I've been thinking a bit lately about the collapse of Barack Obama's approval ratings. One thing that helps me explain it is to recall that he's a lawyer. But, as is all too typical of political lawyers, he's a lawyer who has never tried a case. What does that mean for explaining why he seems to be failing now?
1. Credibility. A trial lawyer knows that, from the moment he walks into the Court for the first scheduling conference with the judge, he has to maintain his credibility. He can't be late to Court, he can't bring frivolous or unnecessary motions, he can't misrepresent case law, he can't elide important facts from his briefs, etc. He can't lie, period. For Obama, lying (more charitably, "bull-shitting") is a way of life. It is the attitude of the lawyer who doesn't actually ever have to go before a judge, the lawyer who just sits around board rooms and talks to other lawyers.
2. Respect for different opinions. A trial lawyer must respect the positions even of his adversaries, because he must understand them in order to be able to defeat them. Moreover, the very fact that you're at trial means that someone (the opposing party) thinks your client has wronged him, and has found a lawyer who thinks your client has wronged him, and has persuaded the judge that there is enough of a case that your client has wronged him to go forward to a jury. When you are a trial lawyer, you realize, not just that there are two sides to every debate, but that both sides have at least some merit and, until the jury comes in, you really don't know which one is right. For Obama, any disagreement is the sign of mendacity or bad faith on the part of his adversaries. Because of that, he misses opportunities for compromise and creates a toxic political atmosphere, despite all of his vaunted claims to be "post-partisan."
3. Humility. When you're a trial lawyer, you lose a lot. Maybe not a lot of cases, but certainly a lot of motions. In my last jury trial (which I won), I lost a motion to dismiss, a motion for summary judgment, and a raft of motions in limine. I was right in the end, but I wasn't nearly as right as I thought, and it was a close-run thing. Obama's never had a trial that he lost, or a motion that he lost. He was an academic... he lived in a world where no one loses. And, in politics, he had a safe seat in the Illinois State Senate, a walk-over election to the U.S. Senate, an easy election to the Presidency (comparatively), and a fairly easy re-election as the incumbent. When did he ever have to learn humility?
4. Keeping promises. It is Rule No. 1 of trial practice that, if you promise something to the jury -- if you stand up in opening argument and say that "the evidence will show X" or "the witness will testify that Y" -- well, you had better make good on that promise, or they'll hold it against you. But Obama's promises on Obamacare -- "if you like your doctor, you can keep him" or "if you like your plan, you can keep your plan, period" -- haven't come true.
5. Don't be boring. Finally, real trial lawyers understand that even Clarence Darrow won't keep a jury's attention for very long. A ten minute opening that says something directly and forcefully is better than an hour-long opening that bores the jury. A fifteen-minute cross examination that eviscerates the credibility of a key witness for the other side is better than an hour-long cross that meanders through documents and topics, even if it covers the points better and in more detail. Don't bore them, don't waste their time, they've got better things to do. Obama has never realized this. No one (his mother? his grandparents? his teachers? his professors?) ever told him anything other than how brilliant he is as an "orator." But juries don't like orators, they like lawyers who get to the point and get them out of the box and home to their families. Obama is a blowhard. Juries hate that.
The American people are Obama's judge and jury in this scenario. And he has proved to be a terrible advocate, even for his own legacy program, Obamacare.