Prof. Richard Epstein Discusses Barack Obama
04/02/09 - TV.NationalReview - Uncommon Knowledge with Peter Robinson (7:23)
Richard Epstein was a colleague of Barack Obama. This video is a discussion between Robinson and Epstein about Barack Obama's talents and shortcomings. The following is my edited transcript.
Richard A. Epstein is the James Parker Hall Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago, where he has taught since 1972.
Peter M. Robinson is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, and the editor of Hoover’s quarterly journal "The Hoover Digest".
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Robinson: You wrote in Forbes in Oct 2008,
I know Obama through our association at the University of Chicago Law School and through mutual friends in the neighborhood. We have had one or two serious substantive discussions, and when I sent him e-mails from time to time in the early days of his Senate term, he always answered in a sensible and thoughtful fashion.How can you say such a thing?
And yet, for assessing the likely course of his presidency, I don't know him at all.
Epstein: It's very easy. Obama has the world's most perfect human disposition. He can sit in a room with you, he can listen to you, and he can talk to you, and you really get the sense of a man who is in complete self control.
But, that's the very feature that makes him so hard to read. He is so much in self control, that if he doesn't want you to know in a conversation what he is thinking, you can be there for 30 minutes and never be able to figure out what he believes. You can only have him question you about what you believe. He keeps all of his thoughts to himself.
Robinson: So, he is like Leonard Nimoy, like Spock, the Vulcan in Star Trek.
Epstein: He basically knows how to keep that shield over his face.
It is almost unnerving to talk to him, because you want to say "I agree with you", as opposed to having him ask another question so that he can understand your position a little better.
His speech is completely inconsistent with his political record. As a member of the Senate he had the most left wing voting record of anyone there. More so than people like Hillary Clinton. And that is, of course, the way he moves
Obama worked as a community organizer and was in many cases very constructive. He organized public/private partnerships to help the homeless and downtrodden.
But, the difficulty you get, for someone who has only worked in that situation, is that he believes the creation of private wealth is something the government cannot influence or destroy. He has many fancy redistribution schemes, in addition to his health plan and new labor laws, which are all wealth killers.
He is about to engage in a series of proposals to redistribute wealth that we do not have.
Robinson: You are quoted in the Boston Globe, "I like Obama but I reject the suggestion that he is an intellectual. He is an activist merely mimicking the mannerisms of an intellectual." How good is Obama's mind?
Epstein: His mind is pretty good, but it is a clever "means-ends" mind. He has never written a scholarly article in his entire life.
Robinson: He was President of the Harvard Law Review but never wrote an article.
Epstein: If he did, it was unsigned and not academically significant.
Robinson: Would you ever give him tenure at the University of Chicago Law School?
Epstein: No, no, no. Jody Cantor got this story from somebody, but it isn't true. We did not give Obama a tenured offer. Obama was such an engaging fellow, that we all, including me, would have offered him a tenured track position [not tenured, but leading to tenure if the work is high quality].
We never got to an offer. Obama has a high level of self-knowledge, as much as anyone I have ever met. He realized that he was not cut out for an academic career. It wasn't what he wanted.
Robinson: A headline in Politico last week reads Obama tightens reins on capital and says "President Barack Obama and his allies around Washington are about to give the capital a bracing lesson in one-party rule." Are you surprised?
Epstein: No. It's the same element, Obama is in complete control of himself. He is a fierce competitor and he likes to be in control of his environment.
His positions are not close to the middle, and so he sees no reason to compromise with Republicans unless and until they can mount a veto threat in the Senate. He is very, very dogmatic about his substantive positions. He knows what he believes and he knows why he believes it, and it is extremely difficult for people on the outside to change his mind.
The fundamental mistake of his entire world view is that he treats contracts as devices for exploitation and not as devices for mutual gain, and he assumes that redistribution can take place without any negative impact upon production.
If you live in that kind of a fairy land, which I think he does, every one of his major social and economic initiatives are going to misfire. And, if they succeed, God forbid, in getting through, they are going to intensify the downturn that we have already experienced. He is the wrong guy for the job based on his intellectual format. The question is whether you can force him back.
Robinson: He has a reputation as a brilliant orator. We now know that he will not give even brief remarks, the kinds of things that chief executives from Washington, through Reagan, through even George W. Bush would give with only a note card or even off the cuff, he won't speak without a teleprompter. How come?
Epstein: Same point. He is very much a man who wants to be in total control. The moment you start to improvise, you are like me, and you will start calling the President "this guy", and then you will say no, that's not the phrase I should have been using in this circumstance.
Robinson: Charles Krauthammer described the dinner that Obama attended at the home of George Will with a number of conservative journalists shortly before the inauguration.
Krauthammer said that after Obama left, some stayed around and talked for an hour or so, and they could not decide whether he was a centrist who wanted to throw bones to the Left, or a Leftist who was willing to throw bones to the center. Which is it?
Epstein: The reason they couldn't figure it out is the same thing that I mentioned before. Obama has a sort of stone-faced experience, and it is quite on purpose.
The answer is pretty clear. He is a man on the left who will, if necessary, throw bones to the center. He is not a man from the center. Some of the appointments of his may sound centrist. But again, I just don't believe in this as a serious indicator.
David Axelrod is a high powered politico. He has much more influence on anything that Obama does than someone like Lawrence Summers, who might have much more sense on these economic issues.
How do I know that? Well, I was certainly not there for the conversation. But, when I hear Larry Summers announce that collective bargaining and organized labor produces productivity, I don't treat that as a statement of an independent judgment. I treat that as a sense that if the administration is really strongly pro-labor you have to sort of throw some bones in that particular direction, as an independent advisor, in order to lend a certain degree of seriousness to what's happening.
The Obama I (Don't) Know
Oct 2008 - Forbes.com by Richard Epstein
About the inscrutable Obama and the bad effects of his proposals.
Leading the People
If You Don't Agree Now, You Will Later
People who want to lead you to a better world want control, committees, and universal participation. We all must pitch in.
Obama and God
When God talks to you through your inner voice, it is even better than prayer. Obama experiences this every day, in his own words.
L. David Alinsky is the son of the famous Chicago radical, the late Saul D. Alinsky. The Boston Globe published his letter on 08/31/08 boasting that Barack Obama had made enormously effective use of his training in Saul Alinsky's methods.
David Alinsky [edited]: "I am proud to see that my father's organizing model is being applied to affect the 2008 Democratic campaign. It is a fine tribute to my father as we approach his 100th birthday. My father produced a powerful strategy for initiating change and making it really happen, when executed meticulously and thoughtfully. Obama learned his lesson well."
dwood: Obama's most significant education was not at Columbia or Harvard Law, but the years he spent training in the Saul Alinsky system for community organizing, and teaching workshops on Alinsky's methods.