Interesting views from those who know President Obama from an academic perspective.
Laurence H. Tribe, a leading constitutional-law scholar and Obama’s mentor at Harvard, told me after Wednesday night’s debate with Mitt Romney, “Although I would have been happier with a more aggressive debate performance by the President, I’ve had to remind myself that Barack Obama’s instincts and talents have never included going for an opponent’s jugular. That’s just not who he is or ever has been.”
Christopher Edley, Jr., who also taught Obama at Harvard, served as an informal adviser, and is now dean of the law school at the University of California at Berkeley, laughed when I asked him if he was disappointed by the President’s strangely absent demeanor and pedagogical answers. “I’m a professor and he was a professor: What’s the problem?!” he said. “I usually don’t treat being professorial as a problem. It’s usually great in my book, but he played in that particular comfort zone of his and it was a mismatch for the occasion. I’ve been in too many debate-prep sessions to count with Presidential candidates—I worked with Dukakis, Gore, Dean, and Obama, in 2008—and there are some basics that the President just didn’t check off. Most glaringly, for starters, he failed to look into the camera for his closing statement.
“The reason I hate campaigns,” Edley continued, “is that being right on the substance isn’t good enough. That’s why I’m an academic. Of course, Obama knows that, but it’s also a question of what he cares about. I admire him for caring more about the substance than the tactics even if it makes me grimace when I watch him. Why does he do it? Look, we all do things in the short term that are not consistent with a long-term goal, whether it’s failing to save for retirement or watching TV instead of doing your homework. It’s called being human rather than being the ideal client of your handlers. It makes it harder to achieve his goal, which is to get reëlected. But if you wanted authenticity you got it [on Wednesday] night. And, really, you got it in an unsurprising way. We know that Obama skews cerebral and that he has never liked debates as a way to engage issues. He has said that many times.”