Legal Muse

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Taken in full from The Volokh Conspiracy, and author David Bernstein. For those of you who don’t know, the Volokh Conspiracy is a largely libertarian/conservative blog, with some very notable contributors.

More on Obama as a Product of a Particular Liberal Culture:

On Saturday, I wrote that Obama’s ties to Ayers and Wright, and his apparent lack of self-consciousness about these ties and how they might affect his political career, “suggest to me NOT that Obama agrees with their views, but that he is the product of a particular intellectual culture that finds the likes of Wright and Ayers to be no more objectionable, and likely less so, than the likes of Tom Coburn, or, perhaps, a Rush Limbaugh.”

Some readers might be a bit mystified as to what I was getting at. Well, consider Obama’s years at Harvard Law. I attended Yale Law School the same years that Obama attended Harvard, and I had friends at Harvard, so I have some idea about the general intellectual culture that the institution (which was not dissimilar to Yale’s culture).

That culture considered extreme leftists (known as “progressives”) to be within mainstream political discourse, but run-of-the-mill conservatives (known as “reactionaries”) to be, at best, on the fringe. Consider that conservative lawyer and Obama Harvard Law classmate Brad Berenson praised Obama as president of the Harvard Law Review because “Whatever his politics, we felt he would give us a fair shake”. Are there many places in America where mainstream conservatives like Berenson have had to worry about being treated fairly because of their politics, and where a “boss” will get praise simply for not treating them like pariahs? But Obama won support and praise simply for giving conservatives a “fair shake,” with no question that people on the extreme left were entitled to such treatment.

Now consider Obama’s answer when asked at a debate about Ayers:

“George, but this is an example of what I’m talking about. This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who’s a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He’s not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn’t make much sense, George. The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who, during his campaign, once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.”

So, it seems that in Obama’s mind, he’s an open-minded guy because he’s as willing to be friends with a law-abiding conservative Republican senator as with an extreme leftist unrepentant former domestic terrorist–just as he was considered open-minded at Harvard for treating a mainstream conservative Berenson as a non-pariah. It is this attitude that is a reflection of the political culture of elite liberal east coast schools, and liberal univeristy ghettos such as Hyde Park, and is also reflected in Obama’s infamous “clinging to guns and religion” remark.

Being in the academy myself, I know many people who share Obama’s outlook, or who are even more left-wing. Many of them are fine individuals, write thoughtful and interesting scholarship, are a pleasure to engage with in conversation, and respect my work and my ideas, even if they think some of my views are rather loony. Like them, Obama may very well be a fine, thoughtful, individual, willing to engage with people and ideas despite his natural instinct to recoil. But that doesn’t mean I’d want to be governed by them, or him, and Obama’s 100% liberal voting record in the Senate is likely a far better indication of his underlying ideology than his willingness to be polite to Berenson and Coburn.

My commentary:

First of all, I’m a frequent visitor of the blog over at the Conspiracy, and I think that anyone who’s interested in law or politics should be too. The level of thought occuring over there is might higher than in the normal newspaper, and the things that are reported are things that have substance. They may report on something random, but it’s important because there will be a trial about it that might significantly change established law.

Now, on to Obama. Now I haven’t gone to Harvard or Yale, but I am at a top 20 law school in (roughly) the North East region. What’s the political climate like, might you ask? The climate is such that extreme liberals are considered the “far” (but not extreme) left. Conservatives are seen as… wait, we have conservatives at this school? Clearly, all socially and intellectually elite people are liberals! So essentially, I find Mr. Bernstein’s thoughts accurate. It’s like the political spectrum has been shifted a standard deviation to the left. Moderates are seen as conservatives. Conservatives are generally stared at like they don’t belong, and in disbelief that they could be such heartless bastards.


Written by DMN

October 6, 2008 at 11:29 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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13 Responses

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  1. i have difficulty labelling myself. i have a rather eclectic collection of beliefs that borrow from almost every political ideology. i suppose if i had to choose, i’d say i’m moderate, but then i hold to some beliefs that don’t fix there, either.

    bottom line, i’m a registered unenrolled, and i tend to either vote for the person i think is best suited for an office, or at least take votes away from the person i think is least suited for an office.


    October 6, 2008 at 11:50 pm

  2. hey, i just made a relevant, and thought out comment.



    October 6, 2008 at 11:51 pm

  3. I wonder where the usage of “office” came from. Used in your first post, it seems so random (if thought in context of common usage). Like, I have an office. My mom has an office. I’m voting so you don’t get an office bitch!


    October 7, 2008 at 12:04 am

  4. Ooh, I like these quote things in this format.

    So I never felt a need to label myself until I moved to DC, and while the unstated need to do so has been very annoying to me, it has made me think more about it.

    Just based on the climate here, I’d agree with you that the rise of the liberal bookworm is getting pretty intense…but since Obama is 48 (I think?), I’m guessing that he went to law school about 30 years ago. Do you think that liberal vibe has become more pronounced since then, and if so, why?

    iPod + YouTube = raging liberal? I’m sure Ann Coulter would have something to say about that.

    I’m genuinely curious. I don’t consider myself directly under the “liberal” label, but most of my thoughts do tend to lean that way by principle- which I don’t think is a direct product of academia.


    October 7, 2008 at 9:41 am

  5. I was referring, of course, to public office, which is another name for what people campaign for in election years. What would you call it? Specifically, what would you call it when you are describing more than one of any of the following, and also anything similar in function or form(?): President of the United States, United States Senator, State Senator, Mayor, United States Congressman, District Attorney, State Treasurer, Governor, Town Selectman, City Councilman, Vice President of the United States, Prime Minister.

    Instead of listing all of those, isn’t it much easier to simply say “an office”?



    October 7, 2008 at 4:06 pm

  6. Joy. Its a battle of semantics and definition, and the extreme left is winning. So very sad.

    – T. Ohhe

    T. Ohhe

    October 7, 2008 at 5:25 pm

  7. Dave,

    Of course that’s what you were referring to. I was innocently poking fun at how the term seems out of place. I apologize for my raging judgementalism.


    It is sad. Middle America sees the real political spectrum – not the one that the media or academia portrays. The proof is in the pudding. If you just watched the news, you’d think the election would be landslide Obama (or in the past, landslide Kerry or Gore). But clearly, the media and academia is not where a large population of the American political spectrum lie.


    “Some readers might be a bit mystified as to what I was getting at. Well, consider Obama’s years at Harvard Law. I attended Yale Law School the same years that Obama attended Harvard, and I had friends at Harvard, so I have some idea about the general intellectual culture that the institution (which was not dissimilar to Yale’s culture).

    That culture considered extreme leftists (known as “progressives”) to be within mainstream political discourse, but run-of-the-mill conservatives (known as “reactionaries”) to be, at best, on the fringe.”

    I think it’s about the same now. What’s it like at Georgetown now? Are the prof’s liberals? What about the student body? At GW Law, it’s at least 95% liberal (legitimate, card carrying liberals).


    October 7, 2008 at 10:45 pm

  8. Yeah, I knew you got it (using “context clues” from your response), but sometimes it’s way more fun to respond to what other people absolutely did NOT say. Try it, it’s amusing.

    And besides, I wanted to make a list. 🙂


    October 8, 2008 at 3:05 am

  9. Actually, looking at your first post again, I think that it’s the usage of “an” – as in “best suited for an office”.

    I think I’d have dropped the “an”.


    October 8, 2008 at 3:39 am

  10. Yeah, that would work, too.


    October 8, 2008 at 8:24 am

  11. Hard to know about the general pulse at G-town- I’m a grad student, I’m seldom on campus, and my field in general (literature) has been crunchy-granola-liberal for years.

    I will say that the “College Democrats” at g-town appear to have a strong organization…but there’s also a wave of traditional folks- people whose families have adopted attendance at G-town as a long-standing tradition. Those people, I would suspect, are fairly conservative in their agendas because they were brought up to be so.

    The other odd part about going this very old, traditional, Jesuit school is a) a prevalence of hate crime against gays, and b) a quiet refusal to include the cost of birth control in health care coverage. Not that those two go together explicitly, but it is an indicative factor (I think) of the two extremities that still exist: extreme (and irresponsible) liberalism on one side, and traditional to the point of irrational conservativism on the other.

    moderates of the world unite!


    October 9, 2008 at 11:15 am

  12. What’s funny is that most east-coast Catholics are hard-core liberals. How does that make any sense? The Church is against gays, pre-marital sex, and abortion. Liberals define themselves by those issues. It’s such a disconnect to me. I imagine it has to do with concern about social welfare as opposed to the military and the economy.


    October 9, 2008 at 8:36 pm

  13. Huh, that’s weird- but it makes sense…I’d much prefer to elect a conservative with a liberal approach to social welfare…but I guess that would mean an independent like Lieberman or something like that. Oh well.

    I just realized that my vote doesn’t matter anyway. 90% of DC residents- 90!- voted for Kerry in the last election.


    October 10, 2008 at 9:53 am

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