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Thursday, April 05, 2012

How Obama Charmed the Pants off Laurence Tribe

From Obama's Law in The New Republic.

On March 29, 1989, at a time when many of his fellow first-year law students were beginning to prepare for the spring semester’s looming examinations, Barack Obama paid a visit to the office of eminent constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe. Obama had not dropped by to brush up for a test. In fact, he had yet even to enroll in an introductory constitutional law course, a gratification Harvard Law School denies its students until the second year of study. Obama’s call was purely extracurricular: He wanted to discuss Tribe’s academic writings. That a young man on the make would attempt to win a distinguished professor’s favor is, of course, an utterly unremarkable event at Harvard. That institution is not principally known for attracting individuals lacking in either ambition or self-regard. Indeed, by the time Obama made his pilgrimage to Tribe’s office, it is safe to say that he trod a well-worn path. But unlike many such efforts both before and after, Obama’s gambit actually worked. As Tribe would recount many years later, so incisive was Obama’s mind, so magnetic was his personality, so clear was his sense of purpose, that the visit moved the professor to scribble a brief note on his calendar marking the occasion: “Barack Obama, One L.!”

On the basis of that meeting, Tribe took Obama on as one of his research assistants. Tribe shielded his dazzling new hire from the mundane assignments that such positions typically require. “I didn’t think of him as someone to send out on mechanical tasks of digging out all the cases,” Tribe recalled. Instead, the two men would periodically get together, sometimes taking strolls along the Charles River, to exchange lofty ideas about the relationship between law and society. In the wake of Obama’s rapid ascent in politics, Tribe allowed that he viewed “him much more as a colleague” than as a student and even went so far as to call Obama his “most amazing research assistant.”

Clean, articulate, Black and non-threatening; how could a famous Liberal Harvard Law professor NOT become besotted with someone who held a mirror up to himself and told him how wonderful he was?

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