Who is the reality-based presidential candidate? Part Two

Yesterday, I asked which presidential candidate – Mitt Romney or President Obama – is, by training and background, more “reality-based” and which is less driven by ideology. In claiming that Romney is more reality-based and less driven by ideology, I showed how his education and decades of work at Bain and Bain Capital focused heavily on diving into, and finding answers in, data, with no real reference to ideology.

Let’s see if the same is true of Obama.

Unlike Romney, who received both a law degree and MBA form Harvard, Obama studied only law there. The study of law is inherently less data-driven than the study of business. To be sure, there has been a movement to make legal studies more data-centric; the “law and economics” movement comes to mind. But there is no indication that Obama’s studies were much affected by this movement.

We know that Obama was particularly interested in Constitutional Law and that he eventually taught this subject, after a fashion, as an adjunct professor at the University of Chicago Law School. In Constitutional Law the emphasis is on texts, not data. At its best, texts are interpreted. At its worst, they are manipulated to reach the ideologically desired (or “empathetic,” as Obama would say) result. In neither instance is the inquiry data-driven.

But in Chicago, Obama was a community activist, not a legal scholar. Aren’t community activists immersed in “reality?” Don’t they deal in the cold, hard facts of poor peoples’ lives, with little time for ideology?

To answer these questions, we need to understand the community organizing movement of Obama’s time. As Stanley Kurtz showed in Radical-In-Chief, community organizers were indeed expected to find out what was bothering people in the “community.” They were then supposed to mobilize people around at least some of these grievances.

So far, so good.

However, a key element of the community organizer was to tie community grievances to a broader critique of society. Doing so would “radicalize” community members, just as radical groups in the 1960s had radicalized students by tying their discontent with the War in Vietnam to a larger criticism of American society. And just as in the 1960s, the operative critique was that of the left.

Thus, although there was an empirical component to the community organizer job, at bottom this job was ideologically driven. Facts were expected in advance to fit into a specific ideological narrative. That was the name of the game.

I don’t criticize the community organizing movement for operating this way. In some ways, though objecting to its ideology, I admire the movement’s strategy.

But it would be gross error to deny that Obama’s background is that of an ideologue. And it would be just as erroneous to deny that Romney’s background is that of a man obsessed with data and little impressed by ideology.

Frankly, I wouldn’t mind if Romney were more of an ideologue.

Responses