Prolific U. of C. law prof Cass Sunstein smacks down John McWhorter’s preposterous assertion that “Take away Mr. Obama’s race and he’s some relatively anonymous rookie.”


“It’s not clear whether the proper response is to laugh or to cry.

“After graduating from Harvard Law School, and serving as president of the Harvard Law Review, Obama taught at the University of Chicago Law School for about a decade, and I know him from his time as a colleague here. He first came to our attention when then-professor, now-judge Michael McConnell suggested him for appointment to the faculty because of Obama’s first-rate work on one of McConnell’s articles for the Harvard Law Review. (Is it necessary to add that McConnell is a conservative and doesn’t much like affirmative action?) Obama, we quickly learned, was a person of truly exceptional ability. We asked him to teach at the law school, and he turned out to be a terrific though part-time teacher of constitutional law (serving, for most of his time here, in the state legislature as well).

“Because of his evident excellence, and his academic potential, we would have been happy to hire Obama as a full-time faculty member. (Take away Obama’s race, and he was a complete star, hardly a relatively anonymous rookie.) But he declined, and the reason was obvious: He was interested in political life. The interest fit well with his personal characteristics; he has an extraordinary ability to connect with people, and he also has an exceptionally independent mind.”

There’s more–read the whole thing.

Sunstein bends over backwards to be civil–an uncommon and endearing trait these days.  He does his best to figure out what genuine issue McWhorter might have been addressing. That’s always worth a try, as we learned in college. But in this context, it doesn’t work. There’s no there there–or, to be more precise, McWhorter’s article comes straight out of the right-wing noise machine:

  • McWhorter claims to be judging Obama on the merits alone, when he has no idea what those merits are.  His list, in full: “crinkly smile, sincere concern for the little man, fine speech a couple of years ago about bringing the nation together, a certain charisma, wrote a touching autobiography.”

  • Second and perhaps worse, McWhorter creates a straw liberal, referring to “the racial healing many might see him [Obama] as portending.” He names no one who thinks this way. (Nor does Martin Peretz, who should know better.) Does he know anybody who does? I don’t. Or is he just making things up, using his perch at the Manhattan Institute to act as an advance guard of the far right in 2008 or 2012–slinging mud to see what will stick?