I recently spoke to many of Obama’s former students and asked them to speculate about how the teacher they saw manage a classroom might try to manage a country. Some students thought Obama’s teaching offers a more accurate glimpse of his potential presidency than the oft-cited statistic that he holds the most liberal voting record in the Senate. “I don’t think that there is a ‘teacher Obama’ and ‘politician Obama,’ ” said David Bird, who works at Reed Smith in Pittsburgh. “He came across as very practical and down to earth. I think that reflects who he is as a person and his experience organizing and in the legislature.” Dan Johnson-Weinberger, who lobbies for progressive causes in Illinois, agreed that his former professor isn’t likely to emerge as an ideological liberal if he indeed makes it to the White House. “Based on what I saw in the classroom, my guess is an Obama administration could be summarized in two words,” he said. “Ruthless pragmatism.” [...]
Dan Johnson-Weinberger studied voting rights with Obama two years after Turbes did. He remembers Obama as an able observer of the allocation of power in the American democratic system. As Obama shepherded students through the evolution of how Americans elect their representatives, Johnson-Weinberger told me, he emphasized how important the rules of the game were in determining who won elections.
That background in voting law, the former student said, played a factor in Obama’s primary triumph over Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. “He understood how important the caucus states would be, and he grasped that voters in African-American Congressional districts would have a disproportionate impact in selecting the nominee,” he said. “I think one of the reasons he said yes to this race is that he grasped the structural path to victory.” [...]
Obama offered many hypotheticals in his courses to help explain cases. In a constitutional law lecture more than a decade ago, he tossed out one asking his students to imagine him as president of the United States, according to one who was present. Some giggles ensued.
What, he asked, is so funny about that?