CAMBRIDGE - When Barack Obama sought advice before a critical Senate vote on
the terrorist surveillance program earlier this year, he called his friend and
former colleague Cass Sunstein, a constitutional law professor at Harvard Law
When the Democratic presidential candidate convened a national security
summit last summer, one of the hand-picked participants was Graham Allison, a
nuclear weapons specialist at the Harvard Kennedy School.
Obama's healthcare plan, meanwhile, was formulated by David M. Cutler, a
Harvard economics professor.
Nearly two-dozen members of the Harvard faculty - some of whom have known
Obama since he arrived at Harvard Law School two decades ago - played a central
role in shaping the policy views of the next president, as either formal
advisers or informal consultants. From legal affairs and climate change to
foreign affairs and the economy, they served as a backstop for his presidential
campaign and some regularly exchanged phone calls and text messages with the
Now, as President-elect Obama begins putting together his administration, his
Harvard brain trust is hoping to fill prominent positions in Washington - as top
White House advisers, senior political appointees, Cabinet chiefs, or judicial
nominees. Indeed, some longtime observers predict Obama's election will mark a
major new chapter in Harvard's influence at the top rungs of the government -
perhaps on a scale not seen since Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy was
elected in 1960.
"There is a broad and deep Harvard connection and I think it will serve
him well," said Charles J. Ogletree, a specialist on racial justice who
mentored Obama when he arrived in Cambridge in the late 1980s and who continues
to dole out personal and policy advice to his former student and friend. That
connection, he believes, "helps navigate this challenge of bringing change
Harvard has a long history of advising both Democratic and Republican
presidents. Starting with Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, a slew of Harvard
faculty members and administrators have been recruited to leave their perches
along the Charles River to take up residence along the Potomac. A full quarter
of Cabinet members over the past three decades have been former Harvard
students, overseers, or staff, according to John Trumpbour, editor of "How
Harvard Rules," a history of the university's role in shaping national
Some administrations, like Kennedy's and Richard Nixon's, were known for
their abundance of Harvardites and other intellectuals. The Kennedy
administration enlisted so many that after his election Kennedy, a Harvard
graduate and overseer, quipped to WHRB, a student radio station, that "We
are starting up a university of our own of Harvard in Washington."
"There is nothing left at Harvard except Radcliffe," commentator
James Reston remarked at the time.
But the Kennedy brain trust - later inherited by Lyndon Johnson - is also
known for the mixed results that followed, especially the handling of the
Vietnam War, and some say Obama would be foolish to overdose on academics who
have relatively little political experience.
"Academics often don't live in the same world as the rest of the
country," said Matthew C. Woessner, a professor of political science at
Pennsylvania State University at Harrisburg who supported Obama's opponent,
Republican John McCain. "They are engaged in the exploration of ideas. Most
don't have to make a payroll or, if they have tenure, worry about job security
or fluctuations in the economy. Most academics don't have a good grasp on
America's political center."
Obama and his advisers, for their part, insist he will recruit a
cross-section of individuals from academia, the business world, and government -
much like he did during his historic campaign for the White House.
But there is no mistaking the extent to which a new generation of Harvard
minds is poised to descend on Washington, some for repeat tours, others for the
Indeed, Hauser Hall, on the law school campus, could double as an Obama
campaign outpost. The directory in the lobby includes half a dozen professors
who have played the role of adviser or stump surrogate.
Several were Obama's mentors at Harvard Law School - like Ogletree, Laurence
Tribe, and Martha Minow.
Minow, who later served on a commission with then-State Senator Obama, says
of the president-elect: "He always wants to hear the competing
When Obama asked Ogletree to be a senior adviser, he told his mentor - whom
he fondly calls "Tree" - to impart "anything you think I need to
know and anything you think I need to hear,' " Ogletree recalled in a
Tribe, who hired Obama as his research assistant in 1989, is an informal
adviser on rule of law issues who delivered speeches on Obama's behalf.
Einer Elhauge, a legal conservative who stumped for Obama, could be in line
for a senior anti-trust post, some say. Like many Obama advisers and confidants
at Harvard he declined to be interviewed. "I will have to pass until the
transition press staff is up and running."
Meanwhile, law professor Elizabeth Warren, who advised the campaign on
bankruptcy issues, first met Obama at a Cambridge fund-raiser organized by
colleague David Wilkins for Obama's 2004 US Senate bid. As recently as
Wednesday, she was sought out by Obama's staff on transition issues, she said.
"There are a lot of people in his background [here] who all along have
advised and counseled him," Warren said.
The Harvard-Obama orbit has also attracted people like Allison - a Reagan and
Clinton-era Pentagon official - who have served previous administrations and
were sought out by Obama or his campaign. Allison said in an interview that
Obama reached out to him after reading his book, "Nuclear Terrorism,"
during a fact-finding trip to the former Soviet Union in late 2005.
Former Harvard president Lawrence Summers, meanwhile, has been frequently
consulted and recently floated as a possible candidate to take his old job as
Treasury chief, although a vocal group of liberal Democrats are already making
known their opposition.
Some of them say he is partially responsible for the deregulation in the
1990s that led to the current financial crisis, while others cite his
controversial comments about the female intellect as disqualifying him.
Another Washington veteran who has been advising Obama is Sarah Sewall,
director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School, who
was assistant secretary of defense for peacekeeping and humanitarian assistance
in the Clinton years.
Uniquely, Obama's Harvard brain trust includes many newer faces as well. They
are younger, more diverse, and generally less experienced in government service,
but possibly more influential.
There is Cutler, 42, Obama's senior healthcare policy adviser, and Jeffrey
Liebman, 40, a professor of public policy at the Kennedy School who advises on
Social Security and other retirement issues. Samantha Power, the 38-year-old
Harvard foreign policy specialist and former Obama adviser, has been mentioned
by some experts as a possible candidate for a senior post.
Another newer face is Daniel Kammen, 46, a former lecturer at the Kennedy
School who earned his doctorate in physics at Harvard and is Obama's senior
energy and environment adviser.
Then there are Obama's former law school classmates. Preeta Bansal advises
Obama on human rights. Michael Froman, a former adviser to Treasury Secretary
Robert Rubin, is a key purveyor of economic advice and, some predict, could
become Obama's top economic adviser in the White House.
Julius Genachowski, former chief counsel for the Federal Communications
Commission, has handled technology issues on the campaign.
Froman, Genachowski, and Christopher Edley, another of Obama's Harvard Law
School professors, were named as members of his presidential transition team
A major difference between many of the current generation of Harvard advisers
and those who influenced previous presidential hopefuls, such as Clinton or
Jimmy Carter, according to Ogletree, is that many know Obama personally.
"They didn't know Carter," said Ogletree, proudly displaying a
photo of him and Obama at a 2005 reunion. "They didn't know Clinton."
Still, the real measure of their influence may not be in the number of
government positions they hold, according to Tribe, who still has the
appointment book from 1989 where he marked down Obama's name after the
first-year law student knocked on his office door. "Shaping his thinking as
a policy maker may be as important as serving in the government."
President Morning-After Pride
Laurence H. Tribe 11.05.08, 12:30 PM ET
I am watching the sun rise over Lake
Michigan in the land of Lincoln on this new day in America. This is the
morning after a great divide in the biography of the United States. As a nation,
we have come of age.
I flew to Chicago on Tuesday afternoon to witness history as the United
States of America went to the polls on Election Day, 2008. Hours later, as
Obama spoke in Grant Park to claim his victory before a great throng of
supporters and an eagerly listening world--almost exactly 40 years after the
chaos of 1968--I felt myself in the flow of time, a minor participant in a great
saga punctuated by events that shaped my life, as it shaped the lives of so many
The year 1968 was, for me and most of my friends, a year of tragedy and
disillusion. Through the years that followed, years punctuated by Watergate and
Vietnam and by decades of political polarization and paralysis, politics was the
game that disappointed. Yesterday it was the game that delivered. The work of
governing lies ahead, but the sun is rising and the challenges we face--in
reconstructing a broken economy, restoring a threatened constitution, ending a
misguided war and waging a necessary one, starting to heal a wounded
planet--look from here like opportunities to be seized, not obstacles to be
How different this feels from the crazy election of 2000, brought to an
abrupt and puzzling end by the Supreme Court's ill-starred decision to stop
counting the ballots, when another new president was installed to preside over a
nearly dysfunctional country. Having served as counsel before the court to the
losing candidate during that sad chapter in our democratic trajectory, I
returned to ordinary life but wondered when, if ever, I could fully believe in
the process again.
As the decade progressed, the most impressive student I had ever taught was
quietly pursuing his own political trajectory. In 1989, I had met Barack Obama
and hired him as my research assistant while he was still just a first-year
Harvard law student. His stunning combination of analytical brilliance and
personal charisma, openness and maturity, vision and pragmatism, was
unmistakable from my very first encounter with the future president.
I thought about that encounter as he and his wife Michelle each gave me a hug
in one of the off-stage tents in Grant Park last night. I recalled it as I found
myself unable to express in words my sense of gratitude and of possibility. The
president-elect and the first lady-designate both thanked me for the part I had
played in Barack Obama's education and his rise to power, but it was I, of
course, who owed thanks to them, thanks for the journey on which they had
embarked to reclaim America for all who dare to hope.
There will be countless efforts to dissect their improbable path from that
cold winter morning in Springfield, Ill., nearly two years ago--when a still-new
senator from Illinois announced his candidacy for the highest office in the
land--to the unseasonably warm evening in Chicago when that quest reached its
climax and when those who had led it confronted the daunting challenges of
actually governing. This is not another attempt at such dissection. Nor is this
another post-mortem on the failed efforts of president-elect Obama's more than
formidable foes. It is simply a personal note to commemorate a milestone in a
great nation's history.
As an immigrant to the United States, born in Shanghai to Russian Jewish
parents who brought me with them when they settled in California in 1947, I have
always felt great pride--both in that ancestry and in the gift of citizenship
conferred on me by the nation that went on to provide me with such extraordinary
opportunities--to thrive and to give something back for all that I have been
given. My pride in that citizenship has never been greater than it is today.
Truth to tell, I find myself unable to stop smiling, just as last night I found
it difficult to stop crying.
Barack Obama's unique ability to explain and to motivate, coupled with his
signature ability to listen and to learn, and linked with the calm that marked
his nearly flawless campaign, will serve him--and all of us--well as we grapple
with as daunting a set of problems as the nation has faced in three-quarters of
a century. It is of course true that only time will tell just how successful
this brave, brilliant and caring man will be in charting a new course for the
country, something that will depend only partly on decisions that Obama will
make as president.
But one thing is already certain: The very fact of Barack Obama's election at
this defining moment--quite apart from the programs he pursues and the ways in
which he pursues them--already speaks volumes to everyone on the planet. His
election in and of itself displays how dramatically America has moved to
transcend the divisions of its past and bids fair to give us a new lease on life
in a world that had come, and not without reason, to see us in an awful light--a
world that will now give this nation a fresh look and a second chance.
The sun is now high over Lake Michigan. It is a new day in America. We can do
this. Yes, we can.
Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb university professor and professor
of constitutional law at Harvard.
Cal law dean to advise
Obama transition team
Article Launched: 11/05/2008 06:34:58 PM PST
Boalt Law School Dean Christopher Edley Jr. poses for a photograph
before addressing the UC...
University of California, Berkeley Boalt Hall School of Law Dean
Christopher F. Edley Jr. - who was among Barack Obama's Harvard Law professors
between his stints in the Carter and Clinton administrations, and who had
advised this year's campaign - is among a dozen people named today as an
advisory board to president-elect Obama's transition team.
"I've done two tours of duty in the White House and this is my third
transition effort," Edley told me moments ago. "My joyfulness about
the election is tempered by a very deep appreciation of how extraordinarily
difficult the president's to-do list will be. The team has been working for a
couple of months, but this will still be the most complex transition in our
lifetime. The sleeves are already rolled up and the adrenaline is already at