Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Is brilliance enough?

"Press on! Nothing in the world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing in the world is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent."  Calvin Coolidge

‎"We are being ruined by best efforts."  W. Edwards Deming.

Senator Scott Brown recently explained that he wouldn’t vote to confirm Elena Kagan as a Supreme Court justice though he thought she was brilliant because “[he] believe[s] nominees to the Supreme Court should have previously served on the bench. Lacking that, [he] look[s] for many years of practical courtroom experience to compensate for the absence of prior judicial experience. In Elena Kagan's case, she is missing both.”

President Obama is by all reports and my observation, brilliant.  But I’m not too happy with him these days.  I lived through the Reagan years, and he’s no Reagan when it comes to leadership.  He spends too much of his time and effort trying to placate and lure the right towards his view, an approach the right has played masterfully.  He waits for his own party to form some sort of consensus on issues and no time staking out a position and promoting its adoption.  He’d probably be a world-class mediator.

I’ll take brilliant over dumb any day; but, I think there are a lot of things beyond being smart that go into being good at what you do:  Temperament, experience as the Senator says, all of the characteristics laid out by President Coolidge and best efforts, despite what Mr. Deming said.

(Quotes courtesy of Thomas and Ron.)


The Curmudgeon said...

I think the law in particular is for plowhorses, not thoroughbreds. I've known some tremendously bright people who were awful lawyers because they couldn't stay with a matter long enough to get the details done -- I know in my own case I have to slow down to accomplish anything serious.

As for judicial experience, Ms. Kagan's lack of same doesn't bother me. I don't think it would be particularly good to have nine justices who'd never been a judge, but I don't see why long service on a Circuit Court of Appeals should be the only path into SCOTUS. I'd like to see a trial lawyer -- dare I say it? -- a tort lawyer plucked straight from the courtroom. I'd like someone from a state high court bench. I might not go as far as the late Senator Hruska, who urging confirmation of Nixon's pick of of G. Harrold Carswell to the Supreme Court, 'defended' him saying, "Even if he were mediocre, there are a lot of mediocre judges and people and lawyers. They are entitled to a little representation, aren't they, and a little chance? We can't have all Brandeises, Frankfurters and Cardozos." On the other hand, why should graduation from something other than an Ivy League school automatically preclude your service on the nation's highest court?

As for my fellow Chicago lawyer, I think he genuinely tried to avoid the arrogance of so many of his presidential predecessors in presenting to Congress legislation as faits accompli -- which usually turns out to be French for "dead on arrival." Instead, he worked through the Democratic leaders. He may also have wanted bipartisanship -- but Pelosi and Reid had no particular interest in sharing credit.

On the other hand, except in the case of Afghanistan, I don't know how Mr. Obama has "placated" the right. (Big Business... maybe... certainly some of them... but not the "Right.") Rather, Mr. Obama has ridden roughshod over the Right (which, in fairness, has played stupidly into his hands on all occasions). You may think that Mr. Obama has not done all he said he wanted to. He may think so, too. But he's depended on Reid, Pelosi and (Heaven help us) Biden -- not a right-winger in the bunch -- to tell him what he could accomplish and what he could not. When they tell him he doesn't have the votes, he stops.

A good mediator? Maybe. Though the best (in my experience) find a way to tell you their opinion (even though that violates all the modern rules for professional mediators....)

Dave said...

I'm not really worried about Kagan. Brilliance is a big leg up and the Supremes aren't on the line to decide objections on the spot.

Maybe placate and right weren't the best choice of words. The President though is much more Bush lite and ineffective at pushing his professed agenda than I'm happy with. In addition to Afghanistan, and Iraq, I'd add don't ask don't tell, Guantanamo, giving at best, lip service to civil liberties in general. That's enough for now. Nope just thought of some more. What he "accomplishes" is a mishmash, with no real direction, only what he can get everyone to sign on to and then announce "success." Anyone think that the financial crisis is solved? Healthcare?

I flat disagree with your thought that he has "played" the right. The GOP, shamefully, has no agenda other than no and might well succeed at it. Obama has done little to explain that, though he seems to be gearing up. In the meantime he's spent a bunch of money, aided and abetted by the left and right, that will come due down the road.

I'm just not seeing a lot of change, and little that I can believe in.

Big Mark 243 said...

I think I am on your side in this one, Dave, when you speak on Obama. Comparing his Presidency to Reagan is spot on, I think.

When he comes up for reelection, I thin a lot of promises that he claimed will come back to bite him in the butt. Some like real healthcare and Guantanmo, were the deciding factors for some. The bailouts of the fatter cats on Wall Street will be another stone hung around his neck as will the 'don't ask, don't tell' thingy. But for some reason I think that Justice Kagan will blunt some of that particular anger.

He hasn't shown that his is capable of delievering on the promises he made in during his rise. Can't put my finger on it, but I never thought he was dynamic enough as all that and he has proven that feeling, as far I am consider, to be true.