“The most all-around impressive student … in decades”

Famed Harvard Law Prof Laurence Tribe gives Obama a boost:

“I can’t pretend that I had any idea then that he would be a serious presidential candidate — that would have been a crazy thing for anyone to project at that stage of a career — but he was certainly the most all-around impressive student I had seen in decades,” said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional scholar at Harvard for whom Obama served as a research assistant.

That’s my emphasis — but does that quote really need it? Wow. Now, it may well be that Tribe indeed likes Obama a lot and liked him then, but his effusiveness may still be calculated post facto to help his old protégé. Maybe. And maybe Obama’s really that good.

And here’s another HLS prof, Charles Ogletree:

Charles Ogletree — a professor who has served as a mentor to countless black students at Harvard Law, including Obama — said, “He was really a moderating influence on the campus by being mature, very much open to a variety of perspectives, but trusted by everyone to reach the right conclusions without some strong ideological link.”

Maybe that’s what the bloggers don’t like about him. Hah.

Seriously, I’m starting to like our field a lot. Still waiting for one more entry, though …

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18 Comments . Leave a comment below.
  1. One more entry

    With Kerry out there is an opening for a veteran, I'd like to see Clark get in.

  2. Harvard profs know how to play the game, you don't say?

    Come on folks. Let's set the scene: Larry Tribe, ambitious Harvard personage, is commenting on a Harvard grad who may become America's first black President. After the election, might anybody be thinking about a Presidential Council for Post-primary Education headed by Tribe, and a $10M grant to Harvard as a thank-you for all their "hard work"? Tribe's "recollections" of Barak's academic greatness are a foregone conclusion.

    • Perhaps,

      But I don't think that's the appointment Tribe really wants.

    • Amen

      If Tribe etal wrote those comments when Obama was a student, I'll believe them. Otherwise, they have as much credibility as a lawyer in a courtroom.

    • Speculation ...

      ... and I'm not sure the POTUS can just dole out $10M grants, but I get your gist: Tribe may well be pouring on the nostalgia for Obama's benefit, in hopes of a future return. Certainly possible.

      OTOH, if Obama is actually an empty suit, Tribe would look pretty stupid, huh? Think about anyone who vouched for George W. Bush's academic prowess ... Oh wait ...

      • Don't call it speculation.

        Speculation is pointing to a chain of events that might have happened, without any evidence that it did. I'm pointing to a motivation that exists, period: a President Obama owing Harvard Professor Larry Tribe a favor would be professionally valuable to Professor Tribe. You can touch it, taste it, stick it on a wall...it is not speculation.

        • But Will,

          Is there a chance maybe Tribe actually feels that way?  I mean, Obama is clearly very talented.  Maybe he WAS the all-around most impressive student he saw in decades.

          This is one comment from one professor.  How did this become a big deal?  I can think of far better ways for Tribe to earn a favor.

          Unless you'd like to explain how you know with such certainty what's going on in his head, lets accept the fact that maybe he was being honest.

          • Fine: maybe he was being honest. Wanna buy a bridge?

            Guys, I'm talking about a motivation. Please see above. Whether it was the dominating motivation, or whether as FC suggests Tribe really truly thought Obama was neat, no one can know. But when someone has a clear motivation to speak a certain way, and then they do, you don't start doing back-flips and saying "wow, isn't it impressive what so-and-so said!"

            How did this become a big deal? I don't know, I wasn't the one who front-paged it.

        • Speculation.....

          ....(noun) 1)the contemplation or consideration of some subject 2) a conclusion or opinion reached by such contemplation 3) conjectural consideration of a matter; conjecture or surmise

          Since you are not, nor can you be certain of Prof. Tribe's motivational factors and it is his motivation that is the wheel on which your conjecture turns, it is by definition speculation.  Could what you describe motivate someone in Prof. Tribe's situation, yes, are you certain that it does, no, ergo, speculation.  No need of a chain of unproven events. 

      • Riiiiight

        A CNN "interview" with Yoshi "Swiftboat" Tsurumi. Lotsa credibility there Yeah, I'm buyin' it.

    • Tribe made similar comments in 2004

      See this story in Time magazine dated Nov. 3, 2004:

      Obama went to Harvard Law "to learn power's currency," he wrote. Laurence Tribe, who argued on behalf of Gore before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000, taught Obama constitutional law and chose him as a research assistant. Of the thousands of students Tribe has had, he calls Obama the most impressive overall. "I've known Senators, Presidents. I've never known anyone with what seems to me more raw political talent," says Tribe. "He just seems to have the surest way of calmly reaching across what are impenetrable barriers to many people."

      Do you really think Prof. Tribe was calculating about a successful presidential run before Obama was even officially in the U.S. Senate? I don't. It seems pretty clear that Tribe was stating his opinion of Barack Obama. You may not agree with Tribe's opinion, you may think his opinion is somehow colored by time or personal ties at Harvard, but I don't see how you can argue it's for political benefit from an Obama administration. (If it was, given the period of time Tribe was talking about, I'd say that proves his belief in Obama's political skills.)

      • I do

        Do you really think Prof. Tribe was calculating about a successful presidential run before Obama was even officially in the U.S. Senate?

        Why not?  The minute he finished speaking at the DNC, people were talking up Obama for President.  Even if not, he was clearly setting up to be a prominent African-American politician...

        sabutai   @   Tue 4 Dec 7:00 PM
        • Tribe spoke highly of Obama 17 years ago, is that far enough back?

          "He's very unusual, in the sense that other students who might have something approximating his degree of insight are very intimidating to other students or inconsiderate and thoughtless," said Laurence Tribe, a constitutional law professor. "He's able to build upon what other students say and see what's valuable in their comments without belittling them."

          But what truly distinguishes Obama from other bright students at Harvard Law, Tribe said, is his ability to make sense of complex legal arguments and translate them into current social concerns. ...

          -- L.A. Times, March 12, 1990, sorry no Web citation, that was research via a library account

          No, it's not saying he was his best student ever. But this was about Obama just being chosen to be the first African-American to head Harvard Law Review, well before Obama finished his career at Harvard.

          And by the way, Tribe has had some other notable research assistants, including Barney Frank and Chief Justice Roberts.

          • That's far enough back for me!

            Now I guess what we need to discuss is the quality of the students Obama was being compared to. Harvard Law School. Hmm. Worrying start. (OK, that was a joke!).

          • ah yeah

            "He's very unusual, in the sense that other students who might have something approximating his degree of insight are very intimidating to other students or inconsiderate and thoughtless"

            That's what being in the Choom Gang will do for you...

          • coming from Tribe this is scary

            But what truly distinguishes Obama from other bright students at Harvard Law, Tribe said, is his ability to make sense of complex legal arguments and translate them into current social concerns.

            Tribe is someone who believes the Constitution is nothing but a complex legal argument waiting to be translated into current social concerns by bright students, preferably his bright students.  He probably wanted Obama to be a Justice, but a President appoints justices, so that's pretty good.

  3. Globe article

    I saw that article online the other day (I've been trying to find the "Curvature of Constitutional Space" since then) but the Globe had an even better article this morning: http://www.boston.co...

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