October 19, 2008
A Harvard Trial Lawyer for McCain
I would seem to fit the profile of a Barack Obama supporter. For over 20 years I represented investors against brokerage firms. Now I teach at an Ivy League law school. And I went to Harvard Law School. Yet I wholeheartedly support John McCain.
Why would a Harvard-educated, Ivy League-teaching, plaintiff-representing trial lawyer support John McCain? What follows will not make me popular at my upcoming 25th law school reunion, but some things need to be said.
Electing a President is a hiring decision, where the stakes are who will best preserve, protect and defend the Constitution. We forget that our legal system does not exist in a vacuum. Our constitutional and political rights can exist only if this nation is safe. Whether I agree with John McCain on each and every issue makes no difference to me. John McCain gets my vote as the person who will keep this country safe, so that we have the luxury of arguing with one another.
First and foremost, John McCain is the real thing. He reminds me of many of the most effective lawyers I have dealt with in my career. He's not polished. His ties don't quite fit. He is smart, but he didn't have good grades because he couldn't sit still in class. His clients don't have a lot of money. And sometimes his syntax is not quite right.
But John McCain is a scrappy fighter. He's the opponent who just won't quit even when things look bleak. The guy who runs circles around the Harvard lawyers, who takes the seemingly impossible case, and through sheer determination brings home the verdict. He is the guy you want on your side in good times, and more importantly, in bad times. If I were on trial for my life, I would hire John McCain as my lawyer.
And John McCain sticks around long enough to make a difference. He had a distinguished 22-year career in the Navy. He could have left the Hanoi Hilton early, but he didn't. I don't know if I would have had the strength to say no to early release from a prisoner of war camp, but John McCain did have that strength.
John McCain carried his fight to the United States Senate, where for over two decades he has fought battle after battle with both political parties on some of the hardest issues confronting the nation. John McCain put country before career in supporting the surge in Iraq. On some of these issues I have agreed with John McCain, and on others not. But what is important to me is that John McCain has proven over time that he is his own man. What you see is what you get, and he will be there for the long haul.
Barack Obama also reminds me of many lawyers I have dealt with in my career. He's the smooth talking lawyer on TV who will get you "the settlement you deserve." But he has no credibility where it counts because he hasn't beaten the insurance companies at trial. He is a paper lawyer who fools only his own clients. So Barack Obama can promise "tough diplomacy" with the likes of Iran, but he hasn't fought the tough fights that would cause dictators and tyrants to take him seriously.
Barack Obama also is the deep thinker who ponders great things. And the thing that Barack Obama seems to ponder most is his own greatness. He doesn't write biographies, he writes only autobiographies. He gives speeches which he declares to be historic. He recognizes his place in history long before he has created history. This nation is but a stage upon which Barack Obama creates his life story, and it's all about him.
Yet Barack Obama has never been in one place long enough to make a real difference, or to fight the hard fights. He was a community activist for a few years, then a law student, then in private practice for not too long, then a state senator for not too long, then a United States Senator for not too long. The paint was barely dry in his Senate office when he began running for President. Barack Obama's career is a series of not-too-long positions, each one more grand than the one before it.
Yet what great achievement has Barack Obama obtained other than his own political advancement? What historic law did he author, what historic court case did he argue, what historic battle did he fight, what cause greater than himself warranted more than a passing interest in his historic life? If my life were on the line, I wouldn't hire Barack Obama as my lawyer. I'd be concerned that he'd be up late at night working on a draft of his book about how my case affected his life.
Barack Obama loves this country, in his own words, because nowhere else could his story be possible. John McCain loves this country just because. And that's why I'll vote for John McCain.
William A. Jacobson is Associate Clinical Professor of Law at Cornell Law School in Ithaca, NY, and author of the Legal Insurrection Blog.