The Real Obama
Missing in action.
11:00 PM, Nov 5, 2007 • By DEAN BARNETT
IN MY PREVIOUS PROFESSIONAL life, I had reason to be in contact with dozens of Barack Obama's classmates at Harvard Law School. When he entered the presidential race, I dusted off my Rolodex and began making some calls to get the off-the-record skinny on the Democrats' potential savior.
The results surprised me. Regardless of his classmates' politics, they all said pretty much the same thing. They adored him. The only thing that varied was the intensity with which they adored him. Some spoke like they were eager to bear his children. And those were the guys. Others merely professed a profound fondness and respect for their former classmate.
Even more interesting was what wasn't said. In dozens of conversations, not a single person said anything negative about him, and some were hardly the senator's political fellow travelers. Also noteworthy is that virtually everyone seemed to know Obama. Usually people who have such a high profile on law school campuses have their detractors. Obama apparently didn't.
The only reason I bring this barely relevant history up is to show what a stud of a law student Barack Obama was. He graduated Harvard magna cum laude. This was one honor you unquestionably had to earn. It's a very impressive feat. Back in Obama's days at Harvard, more than 50 percent of the class graduated cum laude, a fact that made graduating "with honors" a meaningless accomplishment. But graduating magna was a different kettle of fish. Barack Obama graduated right near the top of his law school class.
That fact, along with his presidency of the Law Review, makes his uniform popularity all the more impressive. Law schools are intensely competitive places. People who thrive to an unseemly extent, as Obama did, are usually subject to an array of resentments. After all, the lawyers of tomorrow populate law schools; pettiness and insecurity reign supreme.
One can only theorize why this is so, but I have a solid hunch. The law school version of Obama was by all accounts a consummate alpha dog. He was a few years older than most of his classmates, and in law school those years mean a lot; they often translate into an inordinate difference in confidence and maturity compared to the students who went straight to law school from undergrad. Given the kind of hard-core community organizing that Obama was doing, the difference between him and even most of his classmates who also took some time between undergrad and law school was probably significant. He was getting fascinating life experience; they for the most part were doing more mundane things like consulting or experiencing the horrors of being a paralegal at a big law firm.
On the campaign trail, however, Obama comes across as the opposite of an alpha male. In the fight for the Democratic nomination, that role has fallen to Hillary Clinton. Obama is reminiscent of another extremely impressive man who fell flat as a wholesale politician--Admiral James Stockdale. Like Stockdale, Obama doesn't seem exactly sure of who he is or what he's doing running for president.