sylvester Stalone is qualified to be Pope. (Well, let’s see now…they’re both Catholic…”).

At least Stallone is Italian and, as far as I know, had nothing to do with Eugenio Maria Giuseppe Giovanni Pacelli!!

Posted by: I Call BS at February 19, 2010 07:46 PM

We got no problem that he won.

Actually, the guy who really has the most problem with Obama being president? It's the guy who's writing an article saying, "You know, maybe he should think about moving on to something... better."

Posted by: Grim at February 19, 2010 07:48 PM

Isn't Rosen really saying Obama is unsuited to be President, that's a plus?

It would seem we have found the omega of the Peter Principle: We have found the person, now we need to find the position to elevate them to.

Posted by: Allen at February 19, 2010 07:49 PM

Ah yes, the Peter Principle. Just a few days ago Grim, you and I were wondering what will come of The WON now that he's approaching the end of his eighteen month, plus or minus, actual performance headbutts job requirements cycle.

PRESENT!

IIRC, we both agreed that The WON would make a dandy UN Secretary General.

That would be, not only unexpected, but unprecedented!

Why, it could save the world from having a bad self image. Bring hope and change to the impoverished. Reinvigorate the poor through increased taxes to build their wealth, enact CO2 and methane restrictions to improve fledgling third-world industries and Save the Glaciers®, not to mention restrict water to third world rice farmers in order to save the Brown Spotted Asian Rice-Paddy Leech from drowning!

Yes, what the world needs now is love, sweet love,
It's the only thing that there's just too little of

What the world needs now is love, sweet love,
No, not just for some, but for everyone... who accepts The WON.

Lord we don't need another Federal bureau,
we've got bureaus and cabinets enough to cry,
We've got con men in Congress, enough to fry
And runaway spending and debt creation, till the end of time...

*Walkin' Boss grabs the 16oz Jack Black neat, delivers a backhand, and I snap out of my daydream
cough, cough, wheeze, wheeze*

Yeah... UN SecGen. Perfect fit.

Posted by: bt_bacharach_hun at February 19, 2010 08:22 PM

bthun: You are so right! What was I thinking, Dem chairman. UN Sec Gen is a million times better. The Dem chairman actually needs to get some stuff done and might even do some harm if he unexpectedly turns out to do a workmanlike job. The job of UNSG is much closer to playing the Last Emperor of China in a dinner-theater production: very little downside if you don't own stock in the theater.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 20, 2010 12:49 PM

The idea of Obama as head of the UN has been floating around Festung Kleinerote for several months now. He'd fit in quite well with an atmosphere where you travel the world, express pious platitudes, criticize descendants of Northern Europeans and don't look too closely at the sources and destinations of funds paid to your organization. What's not to love, since last I checked, no positions for major deities have come open. (although I could see him assisting Bilious "the 'Oh Gawd' of Hangovers.")

Posted by: LittleRed1 at February 20, 2010 01:24 PM

The UN is perfect: finally a job where you get paid to talk and collect money but never have to do anything concrete.

Posted by: Cassandra at February 20, 2010 01:31 PM

Yep, I think we've nailed it. Now for the next step: making him available for the new job. Sometimes the best way to get rid of that bad apple is to show him the shiny new sinecure and suggest that, if he'll just take it and go away quietly, a lot of public unpleasantness can be avoided. And we'll burn those negatives.

Posted by: Texan99 at February 20, 2010 03:52 PM

"Sometimes the best way to get rid of that bad apple is to show him the shiny new sinecure and suggest that, if he'll just take it and go away quietly, a lot of public unpleasantness can be avoided. And we'll burn those negatives."
These negatives?

So this is what a solid B+ looks like today?

Posted by: bt_that's_some_bell_curve_hun at February 20, 2010 10:20 PM

These are some of the qualities for which the president, rightly or wrongly, is criticized. They are also the qualities that make him well suited for another steady job on the federal payroll: Barack Obama, Supreme Court justice.

Those are *qualities*? Those are disqualifications for *either* position.

Rosen is a foolhard.

Posted by: BillT at February 21, 2010 12:15 PM

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