There is something profoundly surreal about having known someone like Barack Obama, whose political career has seen a meteoric rise that is the stuff of political fairytales. To turn on the television and see a once-familiar face grown slightly more mature, hear the same vocal intonations and note many of same personal characteristics – now all presented as elements of a “rock star” persona – is a strange experience.
Of course, with public acclaim of the kind Obama now enjoys comes a host of hangers-on, many eager to claim some “special relationship” with a famous person. Certainly, Barack and I were hardly best friends; he was a year ahead of me at Harvard Law School (and six years older) when we met the summer that I became a newly-minted editor of the Harvard Law Review. But we did work together for some time, and he reached out to advise me when I became the first female Managing Editor in the Review’s history.
Barack is a deeply committed liberal, and I am a proud conservative. Even so, he possesses five qualities that are genuinely praiseworthy -- political ideology aside:
He’s intelligent. Clearly, his achievements reveal that Barack Obama possesses intellectual credentials that would impress even the snootiest resume snob. But (perhaps more importantly) he also possesses street smarts. As Hillary Clinton can testify, he knows how to throw a punch as well as how to take one. He is able to size up people accurately. What’s more, he respects "real world" intelligence, a quality that’s all-too-rare among those with stellar academic records – but one that’s vital to someone in public life who must rely on the assistance of an extensive staff.
He’s colorblind. When Barack became the first African-American President of The Harvard Law Review, it was big news. More radical black Review editors urged him not only to take controversial stands on a whole host of racial issues – they also pressured him to use his discretion to elevate black students to leadership positions within the organization. Barack declined to do so; though his choices were often left-wing (as, in fairness, was much of the Review’s membership), they weren’t race-conscious.