25 Jan 2009

Obama Owes It All To Harvard

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Harvard football fans supporting their team (with a little help from Yale)

In New Republic, Noam Scheiber explains the Barack Obama is more disciplined, efficient, ethical, and scandal-free than the last democrat president, Bill Clinton, and that the differences between the two are attributable to the differing culture and educational approaches of Harvard and Yale Law Schools.

If a transition tells you something about a president’s style–if not his chances of success–then Bill Clinton and Barack Obama could hardly be more different. Clinton was often at his worst as president-elect. Key rules were overlooked (Hillary spent weeks flirting with a cabinet job before learning that anti-nepotism laws precluded it) and key setbacks were self-inflicted (gays-in-the-military shot up Clinton’s to-do list after an offhand comment to Andrea Mitchell). Clinton spent so much time assembling his cabinet that he only had three weeks to hire senior White House staff. All in all, the process betrayed a stunning disregard for Washington protocol. Which was how the Clintons wanted it. Hillary had decreed that no Washington insider would get a job that could be filled by a friend or loyalist.

Obama’s transition was a contrast in almost every respect. His political decisions were free of sentiment or ego (who else would grant Joe Lieberman a reprieve?). His tactical maneuvering bespoke a reverence for Washington institutions (which is how GOP moderates like Olympia Snowe found themselves bathed in presidential attention). He rolled out his team with brutal efficiency and stocked it with Beltway know-how. Even his public pronouncements were strikingly spare. In December of 1992, Clinton staged a two-day, 20-hour economic summit, every minute of it broadcast on C-SPAN. In late 2008, Obama briefly fielded questions after closed-door meetings while his brain trust looked on sternly.

What accounts for these differences? There’s no doubt a characterological component–Obama’s self-control is nearly inhuman, Clinton’s is famously lacking. But part of the explanation also lies in the elite institutions that socialized them–namely Harvard and Yale, their respective law schools. The two schools stand on opposite sides of a cultural chasm in the academic world. Even more than that, they stand for different theories of governing. …

Whereas Harvard prided itself on instilling discipline, Yale believed its mission was to unlock students’ innate brilliance in an atmosphere of freedom, intimacy, and intellectual ferment. Harvard was, in certain respects, a three-year hazing ritual. Yale was more like a three-year Renaissance Weekend. Its graduates had been reassured of their eclat from the moment they set foot on campus.

Read the whole thing, then roll around on the floor a bit.

Hat tip to Matthias Storme.

Fight Fiercely, Harvard!

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