Friday, October 26, 2012
Speculations on the Benghazi terrorist attack's impact on the election
Most American presidential elections turn on domestic policy and issues, not foreign policy or war. Rare exceptions have included 1864, 1916, 1940 & 1944, arguably 1968, and 2004.
I do not believe that the Obama Administration's bizarre and sorry handling of the Benghazi terrorist attacks that killed Amb. Chris Stevens and three other fine Americans will overshadow domestic issues in the upcoming election. This election is still going to be mostly about the economy for most people, and it should be.
But short of that, I think the Benghazi story is still having a serious impact on the election. I know a lot of good Americans who voted joyously for Obama in 2008, and whose second thoughts and sober reappraisals since have diluted a lot of their zeal. Some of them still have open minds enough to have realized — especially during the three presidential debates — that the synchronized media and Obama-Biden portrayals of Mitt Romney as some sort of scary boogeyman were always detached from reality. Obama basically decided to campaign against Mild Mitt as Lyndon Johnson campaigned against Barry Goldwater in 1964 and Jimmy Carter campaigned against Ronald Reagan in 1980. But when the other 80% of America who only pays attention during the last six weeks before Election Day opened their eyes, they suddenly realized why hard-core movement conservatives have never mistaken Mitt Romney for Barry Goldwater or Ronald Reagan!
Yet many of those voters still held onto considerable residual fondness for President Obama. They sympathized with him. They felt like they could share and appreciate his own frustration with just how hard his job turned out to be. Many of them were disappointed by what they perceived as his sell-outs — Gitmo's still open, we've still got troops in combat overseas, Drones R Us, etc. But they could mostly forgive Obama for that, and they still believed he was basically a good and honest and competent man who'd never put his political ambition ahead of what's noble and good.
It's just damned hard for anyone to square that with this slow-motion horror show. Just about every corner of the Administration's preferred narrative has completely unraveled; nothing's been repaired; on this entire subject, the Obama Administration is entirely in confused and reeling tatters.
I think it could cost President Obama a fair number of votes outright, but I think it's going to have a much more serious impact on Democratic turn-out.
Even those who still love him can't miss the fact that he's getting smaller every day. Even if they still like him, they just can't continue to pretend that he's earned their vote for a second term. They might very well not be able to bring themselves to vote for Romney. But they are already reconciling themselves to the possibility of staying home, or procrastinating until the polls are closed, or whatever else they need to do to preempt any last guilty sentiments.
I could be completely wrong about this. It's just my hunch. I'm even reckless enough to try a medical analogy, which any lawyer should know better than: This Libya business seems to me like an occult ruptured spleen, one that doesn't present with the usual signs and symptoms that would signal the docs that the patient needs urgent surgery, one that may come on seemingly spontaneously many hours or even days after the original trauma. One minute the patient looks pretty normal and alert, maybe just a bit pale; and the next, they've bled out internally and they're dead.
Obama hams for the cameras when required to show voter ID in Chicago today: Was it pursuant to a law he voted for?
It has been some time since I've had occasion to link to any of Josh Marshall's Talking Points Memo websites, but tonight I'll make an exception for this post from TPM's Ryan J. Reilly and its embedded video of President Obama casting an in-person early voting ballot in his home state of Illinois.
If you'd prefer, you can also see the same video here as embedded at NRO, or here directly from MSNBC, but I'm choosing to link TPM because I'm going to quote from its accurate but still eyebrow-raising explanation of why the President of the United States had to pull out photo identification in order to vote in Illinois:
Despite his personal stance against voter ID laws, President Barack Obama was asked to show a form of photo identification when he voted in Chicago on Thursday. While Illinois does not have a voter ID law, the state does require voters who take advantage of early voting to show a driver’s license, a state-issued identification card or government-issued photo ID.
"Voters don't need reasons or excuses to use Early Voting — but voters do need to present government-issued photo identification to use Early Voting," according to the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners.
I'm not licensed to practice law in Illinois and I lack the resources to do in-depth research into its statutes and, especially, their legislative history. But my very quick search of the Illinois election code suggests to me that this may be the provision in the Illinois early-voting statutes that obliged the election worker to ask for Obama's photo ID (italics mine):
(b) In conducting early voting under this Article, the election judge or official is required to verify the signature of the early voter by comparison with the signature on the official registration card, and the judge or official must verify (i) the identity of the applicant, (ii) that the applicant is a registered voter, (iii) the precinct in which the applicant is registered, and (iv) the proper ballots of the political subdivision in which the applicant resides and is entitled to vote before providing an early ballot to the applicant. The applicant's identity must be verified by the applicant's presentation of an Illinois driver's license, a non‑driver identification card issued by the Illinois Secretary of State, or another government‑issued identification document containing the applicant's photograph. The election judge or official must verify the applicant's registration from the most recent poll list provided by the election authority, and if the applicant is not listed on that poll list, by telephoning the office of the election authority.
Alternatively, it's possible that since Obama is residing out-of-state but performing government service, his vote is treated as an absentee ballot, even if cast in person while temporarily back in Chicago. If so, then this may be the relevant language covering in-person early voting before election day by someone who's entitled to vote absentee under Illinois law (italics mine):
In conducting in‑person absentee voting under this Section, the respective clerks shall be required to verify the signature of the absentee voter by comparison with the signature on the official registration record card. The clerk also shall reasonably ascertain the identity of such applicant, shall verify that each such applicant is a registered voter, and shall verify the precinct in which he or she is registered and the proper ballots of the political subdivisions in which the applicant resides and is entitled to vote, prior to providing any absentee ballot to such applicant. The clerk shall verify the applicant's registration and from the most recent poll list provided by the county clerk, and if the applicant is not listed on that poll list then by telephoning the office of the county clerk.
Regardless of which of these statutes was the basis for it, then, I have no reason to doubt Mr. Reilly's source's explanation.
What I am mildly curious about, however, is whether as a state senator, Barack Obama might have actually voted to pass the voter ID law that required him to show his photo ID to vote today. At the very end of the section of the Illinois statute regarding in-person casting of absentee ballots, we see this:
(Source: P.A. 93‑574, eff. 8‑21‑03; 94‑645, eff. 8‑22‑05; 94‑1000, eff. 7‑3‑06.)
And at the end of the more detailed and explicit section on early voting generally, we see this:
(Source: P.A. 94‑645, eff. 8‑22‑05; 94‑1000, eff. 7‑3‑06; 95‑699, eff. 11‑9‑07.)
My educated guess is that these are references to the legislative history of these sections, as originally passed and as subsequently modified. It would appear that the section containing the in-person absentee voting ID requirement was first passed to be effective in August of 2003, which in turn suggests that the statute was likely enacted earlier in 2003 or perhaps in 2002 — i.e., while Obama was in the Illinois senate. And it would appear that the far more detailed voter ID requirement for in-person early voting was originally passed to be effective in August 2005; depending on how long the notification gap was between passage and effective date, that statute might or might not have been passed before Obama resigned from the Illinois senate to take his seat in the U.S. Senate after the November 2004 elections.
I'm going to make a further inferential leap to posit that (1) since the Democratic Party has long dominated the Illinois legislature, such that no important legislation could be passed if the state Democratic leadership opposed it, and (2) as a state senator Obama was generally very reliable in voting in the fashion recommended by the state Democratic leadership, then (3) Barack Obama may very well have voted for the original version of the absentee in-person statute, and possibly may have voted for the original version of the early voting statute. Of course, Obama was also famous for voting "present" and for missing votes as a state senator, so my inferential leap is across a decent-sized chasm.
I can't quite take the last jump, though, that would be necessary to make this truly more than a wild goose chase, not even as a rational inference: Both sections have been amended after Obama left for Washington, but I don't know the details of the amendments. So the italicized language in the quotes above — which represent the law currently in effect — may or may not correspond to their original versions. But that's exactly the kind of legislative history research project that any Illinois lawyer, or indeed even any eager-beaver first-year law student at any Illinois-based law school, would have the resources to undertake fairly easily, if sufficient enthusiasm could be found for it. Maybe one of my readers knows a guy who knows a gal who hung a shingle a few years ago in Urbana, and maybe he or she will volunteer some definitive answers to my questions.
In any event, I was mildly amused by Mr. Mr. Reilly's concluding paragraph, in which he notes without further comment that the Obama Administration "has opposed voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina but approved of less-stringent voter ID laws in Virginia and New Hampshire." Nevertheless, for passing laws which would oblige Texas or South Carolina general election voters to do exactly that which Barack Obama himself had to do today to vote in person in Illinois, the Obama Administration has used the federal courts to block the considered legislative judgments of the Texas and South Carolina state legislatures, their governors, and the citizens of those states whom those duly elected state officials represent.
See, if what happened today to President Obama in Chicago were permitted to happen in Texas or South Carolina, that could only be because the citizens of Texas and South Carolina, their legislators, and their governors are fixated on discriminating against non-whites, doncha know? But in Illinois, it's all grins and giggles and a presidential photo op.
Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Does Obama-Biden have an edge in the GOTV ground game?
I would like all of my friends who are Democrats to read this very optimistic assessment of the relative quality of the two parties' get-out-the-vote "ground games" by a staff writer for the reliably left-leaning The Atlantic. (Hat-tip Avik Roy at The Corner.)
Seriously, I'd especially like for all my Dem friends in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Wisconsin, Nevada, Michigan, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, Florida, and Iowa to read this very optimistic assessment. Treat it as authoritative. Consider its devastating logic and credibility as you cope with the many demands on your time in the next couple of weeks. Any good progressive can and should rely on The Atlantic, so you can be absolutely certain that with or without your vote, Obama's got this in the bag. Oh, sure, you could schlep down to the polls and engage in a bit of symbolic ritual, but really, what's going to more directly affect your real-world quality of life and the lives of those you love — some symbolism, or a really good, long, guilt-free nap?
My main question after reading this is: If the Obama campaign is actually this smart and effective, why is unemployment still above 8% and the deficit above $16T?
Also, if the Romney campaign is as clueless as it appears to be from this article, how did he ever manage to pull off that Olympics thing or make all that money?
These questions ought not trouble my Democratic friends, though. Yes, those are the droids you were looking for.
Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Say no to Trump
Donald Trump is a manufactured celebrity, a publicity whore unfit to shine the shoes of thousands of genuine business people I've had the pleasure of meeting and working with in my 30-plus years as a lawyer. I will not contribute to his cause by linking any of the various sources that are popping up regarding rumors of some "revelation" that Trump may or may not be planning on making now, on the brink of the election.
I will repeat, however, something I've said here and elsewhere repeatedly: Michelle Obama and I probably would never be close friends, but not a single one of my arguments as to why Barack Obama should lose this election has anything to do with her. When it comes to finding grounds to find fault with her husband, we are in a target-rich environment, friends and neighbors. But:
There is simply no net political upside for anyone who opposes Barack Obama's reelection in doing anything that will be perceived, rightly or wrongly, as an attack on the First Lady, or an intrusion into the Obamas' marriage and family that has no close relationship to anything Pres. Obama has done or might do as President.
There is, by vivid contrast, an obvious and enormous potential for blowback and backlash. So anyone who does that — including Donald the Ridiculous — is acting entirely on his own behalf, not on behalf of Mitt Romney or the GOP or conservatives (even the most traditional social conservatives).
Monday, October 22, 2012
Leading from behind meant sending USN's carrier strike forces far from Libyan shores
If you're looking for cultural trivia clues to help you deduce how long the United States Navy and Marine Corps have been projecting power from the Mediterranean Sea — and very specifically, into what's now Libya — consider that the very first phrase of the Marines' Hymn refers to them fighting our country's battles all the way to "the shores of Tripoli." The Commander in Chief who dispatched those Marines there aboard warships of the U.S. Navy? That would be Thomas Jefferson. And the referenced action on those shores of Tripoli, the Battle of Derne in 1804, was the "first recorded land battle of the United States on foreign soil after the American Revolutionary War."
The U.S. Navy and the Marines it transports have been actively protecting American interests in the Mediterranean, and specifically in what's now Libya, for almost as long as those military services have existed. After Operation Torch and the successful North Africa landings during World War Two, the U.S. Navy gradually took over military dominance of the entire Mediterranean from the British. Throughout the entire Cold War, the Mediterranean was, in military terms, an American lake, actively patrolled at almost all times by at least one U.S. Navy carrier group. Those whose memories reach back to 1986 will remember Ronald Reagan deliberately flaunting Mumar Kadafi's cosmically silly Line of Death in the Gulf of Sidra to reassert and reestablish, in the only way meaningful, Freedom of the High Seas.
Does anyone doubt that if Ronald Reagan were alive and serving as POTUS during the "Arab spring," during the change in government of our economic and military client Egypt, during the civil unrest and rebellion in Syria, and during the ouster and killing of that same clown Kadafi, he would have done at least as much for the security of American assets in the Mediterranean area as the U.S. had done throughout the four-plus decades of the Cold War? Does anyone doubt that Ronald Reagan would have had a carrier strike group within overwatch and reaction distance before sending a U.S. Ambassador directly into harm's way in Libya on the anniversary of al Qaeda's greatest triumph?
We have eleven carrier strike groups. As best I can tell, on September 11, 2012, five of them were deployed: Three (Washington, Nimitz, and Stennis) were at sea in the Pacific, and two (Enterprise and Eisenhower) were at sea somewhere in the Fifth Fleet Area of Responsibility, which comprises the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, and the Arabian Sea. Not until its passage through the Suez Canal on October 15, 2012, did the Enterprise carrier strike group finally enter the Sixth Fleet AOR, which includes the Mediterranean Sea.
Ponder that. Then read this set of blunt questions and observations by military writer, former Assistant Secretary of Defense, and USMC infantry officer (ret.) Bing West. Colonel West makes it clear that even with no carrier strike groups in range, President Obama had other military assets that could, and clearly ought, to have been employed. But carrier groups are also intended to deter as well as to respond. So how could it have failed to make a difference if a carrier strike group had been within rescue and response range during the many deadly hours of the Benghazi terrorist attack?
Sunday, October 21, 2012
Obama renews his acquaintance with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright
Was your last vote for Barack Obama based in any part upon the careful reassurances he gave the American public in April 2008 when he threw his longtime Chicago pastor and spiritual mentor — the Rev. Jeremiah "God DAMN America" Wright — under the proverbial campaign bus?
If so, this six-second snippet from a Looney Tunes classic exactly illustrates what President Obama has just done to you:
Recall that Rev. Wright and Barack Obama were joined at the hip for two decades in Chicago. In his sermons, Rev. Wright actually originated the phrase that became the title of Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope." But when even the mainstream media finally began to focus on what Obama himself conceded were "some inflammatory and appalling remarks [Rev. Wright had] made about our country, our politics, and [Obama's] political opponents" during the 2008 presidential campaign, candidate Obama was obliged to assure the public in writing and on television that he "vehemently disagree[d] and strongly condemn[ed] the statements that have been the subject of this controversy." And candidate Obama didn't just denounce Rev. Wright's inflammatory statements, but also "the person" who'd made them (boldface mine):
I have been a member of [Rev. Wright's] Trinity United Church of Christ since 1992, and I've known Reverend Wright for almost 20 years. The person that I saw yesterday was not the person that I met 20 years ago.
Indeed, Barack and Michelle Obama very publicly left Trinity only a few weeks later, in June 2008, and they unequivocally identified their split with Rev. Wright as the explanation:
Barack Obama announced Saturday that he and his wife had resigned as members of their Chicago church in the wake of controversial remarks from its pulpit that have become a serious distraction to his presidential campaign.
In a letter dated Friday to the pastor, the Rev. Otis Moss III, Obama said he and his wife, Michelle, had come to the decision "with some sadness." But they said their relations with Trinity United Church of Christ "had been strained by the divisive statements" of the retiring pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., "which sharply conflict with our own views."
The Illinois senator's decision to break with the church that he has credited with shaping his faith came after months of controversy over racially charged remarks Wright made to the 8,000-member congregation on Chicago's South Side.
And Team Obama has been careful to avoid any public ties to Rev. Wright ever since.
Until now, as let slip — doubtless to the intense chagrin of the Obama-Biden campaign — deep within a San Francisco Chronicle op-ed by the venerable and pernicious Willie Brown, former Democratic mayor of San Francisco and speaker of the California State Assembly (boldface mine; hat-tip Ed Driscoll guest-blogging at Instapundit):
By my estimate, you have to build in a three- to five-point slip from the poll numbers for any black candidate on election day. To overcome the slip, you need to pump up the black vote by equal measure.
And that's not easy, because brothers and sisters aren't among the top turnout groups.
In 2008, Barack Obama was able to compensate for the slip and then some. You would have thought it was Nelson Mandela coming out of jail. This time it's not going to be that easy.
If Obama looks as if he's going black, he could turn off white people. So he's largely been lying low on the race issues — visibly pushing for the Latino vote, the gay vote, the women's vote, but not the black vote.
But last weekend, he held a conference call with a collection of black preachers that included his old pastor, Jeremiah Wright. He wanted to talk to them about getting out the vote.
Mayor Brown didn't volunteer any further details about Rev. Wright's participation in the conference call. But you know someone on the conference call made a recording.
Once upon a time, some eager Woodward-and-Bernstein wannabe would actually be beating the bushes, working Democratic fundraising sources, trying to get a copy to make public, and dreaming of Pulitzers to be earned through a thorough investigation into this sort of stealth about-face conducted by a sitting President seeking reelection.
But those days are gone, and the "cleaners" from Team Obama's rapid response team doubtless began their scrubbing, shredding, and stonewall-building just as soon as they had conducted a mild but vivid session of political reeducation with Mayor Brown. Perhaps tomorrow Mayor Brown will extend and revise his op-ed to clarify that the voice of Jeremiah Wright he heard on that GOTV conference call was somehow also not the same man Barack Obama met twenty-plus years ago.
Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Beldar on the second Obama-Romney debate
I intend to mix metaphors with enthusiasm in this post, but that's the only enthusiasm you'll find in it if you're a fellow conservative.
Nobody made a Ford/Poland-size gaffe last night. There are those who argue that in the biggest picture, against an incumbent President, a challenger "wins" merely by holding his own, fighting to an approximate draw, because burnishing his "potentially presidential" image is more important than who made better arguments. I'm not entirely convinced of that, but in any event it begs the question of who got the better of whom in any particular debate. In my judgment, last night President Obama got the better of Gov. Romney by a nontrivial margin.
Of course the moderating was pathetically biased. Conservatives continue to find this surprising in exactly the same fashion that Charlie Brown continues to be surprised when Lucy snatches the football away just before he can kick it, causing him to flip over and land on his head. I stopped laughing when Charlie Brown does this sometime back in the 1970s. Lucy will keep yanking the ball away, though, until Charlie Brown withdraws his cooperation from the exercise, and so too the Democrats and the Debates Commission will keep foisting these mainstream media moderators onto us and the American public until we withdraw ours.
Single most important result:
President Obama generally succeeded in reversing the impression of disengagement and lassitude he'd generated in even his own partisans during his first appearance against Romney. And he did so without, for the most part, going nearly so over the top in his disrespect or smirking as Biden had. This was not a particularly high bar — the silver lining to what was perceived as Obama's disastrous first performance was that it certainly lowered expectations for his subsequent ones! — but he cauterized the wounds in the Democratic base's self-confidence that Biden had merely bandaged. Had Obama failed to clear this low bar, the race would have ended last night because the wounds from the first debate on the Dems' GOTV/turn-out efforts would have turned out to be definitively mortal. They may still turn out to be; but for now, the patient has been stabilized.
Like every news-following conservative who watched the debate, I am thoroughly mystified, and more than just a little disappointed, by Gov. Romney's unpreparedness on the subject of Ambassador Chris Stevens' assassination. For the last several days, the President's proxies have been pointing to the "no acts of terror" phrase in his Rose Garden remarks on the day after the attack. They've used that phrase as their exclusive justification for the claim that the Administration was not completely and unequivocally devoted to the dishonest "it was all about the YouTube video" excuse that was otherwise the entire focus of Obama's remarks that day, and that the Administration shamefully and dishonestly continued to peddle through U.N. Ambassador Rice and others for more than a week thereafter. Was Romney genuinely surprised when Obama used that phrase to defend himself in the debate? I think he was feigning surprise as part of an effort to set and spring a trap. But his effort was so bungled that he ended up looking merely badly informed himself — and thus the trap effectively closed on Romney instead of on Obama. An adequately skillful set-up would have anticipated that Obama would have nothing but that phrase to rely upon, and would therefore have acknowledged that single phrase, but gone on — before Obama had a chance to use it again — to explain why it's not a credible excuse.
Even TIME's Mark Thompson calls Team Obama's reliance on that single "no acts of terror" phrase a "[p]retty weak reed," and says of Obama's word games (italics his) that "in Tuesday night's second presidential debate, we also learned that President Obama isn’t beyond twisting what he said then [in his Rose Garden remarks] to make him sound better now." Weak or even twisted reed that it may have been, however, Romney permitted Obama (with an assist from the moderator) to thrash him about the head and shoulders with it on national television. In basketball terms, just as Romney was about to shoot, he bobbled the ball into Obama's hands, and then Obama got away with traveling on a fast-break and scored an uncontested three-pointer after the ref set a pick for him. But it still goes into the record books as an unforced error by Romney that destroyed a scoring opportunity and gave up a score to his opponent.
I also thought Gov. Romney missed another opportunity in his closing. Obama hadn't yet hit him hard on the "47 percent" gaffe. But both Romney and Obama knew that Obama would get to speak last. So Romney absolutely, positively knew when he gave his closing two minutes that an attack based on this gaffe would be coming, and that he (Romney) wouldn't have any further chance last night to rebut it. Romney did try to indirectly anticipate Obama's attack by insisting that he "cares about 100 percent of the American people," and that he wants "100 percent of the American people to have a bright and prosperous future." But this had become the ideal opportunity to make his most public and most specific disavowal of, and apology for, the gaffe. And had he done so, he might have effectively "pulled the teeth" from the gaffe himself before Obama could use them to bite Romney.
Since Romney didn't specifically and preemptively disavow the gaffe, however, when it came Obama's turn to close, then sure enough, instead of having had his planned sound-bite disrupted by a Romney spoiling attack, Obama was able to land the exact lines he'd pre-planned — and he still got good mileage from them.
So as far as the debates considered in isolation go, I score the series at two games to one, with one left to play. Certainly both candidates must avoid any Ford/Poland-magnitude gaffes at the last one. I still think unlikely any scenario in which the debates are going to turn out in a way that helps the Obama-Biden ticket overall on a net basis. And the Obama partisans' original fantasy — that Obama would dominate Romney as thoroughly in these debates as he had John McCain — isn't going to be resurrected, so at this point I think they'd be quite happy to salvage a two-to-two overall tie.
Thursday, October 11, 2012
Beldar on the Ryan-Biden Veep debate
I'll give you even odds on whether the doctor who last adjusted Slow Joe's meds will be thrown under the Obama bus by Monday.
I started seriously touting Paul Ryan as the best potential GOP presidential nominee back on May 17, 2011; toward that end, I created a "Draft Paul Ryan" sidebar graphic on May 26, 2011. Every significant event since then, culminating in tonight's debate, has left me more convinced that he would be the best available person to undertake the world's most difficult job. But I will now settle with reasonable contentment for Ryan being the proverbial heartbeat away, and will cast my vote accordingly.
Strategically, big picture:
Biden over-reached, undoubtedly under prompting by Axelrod and the Chicago gang. He was not much more incoherent than normal, which is to say that when the Democratic talking heads who can still speak in sentences and paragraphs re-interpret and translate his remarks, they'll be able to pretend there's at least a kernel of reality associated with most of Biden's vocal shrapnel. I don't think he made the kind of gaffe that he's famous for; but he was never famous for making gaffes at debates. But instead, his bizarre behavior opened (or reopened) the most basic questions about his own temperament and competence. And it's much harder to spin bizarre behavior than sloppy factual assertions. There's nothing any talking head can ever say or write that could transform Joe Biden's performance tonight into anything remotely "presidential."
Biden put his own fitness as a potential presidential successor into issue. Ryan ended any remaining doubts about his. Therefore: GOP leads the series two to zero with two yet to play.
I think it's still a very close question whether the American electorate prefers the Obama-Biden ticket to the Romney-Ryan ticket. But only the most blind and stubborn of partisans — and I concede there are many such — can still pretend that anyone in America is anything but terrified of the words "President Biden."
UPDATE (Thu Oct 11 @ 10:45pm): By way of concluding postscript, from memory and without benefit of replay or transcript:
Ryan mentioned John F. Kennedy's tax cuts in 1961 and the resulting economic growth. Biden interrupted with what seemed to me to be a half-formed taunt along the lines of, "So now you're claiming to be Jack Kennedy?" I say "half-formed," because it was an allusion to, but without an explicit naming of, Lloyd Bentsen's devastating "Jack Kennedy was my friend, Senator, and you're no Jack Kennedy" put-down of Dan Quayle in their 1992 debate.
Ryan caught the reference and smiled, but tried to continue with his answer rather than responding to the taunt or following up on the allusion. And modesty forbade Ryan from doing the latter, I think.
But my immediate reaction was that Biden's instincts had caught him this once, and saved him from a possible disaster: He was wise to bite back the full taunt.
You see, unlike Lloyd Bentsen, Biden did not know Jack Kennedy personally or serve with him in the U.S. Navy. But if Biden had tried to say, out loud and in so many words, "Congressman, you're no Jack Kennedy," then I think that most of those Americans who can actually remember Jack Kennedy — those who can remember how articulate and poised and self-confident and self-deprecating Kennedy was at his best, and who can remember, more than anything else, his youthful vigor (or "VIG-gah" as they said at Hyannisport) — would have said to themselves, "Well, actually, Paul Ryan does remind me of Jack Kennedy!" It was best for Biden for his allusion to go unremarked and uncompleted, in other words, because it would have blown up in his face.
(As did Biden's first attempt to throw Romney's "47% gaffe" in Ryan's face. Ryan was obviously prepared, and his responsive sound-bite will be one of the most quoted and replayed lines from the debate. To all those who thought Obama was foolish not to have confronted Romney on that particular point during the first debate, I've always thought: Do you think Romney didn't have a super-polished focus-grouped response prepared for that? Do you think anything could please Romney more than having a chance to re-deliver and improve upon, during the debate itself, the walk-back he'd already been trying to get the press to cover? That was a deliberate choice on Obama's part, and in fact a wise one in context.)
I think, and certainly hope, that we saw the effective end of one long political career tonight, and the full unveiling of another whose potential is deep and vasty.
Tuesday, October 09, 2012
On the demise of Dewey & LeBouff
This Wall Street Journal report, reporting on the settlement of debt litigation against ex-partners of the bankrupt New York law firm Dewey & LeBoeuf LLP, may generate considerable schadenfreude among those who dislike lawyers in general or NYC-based BigLaw firms in particular.
It made me remember a clear fall day in 1979, however, on my very first trip to New York City. I've previously written about other adventures on that same trip in a 2004 post featuring Dick Cheney, John Edwards, the Plaza Hotel, and supermodel Cheryl Tiegs.
Earlier in the day I described in that post, I'd had my first "fly-back interview" with the NYC firms with whom I'd interviewed some weeks before on campus at UT-Law. The morning interview was with what was then called "Dewey, Ballantine, Bushby, Palmer & Wood." The first name partner, former NY governor and two-time GOP presidential nominee Thomas E. Dewey, had died early in that decade. But my first interview of the morning was, as I recall, with name partner Wood — whose Christian name I am embarrassed to admit that I cannot recall, perhaps since it never occurred to me that I'd ever have occasion to address him by it.
Altogether contrary to my confident expectations, however, and notwithstanding the many decades' gap in our respective ages (I was all of 21), Mr. Wood actually might not have minded at all if I'd called him by his first name. He was among the most comprehensively charming gentlemen I've ever met in my life, and he put me instantly at ease — I don't remember how, so I can't rule out the possibility that hypnosis was involved, but it was entirely effortless and instinctual on his part.
Not far into our interview, he said this: "So, Bill, how big a chip did you carry up from Texas on your shoulder?" And he winked. Somehow I knew he wasn't voicing a criticism, but rather an insight — and an absolutely accurate one.
I answered: "I think it may have been a pretty big chip, but I didn't expect any of my interviews here to be like this one. I'd like to clerk in New York next summer so I can compare it to what I saw last summer in Houston and Dallas, to see whether the difference would justify a permanent move here after my judicial clerkship. And so I hoped to learn about your firm's practice today. But I frankly didn't expect to be this much at ease, especially with a name partner in one of the most distinguished firms in New York."
This seems trite or smarmy as I re-read it here, but at that moment in his corner office, it was an entirely genuine statement of exactly what I was feeling: I had abandoned any expectation of trying to "manage" this interview since he seemed entirely capable of reading whatever was on my mind, so there was no point in trying to spin him.
He nodded thoughtfully. In my memory he may have fiddled with his pipe, perhaps re-tamped and re-lit it, before he continued:
"Most of this firm's partners came here from other states. The reason we're so good is not because we're in New York. Rather, we're so good precisely because we draw the best talent from everywhere. And to keep them, we've always done whatever is necessary for non-New Yorkers to be comfortable and productive here."
I was utterly convinced of his wisdom and his trustworthiness at that moment. The chip had flown from my shoulder without him or anyone having knocked it off. We were also both aware that I was aware that he was flattering me outrageously and far beyond any merit I could yet have demonstrated. But he was entirely confident in the merits of his pitch, and our mutual awareness of his outrageous flattery did not detract a whit from his style and panache in troweling it on. And as they sometimes say on the prairies of west Texas whence I hail, "If'n you got the what-for to back it up, then it ain't exactly braggin' now, is it?" Mr. Wood had a lot of what-for.
The rest of the day's interviews were pleasant enough, but none was nearly so memorable. I ended up working elsewhere in NYC that summer at one of Dewey Ballantine's archrivals. Years later, when I was at Houston's Baker Botts during the 1980s, I worked against Dewey Ballantine's mergers and acquisition lawyers on a couple of contested tender offers. (As expected, they were quite formidable, but not superhuman.) Their merger with LeBoeuff, Lamb in 2007 to become "Dewey & LeBoeuff LLP" seemed a longshot even at the time, and I don't know many of the details of the merged firm's demise, but I'm not at all convinced that its collapse is any kind of deathknell for BigLaw.
It's by no means certain that even someone as gracious and polished as Mr. Wood could have piloted their ship through the competitive storms of the last two decades. "First-world problems," my kids would probably say, and I won't lose any sleep worrying about the ex-Dewey & LeBoeuff partners having to pay "clawback" settlements. But based on nothing more than my sentimental memories of that extraordinary interview, I'm slightly sad to watch the firm so spectacularly dashed on such financial reefs. And I still count myself lucky to have met and spoken with Mr. Wood, even if the sort of law firm and law practice he symbolized and represented no longer can compete effectively on a national or international stage.