Sunday, September 21, 2008

Obama Administration: Pragmatic above all else (my quote in the New York Times)

I appear in a story in the New York Times Sunday Magazine today on what lessons can be drawn from Professor Barack Obama of the University of Chicago Law School. He was my professor for Voting Rights in 1999 so I was quoted as part of today's story.

Here is the end of the piece:

Dan Johnson-Weinberger studied voting rights with Obama two years after
Turbes did. He remembers Obama as an able observer of the allocation of power in
the American democratic system. As Obama shepherded students through the
evolution of how Americans elect their representatives, Johnson-Weinberger told
me, he emphasized how important the rules of the game were in determining who
won elections.

That background in voting law, the former student said, played a factor in
Obama’s primary triumph over Senator Hillary
Rodham Clinton. “He understood how important the caucus states would be, and
he grasped that voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a
disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee,” he said. “I think one of the
reasons he said yes to this race is that he grasped the structural path to

Johnson-Weinberger, who has championed alternative electoral systems like
proportional voting in Illinois, found Obama’s practical approach to be a
welcome respite from traditional law-school fare. His former professor, he
speculates, would bring a similar mind-set to the White House. “I don’t think
he’s wedded to any particular ideology,” Johnson-Weinberger told me. “If he has
an impatience about anything, it’s the idea that some proposals aren’t worthy of

Johnson-Weinberger has long been an Obama fan. He volunteered for Obama’s
losing 2000 primary challenge to Representative Bobby Rush and his triumphant
Senate run four years later. But even he is a little stunned by how rapid
Obama’s rise has been. “If I had told him then that he was going to be the
Democratic presidential nominee in 2008, he would have laughed,”
Johnson-Weinberger said.

The rest of the article is worth a read, particularly because I think it sheds some light on how Obama is likely to govern as a 'ruthless pragmatic' if the electorate decides not to put McCain -- another deregulation ideologue who constantly pushes for the same economic policies that led to this week's financial meltdown and then inevitable bailout of the biggest banks and financial companies that were deregulated to make bad decisions -- into power. On the economy, there's no question that John McCain will bring more of the same.

(For a bit more on how "free market" -- doesn't look so free now, right? -- policies lead to years of huge profits for companies and then massive bailouts paid for by you and me when we should have just kept reasonable regulations in place to avoid all this ridiculous excess, see this column in the Tribune by John McCarron. The best way to maintain economic growth is with Democratic policies, not Republican deregulators who create these huge messes that put us into recessions).

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