Election Season at HLS Shows LSAT Tests Intellect, Not Intellectual Honesty

Several months ago a friend and I discussed the differences between Harvard Law School and our undergraduate universities.  One story he told me involved an answer he gave to a professor’s question during his 1L year at HLS—one that was not bulletproof, but one which his undergrad classmates would have accepted or dismissed without protest.  At HLS, another student responded and proceeded to dismantle the argument, picking apart every piece of porous reasoning.

That was the major difference, he and I decided, between HLS and our previous schools.  Here, half-baked arguments don’t get a pass and faulty analysis gets called out.  For that reason, HLS students tend to think before they speak or, more commonly, share on Facebook.  For some, however, such self-restraint becomes an impossibly herculean task during election season.

In one scene from Disney’s “Finding Nemo,” Bruce and two other sharks raise their fins and pledge “fish are friends, not food” during a “Fishaholics Anonymous” meeting.  Bruce hasn’t eaten a fish for three weeks, and he appears to have undergone a sincere change of heart.  However, it only takes one sniff of blood for Bruce, like HLS students, to cast aside all discipline and self-restraint, and revert to more base instincts.

In Bruce’s case, it means “I’m having fish tonight!”  In ours, it means saying—or on Facebook, writing or reposting—arguments taken from the Huffington Post, Drudge, or another partisan website or Facebook page that clearly lack reason or a grounding in fact.  My argument isn’t against general opinion statements like “Romney’s handling of women’s issues shows he’s out of touch.”  I argue against specific statements, or adoptions of statements through “likes,” “shares” or oral repetitions, so devoid of rational analysis that I can hardly believe they come from an HLS student.

The statements and postings from HLS students that best illustrate my point come largely from the political left, which is to be expected given the school’s demographics.  Not only do left-leaning individuals have a numerical advantage, but groupthink and unchallenged grandstanding resulting from a largely one-party student body tends to facilitate the abandonment of critical thought.  However, the political right also has its share of perpetrators.  I reproduced statements from HLS students on both sides to illustrate the point:

A banner with a quote from Mitt Romney saying that he didn’t fight in Vietnam because he was “too important.”

The first Google search result of this quote discredited it as coming from a satire piece.  Apparently Iran and Fox News aren’t the only ones that can be duped by The Onion and others who write headlines so titillating to partisans they can’t possibly be true.

Accusations that Todd Akin claimed that women cannot become pregnant from rape, or that he was implying that the commission of rape could be legitimate.

Todd Akin said: “It seems to me, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. . . .  If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.”  What Mr. Akin said was wrong enough without warping his words.  He may have based his statement on junk science, and he may have been trivializing the horror of rape with his words, but he did not make either of the above statements, nor can they be inferred.   I suspect the students saying so knew this but wanted even more shock value.

A statement that “When Obama took office, gas prices were half of what they are now!”

There’s a good reason for that.  The world economy was in freefall.  That tends to affect gas prices.

A picture of President Obama and Mitt Romney reads under Obama “I passed a law allowing women to get equal pay,” and under Romney “I hired a woman once.”

Both statements mislead, but the one under Mr. Romney in particular fails to accurately or honestly ground itself in what the candidate claims as his credentials on women’s issues.  “I hired a woman once” likely stems from Mitt Romney’s hiring of a large number of women into his cabinet, which he argued showed his support for women in the workplace.  One can argue with that premise without distorting what he said.

A side-by-side comparison of various statistics of President Bush at the end his first term (2004), and President Obama after his (2012), including the GDP growth rate, unemployment rate, and median income, each favoring President Bush.

There was a very important series of events in 2008 that make these sorts of comparisons useless.

A post telling Mitt Romney not to blame gun violence on single parents.

This would be legitimate, except Mitt Romney never did this.  In the second presidential debate, Mitt Romney said (in relation to gun violence): “Wherever possible we need benefit of two parents in the home raising kids… and that’s not always possible—there are a lot of great single moms and dads—but if there’s a two parent family, the prospect of living in poverty [and being involved in gun violence] goes down dramatically.”  If you disagree with his reasoning, attack that.  Don’t make a caricature of his position.

Criticism implying that Barack Obama’s “you didn’t build that” statement means he thinks business owners didn’t work for what they had.

I think we can all agree that President Obama meant to insert “by yourself” into that sentence.  If you want to say the statement reveals his hostile attitude toward the private sector in general, fine, but make that argument.

An unqualified claim that Mitt Romney wanted to “Let Detroit go bankrupt.”

The words are those of the New York Times, not Mitt Romney.  What Mr. Romney actually said is: “A managed bankruptcy may be the only path to the fundamental restructuring the industry needs. . . .  In a managed bankruptcy, the federal government would propel newly competitive and viable automakers, rather than seal their fate with a bailout check.”  Criticize his plan, but don’t suggest he wanted to shut every factory and put the workers out on the street.

The next time a presidential election rolls around, none of us will be HLS students.  We won’t have professors like Joseph Singer or Benjamin Sachs, who politely hint when we’ve made a flawed argument.  We won’t have a room full of students eager to correct or counter any errant statements.  By then we will have to have developed, by ourselves, an instinct that extends beyond the controlled classroom environment and compels us to research that Moveon.org banner with the too-good-to-be-true quote, to leave statements in context and debate the merits of the ideas they propose, and to refrain from misrepresentations, misquotations and distortions even when they hang like pieces of red meat, ready for political exploitation.

I don’t want to merely criticize the disappointing level of discourse, although such criticism is certainly deserved.  I want to help change that discourse to one where we make sure we’re arguing against the true position of the opponent, instead of what we wish it would be; one where we make worthwhile the three years we spend here learning to analyze, argue and reason in both an effective and intellectually honest manner.  We attend one of the best law schools in the world alongside hundreds of incredibly intelligent and insightful classmates.  The bar should be higher here, and it’s not difficult to raise it.

Darren Gardner is a 2L. 

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

Don’t Blame Mitt

We live in a world where people often get judged based on results. We celebrate winners and criticize losers.

In the coming months, Mitt Romney will likely face great criticism, especially as the Republican Party engages in “soul-searching” at its “crossroads.” Journalists and commentators will argue that Romney was a flawed candidate who ran a flawed campaign. Everybody will take turns telling stories about why Romney lost: Where did Mitt go wrong? Was it Big Bird? Binders full of women? The 47 percent? His tax returns? Or Clint Eastwood’s empty chair?

Now that the election is over, and with the benefit of hindsight, many people will blame Mitt Romney. Such is the nature of our consequentialist ethic.

But I prefer to offer an alternative perspective.

Remember the candidates running in the Republican primaries? Mitt Romney was probably the most credible candidate that the GOP could have put up. Herman Cain was dogged by scandals. Ron Paul was unelectable. Rick Santorum would have won few states outside the old Confederacy. Newt Gingrich had too much baggage from the 1990s. And then there was Donald Trump.

Romney is an admirable man: wealthy, handsome, and well-liked. He was educated at America’s best schools. He has a beautiful wife and five children. He has had an extraordinarily successful life: Olympic organizer, Bain Capital co-founder, Mormon bishop, Governor of Massachusetts.

The primary voters were right to pick Romney. The fastest horse doesn’t always win, but you should still bet on it.

Although Mitt Romney lost, he still put up a credible fight. He chose a smart, articulate running mate who did a decent job of debating Joe Biden. And notwithstanding the Electoral College landslide, Romney still got 57 million votes, or about 48 percent of the electorate.

The Republicans probably lost for reasons bigger than Mitt Romney’s errors. True, America has suffered from 8 percent unemployment and $4-per-gallon gas. But negative memories of George W. Bush remain strong, and many Americans remain reluctant to give another Republican the keys to the White House.

Just as the American people once gave eight years to Reagan, Clinton, and Bush II, so too have the people decided that Obama should be given a second chance to determine if his governing ideology can deliver long-term results. Although the initial romance of Hope and Change has faded, Uncle Sam wants to give the marriage a second chance.

In science, we accept evolution. So let it be with politics. The excesses of the Nixon Administration begat the Carter era. The failures of the Carter era begat the Reagan Revolution. The Reagan Revolution begat Clintonian centrism. Clintonian centrism begat Bush Republicanism. And Bush Republicanism begat the backlash that led to the Obama era. Each iteration improved on past problems, although introducing new ones. Whatever one thinks about Obama’s policies, America’s current trajectory still serves a function: to help our democracy figure out what approaches work and what doesn’t.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 


An Election Day Primer: What to Watch

I’ve done the hard work of finding out what’s interesting, so you can sit back, relax, and enjoy Election Day.

Presidential Race

What to watch for: Number of write-in votes for “Bronco Bamma”

Why: Because someone inexplicably decided that every news outlet in the known universe needed to cover this.


What to watch for: Number of states Nate Silver predicts incorrectly

Why: Because in 2008 he got 49 of 50, plus the District of Columbia, plus every Senate race.  Can he do better this time?

Hint: This is not a good drinking game.


What to watch for: Whether Obama wins Minnesota, Michigan, or Pennsylvania

Why: Because longtime Obama strategist David Axelrod has agreed to shave his mustache of 40 years if Obama loses any of those states.  Coincidentally (or not?), these are the states Romney is pouring money into these past few days.


Bonus: Where to watch the victory celebrations

If Obama wins: Fox News.  It’ll be like the whole thing never happened.  “Election? What election?”

If Romney wins: MSNBC.  It’ll be worth it just to see how devastating the damage is when Chris Matthews’ head explodes.


Senate Races

Who and Where: Elizabeth Warren (D) vs. Scott Brown (R) in Massachusetts

Why: Everyone’s favorite Contracts professor against World’s Sexiest Man.  What’s not to like?


Who and Where: Claire McCaskill (D) vs. Todd Akin (R) in Missouri

Why: Akin, of “legitimate rape” fame, still has a chance in this one.  A 12 percent chance, according to aforementioned genius Nate Silver, but after those comments a 0.1 percent chance would be surprising.


Who and Where: John Tester (D) vs. Denny Rehberg (R) in Montana.

Why: It’s the closest Senate race this year, meaning that Montana is politically interesting for the first time ever.


House Races

Who and Where: Syed Taj (D) vs. Kerry Bentvolio (R) in Michigan’s 11th District

Why: Bentvolio is favored to win.  This is interesting, because Bentvolio is a reindeer farmer and Santa Claus impersonator whose brother says is “mentally unbalanced” and will “eventually serve time in prison” if elected.


Who and Where: Scott DesJarlais (R) vs. Eric Stewart (D) in Tennessee’s 4th District

Why: Incumbent DesJarlais, a pro-life Republican and former doctor, took a hit recently when it was revealed that over 10 years ago he had an affair with a patient, and worse, tried to persuade her to get an abortion.  Uh oh.


Who and Where: Joe Walsh (R) vs. Tammy Duckworth (D) in Illinois’ 8th District

Why: Tea Party darling Joe Walsh went up against amputee veteran Tammy Duckworth in one of this year’s most negative, and close, races.


Who and Where: Carol Shea-Porter (D) vs. Frank Guinta (R) in New Hampshire’s 1st District

Why: Recent polls have had each candidate up by more than 5 points.  Who’s right?


Ballot Measures

What: Maine Question 1, Maryland Question 6, Minnesota Amendment 1, Washington Referendum 74

Why: Maine, Maryland and Washington are voting on whether to allow same-sex marriage; Minnesota is voting on whether to explicitly deny it.


What: Idaho Propositions 1, 2, and 3

Why: They all do the same thing.


What: Michigan Proposal 6

Why: It requires that any new bridge or tunnel to Canada be subject to general referendum.  It’s been highly advocated by a company that already has a bridge to Canada and stands to lose profits to any new bridge.


What: Oregon Measure 80, Washington Initiative 502

Why: The “stoner states” up in the Northwest corner of the country are trying to legalize Marijuana for public use.


What: Oregon Measure 78

Why: In what is probably the most nerdy ballot measure in the country this year, Oregon wants to amend its constitution so that its government has three “branches,” like the rest of the country, instead of “departments.”


Nathan Reeves is a 1L. His column runs every other Tuesday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

Billy Graham and the Last Crusade

At 93, the Rev. Billy Graham knows that his winter has come. He has been widowed for five years, having lost his wife of six decades. He has lost much of his vision and hearing. He can barely move his limbs. Over the past decade, his ailments have included bronchitis, hydrocephalus, pneumonia, pelvic fractures, prostate cancer, and Parkinson’s disease. His once-powerful voice now speaks in whispers.

Yet, with his health failing and death on the horizon, why did Billy Graham intervene in the muddy world of politics?

Billy Graham had nothing to gain, because his legacy was already set in stone long before this election. History will remember Billy Graham as registered Democrat who fought apartheid, fought segregation, and stood publicly with Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1950s. Billy Graham had conducted over 400 evangelical crusades in 185 countries and six continents. He has written dozens of bestselling books. He had dined with hundreds of world leaders and enjoyed personal audiences with every U.S. president from Harry Truman to Barack Obama.

Billy Graham could easily have spent his final years coasting on his many achievements, and enjoying a well-deserved break.

But rather than bask in his hard-earned popularity, he chose to risk it all by releasing election ads that implicitly criticized the policies of President Obama, easily the most powerful man on the planet. One of the statements, distributed among thousands of churches, read:

The legacy we leave behind for our children, grandchildren and this great nation is crucial. As I approach my 94th birthday, I realize this election could be my last. I believe it is vitally important that we cast our ballots for candidates who base their decisions on biblical principles and support the nation of Israel. I urge you to vote for those who protect the sanctity of life and support the biblical definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Vote for biblical values this November 6, and pray with me that America will remain one nation under God.

Surely Billy Graham knew that he would be criticized as a reactionary by tens of millions of liberal Democrats, Obama supporters, and left-wing Christians. Surely Billy Graham knew that the backlash might lead to multi-million dollar donor boycotts of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. And surely he knew that in the event of a Democratic victory, he might never shake another president’s hand again.

Billy Graham probably knew that President Obama is favored to win the election. Obama is on track to win young voters, college graduates, and minorities by double-digit margins. And looking at the Electoral College, Obama will probably win D.C. (3), the West Coast states (74), and perhaps the entire Northeast (105). Moreover, Obama is likely to win blue states like New Mexico (5), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Minnesota (10), Wisconsin (10), and Michigan (16). That adds up to a “blue wall” of 247 electoral votes, which means that President Obama would probably get re-elected if he wins either (i) the coin-toss in Florida (29) or (ii) Ohio (18) plus an extra state or two.

Yet, in the winter of his life, the frail pastor from North Carolina has taken a lonely stand against the President of the United States. Win or lose, Billy Graham will not go gently into that good night.

Whatever one might think of his politics, the old man certainly has courage. Despite suffering from an encyclopedia of ailments, Billy Graham will do until his dying breath whatever his faith requires of him.

He’s not just a Crusader. He’s a Lionheart.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

Truthiness in Action: A Modest Proposal for Better Presidential Campaigns

This year’s debates, both presidential and vice-presidential, have been a triumph for the math nerds.

Candidates have hurled numbers at one another at a lightning pace.  A $5 trillion tax cut.  23 million Americans out of work.

They might as well have claimed that  as far as the American public’s understanding of things has gone.

That’s the first problem: average Americans can’t understand this stuff.

The second problem is that, as the candidates never miss an opportunity to point out, we can’t trust what either of them actually says.  Each contends that his opponent is lying to the American people.  Third parties, especially on the Internet, seem to take extreme relish in substantiating these claims.  And so, with the words each candidate says dismissed as “malarkey” and “stuff” (in Joe Biden’s overly sanitary description), we can’t trust a thing they say.

How do we fix these two problems that, together, are destroying the usefulness of these presidential debates and, by extension, the campaigns as a whole?

I have a suggestion, and it hinges on a quintessentially American institution that all Americans have the capacity to understand and which, by definition, is trustworthy.

I am talking, of course, of reality television.

It’s perfect!  We’ll turn election season into a 24-episode, weekly run of Hard Knocks meets X Factor meets The Bachelor(ette) meets Honey Boo Boo.

We’ll follow the campaigns and go “behind the scenes.”  We’ll be there for the drama when Michelle castigates Barack for eating too much junk food on the campaign trail.  We’ll see how, yes, Mitt is actually a warm and fuzzy human being when he’s alone in a room with his wife and clone-sons (and the cameras, of course).

Maybe Ryan Seacrest will finally be able to get some specific policy stances out of Romney during the Fear Factor segment, when the choices are to either get specific on tax policy or be thrown into a pit of writhing snakes.

We’ll see the candidates come out and explain their positions using song, art, or interpretive dance.  Simon Cowell will be sitting off to the side with a dedicated team of fact checkers, and any time Mitt Romney’s pirouette or the President’s slight pitchiness indicates a lie, omission, or misstatement, he’ll use a big loud buzzer and the candidate will drop through a trapdoor.  Simon’s perfect for this because, as a British subject, he doesn’t have a horse in this race.

(Mitt, on the other hand, seems to have a horse in every race.)

Finally, on election night, the whole nation will get to participate in one big rose ceremony.  Americans will go to the polls and give their rose to either Romney or Obama.  The votes will be in, the loser will get a nice sad country song, and the winner will get the White House, a broken economy, and a restrictive record deal!

Only 17% of couples from The Bachelor make it more than 4 years, and none have made it more than 8, so our Constitution is generous when it allows the winner of this contest to try it again in 4 years to keep his job.

John Jeremiah Sullivan, American essayist and writer, says the following in his book Pulphead:

“People hate these shows, but their hatred smacks of denial. It’s all there, all the old American grotesques, the test-tube babies of Whitman and Poe, a great gauntlet of doubtless eyes, big mouths spewing fantastic catchphrase fountains of impenetrable self-justification, muttering dark prayers, calling on God to strike down those who would fuck with their money, their cash, and always knowing, always preaching. Using weird phrases that nobody uses, except everybody uses them now. Constantly talking about ‘goals.’ Throwing carbonic acid on our castmates because they used our special cup and then calling our mom to say, in a baby voice, ‘People don’t get me here.’ Walking around half-naked with a butcher knife behind our backs. Telling it like it is, y’all (what-what). And never passive-aggressive, no. Saying it straight to your face. But crying… My God, there have been more tears shed on reality TV than by all the war widows of the world. Are we so raw? It must be so. There are simply too many of them – too many shows and too many people on the shows – for them not to be revealing something endemic. This is us, a people of savage sentimentality, weeping and lifting weights.”

He’s right, of course.  This is us.  And our presidential contests reflect it.

Politics can no longer be counted on to rise above it all, to provide any sort of sweeping hope or sense of destiny or shared vision for America.  Campaigns are vehicles of idiosyncrasy, designed to appeal to the 50.1% they need and no more.

We should embrace this fact.  With all the lies, misstatements, omissions, ploys, tricks, gimmicks, posturing, and hair gel that go into a political campaign, it’s practically a reality show already.  Why not make it official?

What could be more American than that?

Nathan Reeves is a 1L. His column runs every other Tuesday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

A Rock and a Hard Place

A rock and a hard place

I have a dilemma. For months now, I have been swearing left and right that I wouldn’t vote for either Romney or Obama. And now, I just don’t know. Quite obviously, I would never vote for Obama. First of all, he lacked moral integrity when he promised that he would shut down Guantanamo even though anyone of his intellectual caliber would know that such a move would be impossible in the execution. Second, he has expanded executive power beyond anything that is acceptable or would be viewed as acceptable by the Framers. Consider the drone attacks that are terrorizing innocent children in Pakistan, or Obama’s unilateral declaration that all males killed by a drone will be presumed to be terrorists. Or how about the fact that Obama decided that he can secretly order the extrajudicial killing of an American citizen? Finally, whether he is primarily responsible for this or not (and I’m sure I’ll get a lot of flak for this), Obama has been the president during a period of the greatest political divisiveness in our country. Do we really need four more years of that?

But up until the debate, Romney has been equally reprehensible by pandering to the Tea Party, the religious right, and the general idiots of the far right. At least Obama believes in evolution, climate change, and women’s rights.  However, I think that last week’s debate gave some moderates a flicker of hope—Maybe Romney will go back to being Massachusetts Mitt. When he was moderate enough to be elected governor of a New England state that wasn’t New Hampshire. Everyone decries Romney as a terrible candidate (which he is) because he’s a flip-flopper. But, as has been proven by pretty much every single presidential campaign, presidents don’t keep their word when they become elected. I mean, it’s a function of the election process. There are no penalties and infinite benefits to saying whatever it is that the electorate wants to hear and then not performing. At this point, the only question is whether he will be better than Obama.

They’re both terrible. They both use inflammatory rhetoric against China to create a boogeyman and rile up the uninformed voter. Neither has a decent energy policy that even tries to address the suffering of coal miners or the efficiency of nuclear power. Neither has a real solution to the jobs problem. Neither has the balls to address the entitlement programs problems of Social Security and Medicare, which are dragging down our nation’s youth.  Both of them have terrible Vice Presidents—fortunately, both are young and hale.

At this point, it boils down to the future of the Republican Party. Would a Romney win mean return to a more moderate party that doesn’t cater to the whims of religious die-hards? Or would a Romney win mean the continuance of a party that just doesn’t belong in a country that values civil liberties and equal rights? Would an Obama win mean the acceleration of the inevitable implosion and fracturing of the Republican Party, ushering in a new age of our political system? Or would it further entrench the Republican opposition and make them even more stubborn and subject our nation to four more years of getting nothing done? I don’t mean to turn to logical fallacy by limiting the potential outcomes—I’m sure there are many more possibilities. But I just don’t think any of those possibilities are desirable.

Lisa Wang is a 3L. Her column runs every other Thursday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

Live Blog: Harvard Watches the Debate

Plenty of people will be live-blogging the first presidential debate tonight, but here we have what you really want:  a live account of Harvard’s viewing party.

8:54:  The debate hasn’t even started, and the food is already gone. Also, both Ames and the overflow room are showing the debate on Fox News.

8:57:  Announcement: we are thanked by the Harvard Democrats and Republicans, the Dean of Students’ Office, and possibly the Bull-Moose Party (I wasn’t really paying attention).

8:59:  The rainy weather tonight has given people a lot of seat-saving options. There are coats, umbrellas and ponchos all over the Ames’ upholstery.

9:00:  The room hushes to hear Chris Wallace.

9:01:  Some whooping for Jim Lehrer (seriously).

9:02: I appreciate them flashing Jim’s stats as he explains the rules.

9:03:  Lehrer will not tolerate your shenanigans.

9:03: Obama and Romney appear to be getting equal levels of applause here in Austin.

9:06:  The aspect ratio of the projection here is excellent. Kudos to the technical staff.

9:07: Romney bit plays shockingly well to the Harvard Law audience.

9:07:  “Oh, China, you so crazy” seems to be the reaction here in Austin.

9:08:  You’re welcome, Mittens.

9:09: Someone appears to be playing musical chairs in the back of the hall. Some of us are trying to watch others watch the debate.

9:11:  Whoa, Jim it’s your job to ask the questions.

9:13:  The crowd also likes coal.

9:15: For the record, Cult. Lit. does not have a computer.

9:17:  People telling Jim to shut up is apparently hilarious.

9:18: This is a good crowd; they didn’t even need warmed up.

9:20:  Thank you, Bubba.

9:21:  Some guy with a backpack seems to be confused about where his Fed. Courts lecture is.

9:22:  From a Holmesian standpoint, Jim’s telling-off of Romney was pointless.

9:23:  I have it on good authority that they don’t actually have electricity in St. Louis, so this story is really deceptive.

9:23:  We, meaning Obama and Bill Clinton.

9:29: I’m back; they finally put out some more cheese.

9:33:  Up is down, black is white, taxing more reduces revenue.

9:34: Lotta Spain fans in the room.

9:35:  What is the over/under on mentions of “jobs”?

9:36:  A cop just entered the room. We’re all going in the clink.

9:38: “Probably” on the table. Romney’s really putting himself out there.

9:39:  The longer Romney talks, the more restless the room gets.

9:41:  “So what you’re saying is, your grandmother was a leech?”

9:42:  Some people are so disgusted with these entitlements that they’re walking out.

9:43:  The room perked up drastically at the mention of “young people.”

9:45:  In other words, you law students. Giggles all around.

9:46:  Will Jim follow through?

9:49: But rich old people need the most care! All those rich foods . . .

9:50: Romney and Lehrer are gonna get these harmonies eventually.

9:52:  I can feel the invisible hand of the market shaking its fist (itself?) at Romney right now.

9:52:  How many kisses have you seen in Big Banks, Mitt?

9:54:  No one here rises to answer Obama.

9:56:  A Harvard Law student is literally pumping both fists at the fact that we’re moving on to healthcare.

9:57:  Where my death-panel fans at?

10:01:  A stunning, hilarious admission by Romney:  Massachusetts does not have Medicare.

10:03:  THE AUDIO JUST CUT OUT. I spoke too soon about the aspect ration. Maybe they had different people on audio and video?

10:06:  Skeptical muttering at Romney’s plan, but I think it sounds great!

10:08:  Maybe the invisible hand can forgive Romney.

10:10:  BREAKING:  Obama asks if Romney’s plans are too good.

10:12:  What’s the over/under on “plan”?

10:12:  Things just got Constitutional in here. The crowd is groaning.

10:15:  Is Obama’s cellphone ringing? No, it’s just some guy in Austin.

10:15:  BREAKING:  Romney likes good schools and teachers.

10:19:  I think the question on everyone’s mind in this education discussion is:  will the debate end on time?

10:21:  Romney’s refusal to grant Obama his own facts elicits gasps from the audience. He is the president, after all.

10:23:  The room is sympathetic to Jim.

10:25:  Can Jim cut the mics?

10:32:  Well, this blog certainly took the wrong path coming to this party. Recommendations:  more alcohol and more food for next time.

Cultural Literacy and the Law is a humor column written by an anonymous Harvard Law student. The regular column runs every other Monday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Harvard Law Record.

Swinging the Swing States

Americans represent only 5 percent of the world’s population. Given America’s superpower status, the remaining 95 percent of humanity surely has preferences about whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney sits in the Oval Office.

This begs a question. Is it possible that the swing states that will decide the U.S. presidential election might not be Florida, Ohio, and Virginia, but rather Russia, China, and Israel?

Although foreign states don’t vote, their leaders are surely aware that the U.S. election will boil down to narrow electoral polls where even a 1 percent swing might determine the next leader of the free world. And there are hundreds of possible global events that might swing the U.S. electorate. For example, Russia could launch a test missile, China could let the yuan appreciate 5 percent, or Israel could attack Iran’s nuclear facilities. And almost any one of America’s major trading partners—Canada, India, Brazil, Mexico, or the Europeans—could tinker with the Sunshine State’s GDP by importing more (or fewer) Florida bananas, depending on which man they would prefer to see in the White House.

This introduces an interesting dynamic into the U.S. presidential election, where President Obama—despite being the most powerful man on earth—might have to persuade foreign swing states to refrain from actions that might impede his path to re-election. In March, for instance Obama was overheard asking Russian president Dmitry Medvedev for “more space […] particularly with missile defense”—until after the November ballot.

“After my election I have more flexibility,” said Obama, his hand touching Medvedev’s.

To which the outgoing Russian president replied, “I will transmit this information to Vladimir.”

Since then, notice how quiet the Russian Bear has been in recent months? Perhaps the Russians might prefer to avoid a Republican White House, especially after Romney labeled Russia as “our number one geopolitical foe” that “fight[s] every cause for the world’s worst actors.” Perhaps it is possible that the Russians are aware of how their actions might appear to American eyes. Perhaps the Russians don’t want to do anything that would risk making Obama’s “reset” strategy look naive and foolish.

And that’s just the Russian Bear. Now consider the Chinese Panda.

In a summer editorial subtitled “Swing elections states are among America’s top exporters,” the Wall Street Journal stated that Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan all make the list of top-15 state exporters to China. Given that swing state GDP is so heavily dependent on foreign trade, is it possible that China has the power to swing the U.S. election by asking a few Chinese companies to accelerate (or delay) some purchases of U.S. goods? Basically, China could give America a temporary multibillion-dollar trade boost (or bust), which is loose change compared to China’s $3 trillion of foreign exchange reserves. In return, China might get rewarded with a 1 percent swing in a purple state that ensures the election of its preferred president.

Is it possible that global events are less random than they seem? Is it possible that Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who knows that an Israel-Iran war would swing U.S. perceptions of Obama’s leadership abilities, might be thinking of possible concessions to wring from Uncle Sam? Like a red line on Iran’s nuclear program?

Come November, most Americans assume that the U.S. election will boil down to the choices of Florida retirees, Ohio soccer moms, or Virginian farmers. But given the globalized, interconnected world that we live in, is it truly reasonable to assume that American elections will be decided by Floridians, Ohioans, and Virginians alone—and nobody else on the planet?

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record. 

Ten Things Romney and Obama Should Do Instead of Debating

Soon, it will be October, which means shorter days, all sorts of pumpkin-flavored shit, atrociously reffed football games, and the beginning of a seemingly interminable series of debates. Is anyone looking forward to these debates except to catch Mittens finally losing it and cussing out poor people? Despite the fact that Romney’s job for two years was to convince people to believe in a religion based on some golden plates found in upstate New York (do you know what kind of homunculi live in upstate New York?!) and that we are all the “spirit-children” of God, he is surprisingly terrible at debating. Also, while Barack is fairly charismatic, he’s probably fresh out of promises to break in his first year of reelection.  Thus, even though this season’s television has already proven to be terrible (Lucy Liu as Dr. Watson, a whole mess of shows about gays that are indistinguishable from one another, and—as Ryan Lochte-cum-Seth MacFarland said—Goon), there are still things I’d rather see than Romney and Obama debating this Fall.

Ten things I’d rather watch Romney and Obama do this October:

1. Rap Battle: As Eminem has shown, the whiter you are, the better your chances, so I would put my money on Mittens. I mean, he even has a ballsy rap name all ready to go. Also guys, he grew up in Detroit and he had to deal with all those poor people (who were his servants)!

2. Beer Pong: I gotta say, this one is slanted to Barack. Romney probably hasn’t had a drink in decades, which explains so many things. On the other hand, if they’re playing doubles with their running mates, good money’s on Ryan, who can fratstar it up with the best of them. Hill Dog plays winner.

3. Dance Off: A myriad of possibilities here. We could do a Zoolanderesque model-off, a Magic Mike-style strip-off, or just a plain old DDR dance battle (assuming we can get that long-haired, middle-aged, greasy fatty off the DDR console).

4. Spelling Contest: Just don’t give Mittens “America.”

5. A Fight to the Death: How convenient would this be? Think of all the campaign money we could save if we just churned this election out Mad Max style. Also, we can feel good about the fact that POTUS is a bonafide killer. In a Hunger Games-like twist, we could make Sasha and Malia go up against the Mormon Boys and let God sort them out.

6. Mechanical Bull: If for no other reason than to see either of them wearing cowboy boots. Maybe even chaps.

7. Scavenger Hunt: First one to find Barack’s birth certificate, Romney’s tax records, Barack’s long-lost son and Romney’s other three wives wins.

8. Foxy Boxing: Finally, a way to involve the potential First Ladies that doesn’t involve baking. While Michelle has some pretty scary arms, Ann Romney has battled cancer, MS and women’s rights. This one would be a toss-up.

9. A Literal Pissing Contest: Don’t cross streams!

10. Gay Chicken: Everyone loses.

 Lisa Wang is a 3L. Her column runs every other Thursday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

Senate Seat Is Warren’s to Lose

Is it possible that in a state as blue as Massachusetts, Senator Scott Brown would be able to repeat his 2010 feat and win a second race for Ted Kennedy’s seat? The conventional wisdom is that Brown might be able to prevail in a close election. The latest Kimball poll has Brown leading Elizabeth Warren among likely Massachusetts voters by 46 percent to 45 percent. The latest Intrade prediction gives Brown a 57 percent chance of winning.

Nevertheless, I think that the dynamics of the race still favor Warren.

Look, Brown is a formidable political opponent. He is an attractive 6’2″ ex-centerfold model who dons a colonel’s uniform, drives a GMC truck, and plays a good game of basketball. As Massachusetts Republicans go, you can’t get more moderate than Brown—he is pro-choice, accepts gay marriage, and has a centrist voting record. Neither does it hurt that Brown’s family speaks eloquently of his positive attributes.

In contrast, Warren’s campaign has lagged for months. She is a Harvard Law professor who struggles harder to identify with the average voter, unlike the basketball-bouncing Brown. Her TV commercials have been criticized for focusing on national issues rather than issues relevant to Massachusetts voters. Her animated speaking style, so useful in the classrooms of Austin Hall, has been labeled by many as overly strident. Political analyst Dan Payne even criticizes Warren for her “Page Boy haircut” and “granny glasses” that “add about 10 years to her age on TV.” And controversy over Warren’s Cherokee heritage has distracted from her campaign’s message.

Yet, despite Brown’s positive attributes and Warren’s apparent shortcomings, the race still stands at 50-50. Basically, Brown’s ceiling is Warren’s floor. Even back in 2010, when Brown was facing Martha Coakley’s lackluster campaign, Coakley still managed to win 47 percent of the vote. And Elizabeth Warren’s campaign is far better-funded than Coakley’s ever was.

Surely all this must be cause for optimism in the Warren camp.

Most of Brown’s political challenges are deep-rooted, systemic, and difficult to overcome. He is a Republican in a deep-blue state. He needs the support of at least 15 percent of Obama voters just to maintain the 50-50 balance. He depends on winning a large majority of independent voters if he hopes to squeeze out a razor-thin victory.

In contrast, most of Warren’s perceived problems are easy to fix. Within a week, her campaign could adjust its focus from national to local issues. With a little voice coaching, Warren can easily recalibrate her speaking style. For two dozen dollars, Warren could temporarily trade her glasses for a month’s supply of contact lenses. And should Warren so choose to inch her rhetoric further towards the political center, she could eat into Brown’s vital centrist constituency. None of these steps appear difficult.

Scott Brown is a fine senator, and it would be a pity if he loses in November. Nevertheless, the fundamentals seem to favor Warren. She is holding her own at 50-50 despite her campaign’s shortcomings. And as an accomplished, ambitious law professor, she surely has the pragmatism to take the steps necessary to build a majority.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record

Must Louis Die?

As we trudge back to campus and into our regularly scheduled programming after a summer of either hazy debauchery and soul-sucking selling out or of getting a pre-graduation look at one’s impending impoverishment from a high horse, I have a few things to say in response to a certain Record piece and in general about the attitude pervading America this election season.

What is so wrong with being rich? I’m sure by writing this column, I will be inviting ad hominem accusations that my article-cum-viewpoint is worth less (or worthless) because I’m clearly biased and just another poor little rich girl living large on Papa Wang’s dollar and how could I possibly know what it’s like to be anything but upper-middle class. Well, the majority of the poor in the United States don’t know anything about what it’s like to be poverty-stricken in a developing country either, but no one goes around yelling at them about it. (As an example, the little boy I sponsor in the Philippines sleeps on a mat in his one-room aluminum shack and has to borrow water from his neighbor.) This isn’t to say that the poor should not be rightfully concerned about the current distribution of wealth in this country or that they should not be rightfully concerned with getting more assistance and a better standard of living. But doesn’t anyone else think that a column title of “Class Denial at HLS: Poor People Defending Poor People” would seem ridiculous?

As everyone seems to acknowledge, and our hallowed institution is insistent on drilling into us, people are self-interested. Those who are near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder wish they had more. Those who are near the top also wish they had more. I don’t see the benefit or even the point of blaming one group for feeling the way that everyone does. There are some ridiculous characters among the super-wealthy who squander and flaunt their riches, but there are also plenty of crummy poor people. To make a judgment about someone based on what is in their bank account is prejudice, regardless if you think it’s too much or too little. Let’s dislike Ann Romney because she’s a vicious, bird-shirt wearing, horse-riding idiot, not because her husband happens to make it rain. This disdain for rich people that is now so easy and popular is probably one of the reasons for what Mr. Hamidi interprets as class denial. Apparently, a certain amount of scorn will be directed at you if you admit to coming from a wealthy background or if you are presumed to be unable to feel the pain of those in the lower class.

Class warfare is one of those talking points this year, but let’s not assume that it’s only about rich people grinding poor people under their diamond-studded boots.  There’s also a palpable hostility against those with means that is dangerous and divisive. Let’s go back to a time where we hated people because they were short or Asian or Lou Dobbs instead of because they were rich.

Unrelated to this column, I would also like to take the space to remember those who fell on 9/11, and those who have fallen the decade after it.

Lisa Wang is a 3L. Her column runs every other Thursday.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.

Romney’s Tax Returns: A Republican Trump Card?

Did he [Romney] take unusual steps to avoid paying his fair share? Who knows? He refuses to release enough of his tax returns to give a clear picture of his finances.

– Rep. James Clyburn

Never in modern American history has a presidential candidate tried so hard to hide himself from the people he hopes to serve. […] [W]e can only imagine what new secrets would be revealed if he showed the American people a dozen years of tax returns—like his father did.

– Sen. Harry Reid

This summer, Democrats have continually pounded Mitt Romney for refusing to release more of his tax returns. And last week at the Democratic National Convention, the criticisms continued to snowball. Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland went so far as to say: “And on [Mitt Romney’s] tax returns, he’s hiding. You know, you have to wonder just what is so embarrassing that he’s going to such great lengths to bury the truth.”

The point of the Democratic criticisms is to paint Mitt Romney as a plutocrat—a Gordon Gekko character who doesn’t pay his fair share of taxes.

Nonetheless, I have a theory: Might it be possible that Mitt Romney actually wants Democrats to keep focusing on his tax returns?

Maybe Romney actually wants left-wing PACs to burn millions on TV commercials attacking his tax returns. Maybe Romney actually wants the Democrats to spend most of August, September, and October speculating on his exploitation of the Internal Revenue Code. Maybe Romney actually wants to lure President Obama into staking his credibility on the idea that Romney is a tax dodger.

Imagine all that. Then suppose that in the last week of October, Romney finally releases his tax returns. What if the record shows that Romney—far from underpaying his taxes—actually overpaid them? What if the deductions records reveal Romney to have donated the bulk of his income to children’s cancer foundations, Habitat for Humanity, Girl Scout cookies, the Mormon Church, and surgery for babies with cleft palates?

In that scenario, an entire Democratic season of anti-Bain attack ads would backfire. And Romney’s public image would be transformed. Far from being a greedy capitalist, he would be a paragon of charitable virtue. A humble philanthropist unwillingly forced to reveal his generosity by a bunch of conniving Democrats.

It would be one heck of an October surprise. It could lead to a two-point swing that delivers Florida and Ohio for the GOP in a close election.

Best of all, Romney would have planned it all along.

Look, Mitt Romney is a smart person. He earned two Harvard degrees, built a multibillion-dollar firm, and saved the Salt Lake City Olympics. He knows that his every action will be scrutinized. He pays his advisers millions for sophisticated political advice. And he has been running for President for over eight years. Does anyone really think that Romney would have made the beginner’s mistake of underpaying his taxes?

But what about Romney’s disclosure of his 2010 tax return, the one showing the 13.9% tax rate? Would that return imply that Romney paid a similarly-low tax rate in other years?

Absolutely not. The 2010 tax return was the only one that Romney chose to reveal. It tells us absolutely nothing about his other years’ returns. For all we know, the 2010 return could be a deliberate anomaly. A special piece of bait.

Card players know this instinctively. Your opponent might play a 2 in one round, but his remaining cards could well be queens, kings, and aces

It is almost never a good idea to stake your future on something on which your opponent knows everything and you know nothing. Think about what happened to the Trojans, who dragged an unfamiliar Greek wooden horse into the heart of their city.

Democrats take a big risk by making a political issue of Romney’s tax returns. For all we know, Romney’s refusal to release more tax returns might be a brilliant masterstroke designed to lure unsuspecting donkeys into an elephant trap.

Chris Seck is a 3L. His column runs on Wednesdays.

The views in opinion editorials, columns, and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of The Record.