In It, But Not Of It

Carol Platt Liebau
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Posted: Aug 05, 2008 3:07 PM
In a remarkably perceptive piece, David Brooks puts his finger on a key element influencing voters' comfort factor with Barack -- or, more accurately, the lack of it. 

Brooks notes that Barack has been a "sojourner," but even that isn't really the point.  The problem is that it's difficult to get a grasp of what Barack's interior life is like -- where his core commitments and roots as a person really lie.  As Brooks points out, Barack was in  U Chi law school, but not of it.  He was in the Illinois Senate, but not of it.  He didn't serve long enough as a community organizer really to have roots there, either.

The point applies excellently well, also, to Barack's tenure as President of the Harvard Law Review.  As I've noted before, he often "worked from home" -- shorthand for seeming somewhat disconnected from the everyday rhythms of the place.  The advantage, of course, was being able to avoid the often petty and always bitter controversies that frequently roiled Gannett House. 

But it resulted in a leadership style that could fairly be described as a kind of "benign neglect" (ironically, especially benign for the very outnumbered conservatives, who were well aware that they could have had a radical committed shoving ridiculous policies down their throats).

Last Sunday, the NY Times ran a piece touching on the controversy on the Review surrounding affirmative action for women.  It raged the year I became a member; of approximately 500 in a law school class, 39 made law review.  At the start of the 1990-1991 year (in the middle of Barack's term), only 9 of those 39 new members were female, and some wanted to include women in the affirmative action measures the Review had for minorities as a result.

Interestingly, I don't remember Barack ever taking a stand one way or the other.  It was assumed that he supported the measure (which thankfully never came to fruition), but he never really spoke out.  Was it because he didn't really care, having bigger fish to fry (my assumption at the time), or because he didn't want to alienate conservatives on the Review (many of whom were very hard workers), or because he really didn't think the measure was warranted?

Who knows?  And as Brooks notes, that's the problem with Barack.  It's hard to piece together how he really thinks or what he really feels about anything.   He just seems a bit disconnected.  And when you're being asked to trust the fate of the free world to a guy, you like to have a clue about what's going on with him.