Obama: “Peacemaker” at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts

by Nathan Hershey

[Alicia’s article on this topic: Peacemaking: Consensus or Submission?]

One of the things that caught my eye when first reading about Barack Obama was a story about how Obama behaved when he was a student at Harvard Law School.  The story, published when Obama was candidate for president, in the HLS newspaper, The Harvard Law Record, said that he was a “peacemaker” at the basketball courts there. 

I was and am interested in this trait Obama has for several reasons.  I have followed politics closely since my youth and have run in at least one primary.  Today, my interests in the Democratic Party, in particular, continue, as I hold a position on the board of the 14th Ward Democratic Club of Pittsburgh.  I also have a perspective on Obama’s on-court “peacemaking” from the basketball end.  When I was a student at Harvard Law School in the early 50s, I was quite active in basketball, both in the intramurals and in pickup games.  I am proud to say that my team, in my first year, reached the finals, where we lost; in my third year, I put together a team that won the intramural championships. 

What I read indicated that Obama was a skilled basketball player at Harvard Law School and was, from all accounts, far superior to me at my best, in addition to being noted as a peacemaker on the court.  Many people know that there is a considerable amount of physical contact in the playing of basketball games, particularly when there’s no official.  If a couple of people were “duking it out,” Obama was active in bringing hostilities to a close.

I have no opposition to bringing pushing, shoving, punching to a close on the basketball court but at the same time, I know that some of it is friction that develops from physical contact during a play and that the disputes that arise rarely last long or become dangerous.  It struck me that I couldn’t picture any of the people I knew at Harvard playing such a peacemaker role as has been depicted in descriptions of President Obama as a student there.

 It occurred to me that Obama, then still only a candidate for the presidency, might not have the capacity to be as tough or decisive on matters in the political sphere.  Frankly, I would have preferred Hillary Clinton to have been nominated because many voters acknowledge her ability to deal with problems in her personal life and see her as scrappy.  I can’t picture Barrack Obama being much of a scrapper, from what I have learned about him. 

I think that other presidents, such as Harry Truman and Franklin Roosevelt, among other famous Democratic politicians, have been scrappers.  While President Roosevelt couldn’t be a physical scrapper, he certainly knew when to scrap, and how to fight politically for his agenda.  Certainly, Harry Truman had built a reputation as being feisty.  He cast a bigger shadow over the political world than he was expected to do when he was elected in 1948, after having succeeded Franklin D. Roosevelt as vice president.  In fact, in the 1948 campaign, it was a four-way contest for the presidency but there were only two serious candidates – Truman among them, opposite the Republican Dewey.

When I was at Harvard Law School, the idea of being scrappy was accepted as part of the atmosphere.  I see President Obama, the “peacemaker,” not scrapping on many political issues that he should act on more seriously as President.  He has given greater sway or acceptance to some of the Republicans with whom he has been contesting on matters since he was elected and to a much greater extent since the Democrats lost control of the House of Representatives in the 2010 election.  As the Democrats and Republicans are gearing up for the 2012 election, we see the Republicans making a very aggressive push to make Obama a one-term president and seeming to interfere with or block almost anything that Obama seeks.  I believe they will oppose him on any issue just because they want to drive him from the White House.  There is only a little more than a year until the 2012 presidential election and the potential Republican candidates have already surfaced, while it is the expectation that Obama will be the Democratic presidential candidate.

My personal view is that it would be better for the Democrats to substitute an individual with an evident fighting spirit.  While I can’t say very much about Joe Biden, it strikes me that he has a background that makes him appear scrappier than many other Democrats who might be considered as potential substitutes for Obama.  Perhaps it would be good for the president to say, “I will be a one-term president and I will hold the party together while Joe Biden and two or three other people seek the presidential nomination from the Democratic Party.”  I am curious as to how many Democrats feel as I do, wanting to have a fighting president rather than a “peacemaker” who appears to yield to and cooperate with the opposition in order to end contention.

In raising this issue, there may be many Democratic operatives whom I may not be pleasing, but I am sure I am not alone in my sentiment.  When Truman attacked the Republicans, people in the audience used to say, “Give ‘em hell, Harry!”  I think “Give ‘em hell, Barack!” does not have the same ring, but we should be using that language anyway.

– Nat Hershey

20th Century Man


2 Comments to “Obama: “Peacemaker” at Harvard Law School Basketball Courts”

  1. I couldn’t agree more – we need a scrapper, and Obama may be many things, but he is most definitely not a scrapper!

    • It is too bad that he wasted an opportunity for learning on the basketball courts at Harvard Law School to push back a lot. Just about everybody did.

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