Charleston Law Review: Barack Article
FOREWORD.DOC 11/13/2007 3:09:30 PM
Volume 2 Fall 2007 Issue 1
By Senator Barack Obama
Law is the language of power. It is a language that helps
resolve conflicts, governs the order of transactions, and
distributes the rights to property and power. It is a language
that describes the legitimate exercise of force by the state and
defines the limits of protest against that force. Law is the
language not just of courts and of contracts but of everyday life.
It speaks to the constraints and commitments we accept as
citizens in a nation under the rule of law.
Because lawyers are trained in the language of law, we have
a special responsibility. We are not like other professionals with
a skill to sell to the highest bidder. We are not merely
technicians implementing faithfully the designs of others. We are
often relied on to be participants in the debate over rights and
power; we are called on to be stewards of public order, justice,
and democracy; we are called on to be architects and catalysts
both for making real the American Dream, and for protecting
people from abuse around the globe. We are called on for our
judgment and counsel, not just our ability to use the language to
It is not merely the lawyer’s “professional responsibility” to
be an agent of the court and to fulfill the ethical duties of fair
dealing and honesty. Those duties are important, but lawyers
also have an added burden to ensure that those without access to
the language of power can still participate and be heard in the
ongoing national conversation about what America means today
and can mean in the future. It is a conversation about rights,
wrongs, resources, and responsibilities. Lawyers help to ensure
that this conversation is not one-sided—that the rules of the legal
and political game are fair and do not inalterably favor certain
groups over others.
There are many arguments for the lawyer’s special duty in
the service of the public interest. The first is based on
pragmatism. Someone has to perform this role and lawyers are
often best positioned to help those who need a voice. If such
voices are systematically denied legitimate expression, the
system of order loses legitimacy and will eventually collapse or be
overthrown. Lawyers have the tools to give expression to those
voices. We know how to go to court, seek injunctions and
restraining orders, demand disclosure of information, and give
meaning to the Constitution’s protections of individual rights. We
know how to draft binding agreements, structure sustainable
institutions, and codify fair procedures that facilitate cooperation
The second argument for the lawyer’s special responsibility
has to do with the character of law itself. Law is rarely selfexecuting,
and rights must be exercised and defended in order to
have meaning. Rights that exist on paper but are never
exercised, challenged, or defended are hardly secure as rights at
all. A right has meaning because it can be lost or taken away.
The system of law requires that there be people willing to help
others exercise and defend their rights. For the public
conversation to have meaning, people must have not only the
right to speak, but also the opportunity to be heard. The lawyer’s
skills and privileged access make this possible.
Finally, lawyers, who are the beneficiaries of numerous
advantages and privileges, have a moral duty to help those who
are less fortunate. It is wrong for us to hoard our capacity to be
useful or to deny it to those who need it most. That does not
mean that we cannot do work for private interests willing to pay
for our services. Nor does it mean that we cannot be discerning
about those who benefit from our contributions and generosity.
But it does mean that all of us with the ability to make a
difference by committing ourselves to a public purpose should do
Throughout history, lawyers have been called upon in times
of change and challenge to help guide America toward its true
potential. It was Charles Hamilton Houston who marshaled the
law to create the strategy in Brown v. Board of Education that
ended legalized apartheid and made real the promise of equal
justice for all. It was Archibald Cox who knew during the
Watergate scandal that if our democracy was to remain one of
laws and not of men, telling the President of United States “no”
was essential. And more recently, it was Sandra Day O’Connor
who reminded us in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld that “a state of war is
not a blank check” when it comes to the civil liberties of
Today, at the beginning of the 21st century, we face new
challenges that call upon lawyers and all leaders to help guide
the course of history. We face new security threats and new
economic challenges. We must confront growing inequality in
income, wealth, and skills, and we face global environmental
risks that may be unprecedented in their scope and potential
damage. Our constitutional system has been assaulted by an
overreaching Executive Branch cloaked in secrecy and hostile to
precedent and evidence-based decision-making. Our image and
influence abroad has been weakened, and our ability to pass on
to future generations a world that is more free, more fair, and
more secure is threatened—even as the world most needs
America’s vision and leadership.
This is a moment when America needs its lawyers to look
outward and ask what they can do to be the catalysts and
architects of a better world. This is a moment when America
needs its lawyers—and all its citizens—to commit in some
meaningful way to public service. Doing any less suggests a
poverty of ambition.
Lawyers should help make real the American dream and
protect people from abuse and injustice around the globe. We
must join with religious leaders and grassroots organizers and
business leaders and volunteers across the nation. Whether it
means working to overcome health and wealth disparities, or
seeking to strengthen communities faced with economic or other
challenges; whether it means advocating on behalf of
disadvantaged communities, or restoring integrity and trust to
public leadership—whatever vision you have to make yourself
useful, each of us has a special responsibility to answer the call
to public service. The time is now.
By Barack Obama
The Wall Street Journal
America is in a defining moment. This is the wealthiest nation in history. Yet many Americans feel that the dream so many generations fought for is slowly slipping away.
I've spoken with folks across this country who have worked all their lives to put their children through college, but now can't afford the rising tuition. I've spoken with many others who've done everything right, but fell into bankruptcy once they became sick, because they couldn't afford their skyrocketing medical bills. And since working Americans have to pay these rising costs with incomes that remain stagnant, many are falling deep into debt, unable to set anything aside for savings.
So at a time when many Americans have no margin for error, it's no surprise that the downturn in the housing market has done enormous harm. In the coming years, over two million Americans could face foreclosure.
The larger risk, however, is that what is happening in housing could spill over elsewhere. A number of firms borrowed huge sums to make investments tied to the housing market. They are now suffering big losses that could trigger a slowdown of the entire economy. We're already seeing some troubling signs. Consumer confidence is the lowest it's been in years. Pension funds are losing money, threatening retirement security. And banks are also losing money, resulting in a credit crunch. That means businesses have less money to invest and people can't get loans, which could lead to significant job losses in the months ahead.
This is a moment of challenge. But it's also a moment of opportunity which we must seize, to make sure our economic future is secure. That starts with addressing the source of our economic woes -- the crisis in the housing market. For most Americans, a home is not just a place to live; it's their most valuable possession -- so preventing a larger crisis in the housing market means providing greater economic security for middle-class families.
This week, President Bush outlined a limited agreement with lenders to ensure that some families don't face higher mortgage payments they can't afford. It is a start. But we need to do more. That's why, several months ago, I proposed tax breaks to help millions of homeowners make their payments, direct relief for the victims of mortgage fraud, and counseling so homeowners know what options are available to avoid foreclosure and refinance. And I have outlined a program to help make it easier for middle-class families, not speculators, to renegotiate or refinance their mortgages.
To prevent the current problems in the housing market from spreading, shaking confidence in other sectors of the economy, we need to put money in the pockets of middle-class Americans. In September, I proposed a middle-class tax cut that would offset the payroll tax that working Americans are already paying. It would give every working family a tax cut worth up to $1,000. It would also make retirement more secure by eliminating income taxes for any senior making less than $50,000 per year. And over the long term, I've called for an automatic workplace pension enrollment policy, which would include a federal government match for part of the savings of middle-class families so they can count on more savings when they retire.
But the test of judgment and leadership isn't just how you respond to problems; it's what you do to prevent them. That's why, last spring, I called for a summit on housing with representatives from the government and private sector similar to the one that Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson attended earlier this week. I also introduced a bill that would treat those who commit mortgage fraud like the criminals they are -- a measure that might have prevented the current crisis from escalating. Three months ago, I asked lenders to show flexibility to Americans trying to sell or refinance their houses.
In the last several months, I've also proposed a number of steps to prevent another economic crisis. These include restoring market transparency by making sure there's adequate government oversight over the rating agencies, so we can avoid practices that can mislead investors. We also need to stop credit-card companies from engaging in deceptive practices that push middle-class Americans further into debt. In addition, we need to update our regulatory system to reflect a 21st-century marketplace where so much credit comes from nonbank lenders, rather than traditionally regulated banks. And as we reform our regulatory rules, let's do so with an eye toward the global economy in which we're operating.
It's going to take a new kind of leadership to strengthen our middle class and make sure America's economic future is secure -- leadership that can challenge the special interests, bring Republicans and Democrats together, and rally this nation around a common purpose. And that is exactly the kind of leadership I intend to offer as president of the United States.
In The News
Gently Protesting Putin TIME Germany's spokesman said the process was "neither free, fair nor democratic." ...... due to leave office next year (though he has suggested that he will continue to be a "national leader" of some sort)
Nancy Kruh: Attacking Obama Dallas Morning News
New Obama Ad Airs in Iowa New York Times
Clark Stumps for Hillary
Sen. Clinton says Wall St must share blame for subprime Reuters
Clinton Urges Foreclosures Moratorium
Film ban in twin states
Pew study sees growing power of Hispanic vote
Murdoch’s Team Shaping Up at Wall St. Journal New York Times
Web Access and E-Mail on Flights New York Times
Romney moves to allay Mormon concerns directly Christian Science Monitor
Poll: Clinton, Giuliani Lead in Ohio
Omaha residents struggle to make sense of shooting
Obama seeks to inspire, gig Clinton in new ad
Robert Reich's Blog
Leading America after January 20, 2009 Under the first model, presidents lead by finding the putative “center.” Their pollsters try to discover what the public wants, and the president fashions policies that will be most popular. This was Bill Clinton's model ....... Under the second model, presidents decide what’s good for America and then try to sell, cajole, intimidate, or lie their way toward that goal. George W. Bush hasn't waivered in any of his beliefs, all the evidence to the contrary ........ the choice need not be pandering or bullying ....... the next president must be bold but also be willing to modify if facts and conditions change .... enter into a dialogue with America -- educating the public, but being willing to be educated in return.