Thursday, February 14, 2008

Reading just now

I just finished reading Obama: From Promise to Power, by David Mendell, the reporter (and blogger), and started That Man: An Insider's Portrait of Franklin D. Roosevelt, by Justice Robert H. Jackson and edited by John Barrett, the fellow who puts out the Jackson e-mail list.

I expected to see and saw that one of Obama's patrons was Abner Mikva, who was referenced in the Clarence Thomas book as the least favorite of his colleagues from his days on the D.C. Circuit, and whose representation by John Tucker is described in Tucker's book, Trial and Error: The Education of a Courtroom Lawyer. Mikva was Democratic Congressman, who was gerrymandered out of office but not before one or two recounts, in which he had Tucker and others to represent him. Also, he was counsel to the White House under President Clinton, after he retired from the D.C. Circuit. The Mendell book about Obama fits well with Tucker's account of Chicago politics. It convinced me that Obama is somewhat like all the rest, inevitably so, and makes me wonder that sparks will fly soon when Clinton and/or McCain lights into him - if they ever do.

I thought the Mendell book was very entertaining, much of it sort of a "Fear and Loathing" tale of Obama's Congressional and Senatorial campaigns, and "The Plan" that followed, including his "congressional" trip to Africa in 2006, up to the announcement of his campaign for president - the stuff that Obama did that drove his campaign pros crazy.

At pages 54 and 55 of Jackson book can be found this story about the nominations of Floyd Roberts from Bristol, then Armistead Dobie, to the new position on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia:

"The President challenged and tested this practice [of senatorial courtesy] in Virginia, by making a district judge appointment in the summer of 1938 without consulting Senators Carter Glass and Harry Byrd, but I think after consultation with Governor James H. Price, who was at odds with the senators. That man, whose name was Floyd Roberts, was admittedly a competent man to hold the position, but because of the failure of the President to consult them, Senators Glass and Byrd opposed the confirmation. It became very plain that the President could not get the man confirmed. The President was plainly defeated. It was a stalemate. He would not withdraw the nomination. The post was vacant.

One day we were down on the President's yacht over the weekend, fishing and relaxing. The President said, 'I've got a job for you, Bob, and for 'Pa' Watson. I want you to go down to Charlottesville and see if you can't get Armistead M. Dobie, the Dean of the University of Virginia Law School, to accept the appointment as district judge. I think if I send his name to the Senate, the Senators from Virginia will not dare turn him down.' He thought Glass and Byrd would support Dobie and thereby break the deadlock without loss of face to anybody.

It was plain that the contest at that point had become one of personal prestige, and the President wanted to put one over that they would not dare resist. This was when I was Solicitor General, not Attorney General. He was apparently handling the matter quite independently of Attorney General Murphy. He said that there was a vacancy coming up on the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals, and that if Dobie accepted the appointment to the district court, we could say that the President would feel that he should be promoted to the Court of Appeals when the vacancy occurred.

So 'Pa' Watson and I took a White House car and made an appointment to see Dean Dobie at the Farmington Country Club in Charlottesville. We sailed forth. When we got in the vicinity, 'Pa' Watson in his genial southern way, said, 'Bob, you handle the heavy thinking in this, and I'll go out and get a bottle of bourbon.' I talked with Dean Dobie while 'Pa' took a little trip. When 'Pa' came back, I introduced him to 'Judge' Dobie. The Dean had agreed to accept the appointment. About ten o'clock, after we had dinner and duly induced the Dean to accept, we telephoned the President that we had met the enemy and he was ours. The President immediately sent his name to the Senate, and there was a prompt announcement from Senators Byrd and Glass that they would vote for his confirmation."

I love that story. General Edwin "Pa" Watson was Roosevelt's military aide and de facto chief-of-staff, who lived at Kenwood outside Charlottesville, and died on the return from Yalta.

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