29 August 2008


Watching Barack Obama's acceptance speech, one line jumped out that was so breathtaking, I had to pause the DVR, back up, and make sure I'd heard it correctly. And then I had to write it down, verbatim, to make sure I got it exactly right:

If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

I may have considerable disagreements with some of what John McCain has done over the years, and he wasn't my first choice in the primary. But to suggest that he lacks a record to run on, or lacks significant legislative accomplishments, is a complete inversion of the reality of this contest.

Speaking of "records," one of the most interesting perspectives on Obama's resume I've read comes from Dean Barnett, a headhunter who specializes in placing lawyers in the job market. He asks, "Would You Hire Barack Obama?" In part:

It's when Obama leaves law school in 1991 that his résumé starts raising questions. He didn't begin a full-time job until 1993. Between 1991 and 1993, Obama divided his time between lecturing at the University of Chicago Law School, writing a book, and returning to his pre-law school activity, community organizing.

In 1993, Obama went to work for the small Chicago law firm of Davis, Miner, Barnhill and Galland. He could have gotten a job with any major law firm in America. His belated selection of a boutique law firm that offered lower pay but a better lifestyle than the top firms is striking. A lot of people in the legal industry, rightly or wrongly, would infer a certain softness from Obama's chosen path.


What is striking about Obama's résumé circa 2004, as he began his U.S. Senate campaign, then, is that 13 years out of law school, he had yet to commit himself to one line of work. More important, potential employers would wonder about a gulf between the ability Obama showed at Harvard and his actual accomplishments. Obama never made it beyond lecturer at Chicago, where he wrote no scholarly articles. He wrote one book, then stopped writing for over a decade. And he was less than a force in the Illinois legislature. After roughly three years practicing law, he had turned away from that career.

As a former legal headhunter, I am interested in Obama's law firm work. Last week, I spoke with George Galland of Davis, Miner--now known as Miner, Barnhill and Galland. When I asked about Obama, Galland raved. His enthusiasm was unqualified. I asked Galland how his relatively tiny firm managed to get a guy with Barack Obama's multitude of options to choose them back in 1993 over the better paying big boys. He said his partner Jud Miner "spent months convincing him it was a better place to work" and that Davis, Miner offered a "superior lifestyle."


So if you'd hired Barack Obama at the end of 2004, let's say to be a United States senator, you would have been on notice: You were getting a wonderfully gifted individual, but one with a history of failing to focus for long on the task at hand. And that's exactly how it worked out for Obama's constituents in Illinois. Shortly after becoming a senator, Obama began writing his second book, and shortly after that he began running for president. His accomplishments in the Senate have been virtually nonexistent.

Here's the link to the whole thing. As I said, it's a very interesting perspective.

And I should add that I am the last person who would criticize another for choosing a job with a better "lifestyle" over longer hours and better earnings. Our family has done precisely that, and we have no regrets. Mrs. Yeoman Farmer, who finished law school just two years after Barack Obama, walked away from that career to be a full time homeschooling mother. Likewise, I could earn more money if we lived in Washington, DC and I worked for a big research firm. We've chosen this lifestyle because it is the right one, in toto, for our family. But here's the key: I'm not running for President of the United States. I'm not asking for a promotion based on my previous work record.


Anonymous said...

Let's include the whole quote, to be fair:

"I know there are those who dismiss such beliefs as happy talk. They claim that our insistence on something larger, something firmer and more honest in our public life is just a Trojan Horse for higher taxes and the abandonment of traditional values. And that's to be expected. Because if you don't have any fresh ideas, then you use stale tactics to scare the voters. If you don't have a record to run on, then you paint your opponent as someone people should run from.

"You make a big election about small things."

This seems to me a pretty straightforward description of how campaigns are run; I've done it and I imagine you have too. To the extent that this particular statement is about McCain, his record includes a lot of positions that won't make it into his ads because he's on record holding the opposite view. So the campaign becomes about . . . whether a legal headhunter would be impressed by his resume?
I shudder to think that we would be governed by people who made partner in large firms. Have you met many of them? -- JD

Michael Francis Saunders said...

I don't follow the campaigns. I am already terrified by one candidate and resigned to the other. So I didn't see Senator Obama's acceptance speech. I prolly could find it on youtube, but I'd rather not, so when I read your post I wondered if in your quote Obama was speaking about McCain or himself. Since the previous commenter gave a little more context, it's clear that he means McCain, but he may be implying, (as the above comment infers) "They're doing it, so don't blame me if we do it too."