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How Good Was Obama At Running The Harvard Law Review?
Obamaâ€™s vol. 104 is the least-cited volume of the Harvard Law Review in the last 20 years
I've run electronic searches to determine the number of times Obamaâ€™s volume 104, and every other volume of the Harvard Law Review published during the last 20 years, has been cited in all law reviews during each subsequent year for which full data is available (starting in the year after the last issue of each volume appeared, and running through 2006, the last year for which full citation data is currently available).
The results of my searches are in a PDF which you can download here: http://www.mediafire.com/?bxdzmmtuanx.
Some highlights, using only the first 12 years of citations to each volume, where available (obviously, the more recent volumes have fewer years of citations available):
1. Obamaâ€™s volume 104 (1990-91) has been cited an average of 170 times a year. That is, it was cited 2045 times in the first 12 full years after publication (i.e., 1992 to 2003). It has been cited at the lowest rate of any volume published in the past 20 years.
2. By comparison, for all other volumes published during the past twenty years for which at least a yearâ€™s worth of data is available (vols. 101 to 103, and vols. 105 to 118), they have been cited an average of 262 times a year -- a rate 54% higher than the citation rate for Obamaâ€™s volume.
Another commenter cites a paragraph from p. 11 of a leftist book about Harvard Law School in those years, Eleanor Kerlow's Poisoned Ivy: How Egos, Ideology, and Power Politics Almost Ruined Harvard Law School l (1994):
"Obama was friendly and outgoing, but the class succeeding him wanted a tougher editor to lead them. [David] Ellen, quiet and fair-haired, had graduated summa cum laude in history and science from Harvard College in 1987. He had worked at The New Republic in 1989, the summer before starting law school, and was seen as someone who would be a more rigorous blue-penciler."
There doesn't seem to be any record of Obama publishing anything in his own journal. The commenter who say he's a former editor of HLR claimed on Volokh:
"The law students on the Review all have the right to publish at least one piece (typically they publish at least their third-year papers, which they have to write anyway), and many publish at least two pieces. It would seem surprising if Obama published nothing at all in the very Review over which, he has so often boasted, he presided as President."
Okay, assuming all this is true, what are we to make it?
1. Obama was, objectively speaking, a lousy president of the Harvard Law Review.
2. It's difficult to say how hard Obama tried. He was apparently keeping his grades up (he graduated an impressive magna cum laude), was planning his big book on race and law, advising Blair Underwood of "LA Law," and his heart was in Chicago, where his girlfriend and political future resided.
3. This doesn't prove it, but it fits in with the theory that Obama was intentionally avoiding leaving a paper trail "to maintain my political viability" (as Bill Clinton explained his complicated draft-avoidance plan back during Vietnam).
4. Obama got a lot more out of the Harvard Law Review than the Harvard Law Review got out of him.
5. By the standards which we demand of our Presidents, being the worst editor of the HLR in two decades is really pretty good. If George W. Bush had been editor, it would have looked like the Beavis & Butt-Head Law Review, but with more drunken nicknaming. And W. got better grades at Yale and scored higher on military aptitude IQ tests than John Kerry, who almost got elected President. Kerry had to go Boston College Law School, even though he may well have been the most celebrated person in America to apply to law school that year.
6. It does suggest a strategy that might make McCain's campaign a little less hopeless against Obama. He could say:
"Obama is a state-of-the-art B.S. artist who tells everybody what they want to hear. Everybody loves him because they think he agrees with them, but that's because he has spent his whole adult life not telling anybody what he really thinks. In contrast, lots of people hate me because I'm always saying what I really think."
Of course, the problem is that a lot of people hate McCain for very good reasons. What McCain really thinks is often maniacally disastrous. But, McCain does let us know what's on his mind. You have to give him that much credit.
7. To return to the pressing question of who is The Real Obama, one of the more boring possibilities is that he really is the technocrat with a long laundry list of minor reforms that his website lists. Perhaps Obama wants to be President not to unleash any master plan, but because he's always felt that getting elected President would fill the father-shaped hole in his soul that his traumatic family background left him. And while he's enjoying the therapeutic benefits of being President, he might as well try to push through some little high IQ changes in 401-k regulations or whatever.
After eight years of a President who knew he was too lazy and bored to manage a lot of details, so he decided to roll the dice on about three giant policies--invade the world, invite the world, and in hock to the world--and see what happens, an era of technocratic reform might be welcome.
8. On the other hand, the cultish insanity Obama has elicited this winter might be going to his normally cool head. His Super Tuesday speech:
â€śWe are the ones we've been waiting for, we are the change that we seek.â€ť
sounds like he's auditioning to take over Keanu Reeve's Neo role in the next sequel: "Matrix: Re-Election."
In summary, the combination of a secretive individual like Obama, mass hysteria, and a press terrified of being smeared as racist for asking tough questions means that we shall be living in interesting times.