October 3, 2008

Lawyers In High Office

Something I read in this post made me wonder – could that really be true? Prof. Kalt writes:
Republicans tend to put non-lawyers on their tickets: going back to 1984, seven of their nine candidates were not lawyers; only Dole and Quayle were” and “the Democrats tend to put lawyers on their tickets: going back to 1984, ten of their eleven candidates were lawyers; only Al Gore was not, though he did attend law school for a year and a half before dropping out.
Wow! If that was right, that's actually a pretty remarkable cleavage between the parties. So I figured, let’s go to the record books and check:

YearRepublican CandidateEducationRepublican Running MateEducationDemocratic CandidateEducationDemocratic Running MateEducation
1984Ronald ReaganA.B. (economics), Eureka College, '32
George H.W. BushA.B. (economics), Yale '48
Walter MondaleJ.D., U. of Minnesota Law School ’56Geraldine FerraroJ.D., Fordham Law School ’60
1988George H.W. BushA.B. (economics), Yale '48Dan QuayleJ.D., Indiana University, Indianapolis, Law, '74Michael DukakisJ.D., Harvard Law ‘60Lloyd BentsenJ.D., U. of Texas Law School ’42
1992George H.W. BushA.B. (economics), Yale '48Dan QuayleJ.D., Indiana University, Indianapolis, Law, '74Bill ClintonJ.D., Yale Law ’73Al GoreB.A. (English), Harvard University, '69 Vanderbilt Law and Vanderbilt Divinity from ’74-’76, quit without J.D. or Th.D.
1996Bob DoleJ.D., Washburn U. Law School '52Jack KempB.S. (physical education), Occidental College '57Bill ClintonJ.D., Yale Law ’73Al GoreB.A. (English), Harvard University, '69, some law and divinity school
2000George W. BushMBA, Harvard Business, '75 (unsuccessfully applied to U. Texas Law School in '70)
Dick CheneyM.A. (Political Science), U. of Wyoming, '66 (some doctoral work at UW-Madison)
Al GoreB.A. (English), Harvard University, '69, some law and divinity schoolJoe LiebermanJ.D., Yale Law ’67
2004George W. BushMBA, Harvard B-School, '75Dick CheneyM.A. (Political Science), U. of Wyoming, '66, with some pre-Ph.D. work
John KerryJ.D., Boston College Law ‘76John EdwardsJ.D., UNC-Chapel Hill Law ’77
2008John McCainB.S., United States Naval Academy at Annapolis, '58
Sarah PalinB.S. (Communications-Journalism), University of Idaho '87
Barack ObamaJ.D., Harvard Law ’91 magna cum laudeJoe BidenJ.D., Syracuse Law ’68

So yeah, since 1984 it's been all lawyers for the Democrats except for Gore, and he got through nearly two years of law school (and divinity school at the same time) at Vandy before bailing out to follow in his daddy’s footsteps answering the call to public service.

Does the public like lawyers in the White House? Only one lawyer has been elected President in this time, Bill Clinton. Dan Quayle won election as Vice-President but I don’t recall his law degree having much to do with that. Well, I’m sure it didn’t hurt. But Obama and Biden, both lawyers, are on the verge of being elected.

Another thing is interesting, comparing the lawyers and non-lawyers and their highest levels of educational achievement. About half of these men and women took their degrees at elite schools. The other half took them from decidedly middle-of-the-road sorts of places. I mean, Fritz Mondale got a great education at the U, I'm sure, but it just doesn't enjoy the same kind of reputation that Harvard and Yale have. The University of Wyoming is, I'm sure, the best four-year institution in the entire state of Wyoming and I'm sure they're good and proud of alum Cheney. But it's still not quite the same thing as Michigan or Stanford, is it? And for some reason, people seem to diminish John McCain's education at Annapolis -- Annapolis is an academically rigorous institution and McCain's low class position is largely the result of his disciplinary problems rather than any intellectual or academic shortcomings there; his classroom grades were pretty good. But for whatever reason, it doesn't seem to enjoy the same kind of academic prestige of a Berkeley or Chicago.

Now, I'm going to be clear -- not having a law degree does not mean one is unqualified for high office, or that one is not smart enough to hold high office. As I wrote a moment ago, all it means is a familiarity with a particular area of knowledge and governmental activity.

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