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October 15, 2007

On Early Bill, and Early Hillary, and Modern Obama

From New York Magazine:

Hillary’s immersion in child advocacy consumed much of the rest of her time at Yale. Not that she stopped going to, or preparing for, class. “Her hand was always in the air, and her answers were usually cogent, thoughtful, and direct,” Reich remembers. “Bill, on the other hand, didn’t attend most classes, and when he did, he’d rarely read the cases. And Clarence Thomas sat in the back of the class with a skullcap on and didn’t say a word.”

Bill, of course, was Bill Clinton, whom Hillary started dating in the spring of 1971. “They were funny together, very lively,” one of Clinton’s roommates told the author David Maraniss. “Hillary would not take any of Bill’s soft stories, his southern-boy stuff.” Others could never quite figure out what Hillary saw in him. “The bottom line is, she’s much nicer than he is,” says one friend from that time. “He had no real idea of how to engage people in conversation. He would just tell them stories and try to entertain them. He was always looking for applause. But she was, and is, more grounded.”

The article is actually on Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama's law school careers, and it's very, very good. But it's worth saying that reading it, you come away with a much clearer impression of who Hillary is, than who Obama is. And that's tracking with my experience -- and in this post, I'm only speaking of my experience, and not trying to describe anything objective -- of the campaign, too. As the race runs on, I feel less and less certain of my grasp on "who" Obama is, what he believes, what he'll do in office, how he'll do it. I know he's brilliant, and I know he envisions a transformative role for himself in American politics, but the disjuncture between the grand ambition of the rhetoric and the more modest output of his policy shop confuses me, as have some of his votes (including not voting on the Lieberman-Kyl amendment), as has his strange unwillingness to sharply distinguish himself from the rest of the field. He is, to be sure, an attractive enigma, and there's a sense in which he deploys this ambiguity judiciously to broaden his appeal, and retain his aura of immense possibility. But an attractive enigma is still an enigma.

October 15, 2007 | Permalink

Comments

This sentence reads oddly to me:

And Clarence Thomas sat in the back of the class with a skullcap on and didn’t say a word.

Was he studying for his bar mitzvah or something?

Posted by: Haggai | Oct 15, 2007 11:31:40 AM

Yes, the skullcap is interesting on Thomas. He might have appeared to be a black Muslim. Sometime he must have gotten a new direction.

But the non-talkativeness seems to have lingered, except when he was talking about his favorite porn vids with his subordinates.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 15, 2007 11:43:35 AM

Dreams From My Father is the best picture I've seen into who Obama is personally. Or rather, into who Obama was from when he went to college until the mid-90s.

To a certain extent, Obama simply has a less rooted identity than anyone whose run for President since ... I don't know, ever? He's been exposed at length to black power politics, Alinksy-style community organizing, Harvard Law Review, and the Illinois state legislature. That's a much wider gamut of experiences than most people who are in a position to run for President.

Posted by: Nicholas Beaudrot | Oct 15, 2007 11:45:05 AM

Fair enough regarding Obama, but you neglected the to write the other half of the post, in which you explain who Hillary is. What's your "clear impression" of her?

My impression, though not entirely clear, is that's smart as hell and that she doesn't believe in much beyond her own power and that she'd be a competent centrist, not unlike her hubbie, though more disciplined.

And if you're bothered by Obama's non-vote on Iran, I assume you're more bothered by Clinton's yea vote. Better an engima than a clear hawk, no?

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 15, 2007 11:47:34 AM

"Was he studying for his bar mitzvah or something?"

Heh, more likely a kufi.

Or maybe Yale made beneficiaries of affirmative action wear skull caps. That's why he felt so stigmatized.

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 15, 2007 11:51:14 AM

As the race runs on, I feel less and less certain of my grasp on "who" Obama is, what he believes, what he'll do in office, how he'll do it. I know he's brilliant, and I know he envisions a transformative role for himself in American politics, but the disjuncture between the grand ambition of the rhetoric and the more modest output of his policy shop confuses me

As Marc Ambinder pointed out not long ago, Obama's never claimed to be a policy radical, his biggest and most radical accomplishments to date (Coburn-Obama, Feingold-Obama, Death Penalty reform in Illinois, etc.) have all been process oriented. He's a process radical, with big ideas about good government reforms.

And that's not to say his policy isn't pretty good either, just that the boldness of his rhetoric is more in line with what he sees as great potential for government when government works properly. His claim to the nomination, thus, revolves more around his abilities to strengthen the way government works, such that a liberal wish-list of policy proposals (often involving more government interaction) can more easily be implemented. He's going to radically fix the process such that the more modest (yet necessary) policy can be better implemented.

I suppose it makes sense that this type of boldness would be less appealing/less clear to more policy wonkish types, though whether it has more down-ticket appeal (especially given how big an impact "corruption" had in the 2006 midterms) remains to be seen.

Posted by: Dave White | Oct 15, 2007 11:52:07 AM

I want to hear more about Kaus and his goat fuc-ing!!

Posted by: Joe Klein's conscience | Oct 15, 2007 11:53:04 AM

O/T: Health Care Wonkery Alert: GM has for the first time revealed to market analysts the financial effects of its settlement with the UAW.

General Motors Corp said on Monday it will shift $16 billion from an existing trust fund to a new entity that will take over $47 billion in health-care obligations for some 270,000 union-represented retirees.

GM said the deal will boost cash flow starting in 2010 and will represent $3.3 billion in savings by 2011, a year after the ground-breaking trust fund has begun operations.

GM also said it will be able to hire thousands of new factory workers at a total cost of $25.65 per hour compared with its existing cost of $78.21 under a just-ratified four-year contract with the United Auto Workers union.
...
GM said the VEBA funding assumed the new UAW-run trust would achieve asset returns of 9 percent annually in the face of health-care cost increases of some 5 percent.
...
"I'd characterize the agreement as very fair for our employees and retirees, while at the same time significantly improving GM's competitiveness and largely eliminating a major risk on our balance sheet," GM Chief Executive Rick Wagoner told analysts Monday.

So, hourly costs drop from $78.21 to $25.65 in 2011. Sounds like a real deal for GM.

Financial analysts have said that the concession that allows GM to shift $16 billion in existing assets to the new plan will produce larger cash savings than initially projected as the automaker restructures. Ooooh. a SURPRISE!

The stock fell 3.5 percent to $41.12 in Monday trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

One wonders why the stock price fell (aside from a general nasty decline in the overall market). It is because GM said they could hire thousands of new employees down the road - which Wall Street usually doesn't like?


Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 15, 2007 11:58:21 AM

But it's worth saying that reading it, you come away with a much clearer impression of who Hillary is

Wanna bet? Media advisors get paid for a reason.

Posted by: SomeCallMeTim | Oct 15, 2007 12:04:46 PM

including not voting on the Lieberman-Kyl amendment

Ezra, wtf? Seriously?

The facts of that vote are clear and unquestioned.

Harry Reid (whose son works for Hillary Clinton, take that as you will), announced that the vote would NOT be called anytime in the near future. The next day, he called the vote without notifying Obama (although Hillary was notified). Obama, upon finding out from a staffer that the vote was called when he was on a planned campaign trip, immediately called the AP before the vote took place and said he would have voted NO had he been notified of the vote and allowed to return to D.C.

Stop lying, Ezra. I don't understand the blind Obama hatred, because it's not rooted in any sort of reality.

Posted by: LetsStopTheLying | Oct 15, 2007 12:43:28 PM

"Obama, upon finding out from a staffer that the vote was called when he was on a planned campaign trip, immediately called the AP before the vote took place and said he would have voted NO had he been notified of the vote and allowed to return to D.C."

It's you who's making stuff up. Obama was mum on how he would've voted till that night--hours later. In fact there was a debate that night and he, unlike Edwards, didn't say he opposed the bill. If Obama wants to get the word out about a position of his, he doesn't need go around calling reporters; all he has to do is send out a release. I assume he didn't try to do that, or did one of Harry Reid's nephews unplug his fax machine?

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 15, 2007 12:51:13 PM

Read ``The Audacity of Hope'', and I believe you will get a clear idea of the man. I did, was jazzed by the book, moved nearly to tears in his chapter on fatherhood (his experiences mirror mine in many ways) and upped my level of support for him on this basis. The book helped to convince my conservative (fiscal, not social) republican father-in-law that if Obama gets the nod he will vote D for the first time in his long and happy life.

I wish that the book was translating more in the public discourse about the man.

Posted by: calscientist | Oct 15, 2007 6:05:31 PM

I'm surprised people here haven't at least paid a small bit of attention to Thomas' memoir and the press around it. Having watched his Sixty Minutes interview and read some interviews, I think Thomas remains a fascinating, bitter, angry man who shouldn't be on the Court. As to his skullcap, Thomas has explained that when he left the Seminary and was thrown out by his grandfather, he went through a fairly radical (for him, anyway) phase where he seems to have toyed with the Black Power movement. It sounds as though the skullcap fits into that period. His silence, as always, seems to speak volumes.

Posted by: weboy | Oct 15, 2007 9:11:10 PM

The idea of "Obama as Process Radical" would have a lot more power if he were talking about campaign finance reforms and gerrymandering reforms (and perhaps executive power, criminal justice reform and so on).

Posted by: michael | Oct 16, 2007 4:44:40 PM

Yeah, Obama is a process radical. That is apparent if you study up on him. The New Yorker article has a slant they want to shoehorn him in - it's all about their law school careers! Interesting, but not accurate. What I don't get is, how come this is hard for wonks to understand? Are wonks not interested in process?

And Michael, he was talking about - and passing - campaign finance reforms and criminal justice reforms [in Illinois], but now he's kind of boiling it down to "change Washington" - and this is a bit vague for me, and I wish he'd get more specific with it, but what do I know about the voters? Anyway: don't think the fact that he's not talking about it now make you think he's not all about it. He might think it puts people to sleep or something. I don't know.

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Posted by: peterwei | Oct 21, 2007 11:41:16 PM

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