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Bush Legal Counsel speaks about Obama

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Bradford Berenson, Harvard Law, class of ’91, associate White House counsel, 2001-’03, Conservative

He made an extraordinary decision. He turned his back on what would normally be the standard route for any president of the Harvard Law Review, which is to take very prestigious judicial clerkships, probably including a clerkship at the Supreme Court of the United States. And he returned to Chicago instead to begin political work and community work.

From the perspective of people on the Review in 1991, that was an unfathomable, unheard-of decision. The clerkships only take — even if you do get a Supreme Court clerkship — two years. And they’re an extraordinary experience, an extraordinary credential, an extraordinary opportunity to serve the country and serve the judiciary. …

Barack was more than capable of getting any clerkship in the country he wanted. … He turned his back on that and did something entirely different. It was clear he had a different plan and a different vision for his own life and saw himself, in some ways, as a breed apart and running separate from the pack, even back then.

Did you ever talk to him about why he made that decision?

… I can’t remember the specifics. I have a vague recollection of being aware that he was a few years older than the other editors, saw himself as … having a little less time to spend on detours; that he wanted to go straight after the things he was interested in and that clerking would have been something of a detour. …

His interest in politics, and his political ambitions, were well-known among the editors at the time. He had received a lot of attention when he became president of the Law Review, the first African American. There had been stories in the national news media about him. He’d been involved in community organizing in Chicago before he came to the law school. And so in the annual parody issue of the Law Review that comes out at the end of the year as part of the banquet, there were a lot of cracks and jokes made at his expense about politics and his interest in politics. …

How did he take stuff like that?

Very good naturedly. I never saw Barack lose his cool, get angry, have a fit of temper, raise his voice. Most of the time if he was frustrated or bemused by something, there’d be kind of a wry smile, maybe a knitting of the eyebrows. But he was a very cool character, a very cool customer in all senses of that word. And any ribbing directed at him was taken in stride and with very good humor, very good nature. …

So when you watch him through this primary campaign … [does he seem different than the guy you knew back then?]

When I see him on the political stage now I very much feel like it’s the same guy that I knew and spent those years with on the Harvard Law School campus in Cambridge. He doesn’t seem like a new man, a different man, someone who’s radically remade himself, a Gatsby figure at all. He was then who he is now. And some of that same cool, some of that same affability, some of that same unflappability, that good faith, that good character, that intellect, they were all apparent then. And I think they all come through now and are part of the secret to his appeal.

So much for the McCain-Palin attempts to paint Obama as a scary radical–someone to be afraid of!

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Written by Valerie Curl

November 3, 2008 at 5:48 PM

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