Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Professor President

Jason Zengerle objects to Barack Obama listing "constitutional law professor" as part of his experience in "public service." Personally, I love that Obama was a law professor (technically a lecturer, since he wasn't tenure-track, but I've heard from U.Chicago sources that he had a tenure-track position whenever he wanted it--which he didn't). As I've relayed to many of my friends, after eight years of being run by an over-promoted fraternity leader, I could stand for a little brilliance in the Oval Office. And while, as an aspiring law professor, I've often joked with my friends that there are few people who would call training new lawyers a "public service," in all seriousness I think the scholars who are trying to illuminate our collective understanding of the law, and set budding attorneys on the right path, are truly doing a great deed for the American people, and deserve to be lauded for it.

Fortunately, virtually all the comments in Zengerle's post agree with me, so I'm not alone here.


Mark said...

Besides the obvious reason why you like this, is there any historical basis for thinking the Academic community is a good breeding ground for good Executives?

Who were our best "academically qualified" Presidents? Adams, Jefferson, Adams Jr, Wilson? Any others?

I'd think Washington and Lincoln were not.

If you go further back in history looking at Kings and Emporers of Rome/Byzantium, some were qualified. But again, weighing Great vs Horrible as Executive there finds academics in both camps.

It seems to me academic badging is at best a wash.

Anonymous said...

I have to agree with Mark, I'm not sure that the environment of academia is helpful for prospective presidential candidates.

David Schraub said...

I think Madison can be considered pretty scholarly, as well. And Bill Clinton ("What's Right With America", as one of my Facebook group puts it) was a Rhodes Scholar. But the rise of "academia" as we now know it didn't really take off until the turn of the century (legal academia, even a bit later), so it's tough to really make comparisons.

Obviously, being an academic by itself doesn't qualify one to be a President, and I can think of many academics who I definitely don't want as President. But that's true of any profession (there are a whole lot of Governors, Senators, and Representatives I don't want anywhere near the Oval Office). In general, though, I think that being a professor of Constitutional Law is an overall positive and beneficial experience that helps identify Obama as one of the brightest intellectual lights of his generation (and again, I'm absolutely convinced after the past eight years that we can't have another intellectually juvenile President).

PG said...

If it reduces the number of times the president says, "I'm not sure this is constitutional but I guess I'll let the courts figure it out" (cf. Bush signing McCain-Feingold), I think a strong background in constitutional law specifically could only be a plus. If his teaching experience were in antitrust (my favorite area of commercial law), it would be less useful. But given that the president's job in part is to uphold the Constitution, having a firm understanding of what it actually says and what it has been interpreted to mean would be nice.