Tribe Lends Support to Early Obama Iowa Push

In ad, law prof commends post-grad decisions of former student

Unnamed photo
Lowell K. Chow

Loeb University Professor Laurence H. Tribe '62, shown here in February 2004, is currently appearing in one of the very first presidential campaign ads for Senator Barack Obama, one of Tribe's former students.

Building on an already politicized career, Harvard Law School Professor Laurence H. Tribe '62 recently appeared in one of the first presidential campaign advertisements for Sen. Barack Obama, hoping to help bolster support in the primaries for his former student.

Though Tribe said that he would back Sen. Hillary Clinton if she prevails in winning the Democratic Party's nomination for president, he has championed Obama's cause for quite some time.

"I've been involved with him from the time he graduated from Harvard Law," Tribe said. "Barack is enormously mature, brilliant, and inspiring in his commitment to make people's lives better and to the American ideal in its best form."

The new ad—part of an early move by the Illinois senator to introduce himself to the people of Iowa—tells the story of Obama's dedication to serving the community, including taking time off between college and law school.

Obama is the first of the leading Democratic candidates to launch his television ad campaign in Iowa, the site of the first presidential primary caucus.

Another Democrat, New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson, has run ads in Iowa, as has a leading Republican candidate, former Gov. Mitt Romney.

"It was inspiring," Tribe says in the ad, "absolutely inspiring to see someone as brilliant as Barack Obama, as successful, someone who could've written his ticket on Wall Street, take all of the talent and all of the learning and decide to devote it to the community and to making people's lives better."

While some worry that Obama's brief political career—he's only been a U.S. senator for two and a half years—may not give him enough experience to be the country's 44th president, Tribe said that "it's the quality rather than the quantity of experience that matters."

And though Tribe said he agrees with pundits that Obama doesn't seem as hard-hitting in the early debates as some of the other candidates, he said he finds this to be a positive attribute.

"Unlike a number of other candidates for both the Republicans and the Democrats, what you see with Barack is what you get," Tribe explained. "He is not a person who is carefully tacking to one side and then the other to attract the party base for the primary and then the center for the general election."

It is perhaps this genuineness that has drawn so many donors to lend support to his campaign in its early stages.

According to Obama's website, more than 258,000 people have already donated to his campaign, which raised more than $32 million in the second quarter of this year, a record for a Democratic candidate.

His first and second-quarter totals for 2007 make Obama the leader among both parties in the race for funds, according to Bloomberg News.

Tribe, the Loeb University Professor, said that this early advantage makes him an even bigger target for his Democratic challengers.

"Barack is less likely to go for the jugular than his opponents," Tribe said. "But they see him as a threat because of the amazing breadth of his support across the country."

A preeminent Constitutional Law scholar, Tribe is often recognized for his role in the Senate's highly-publicized 1987 rejection of conservative judge Robert H. Bork, a Reagan nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court.

Tribe added that Obama, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 1991, has given him the most sense of "hope and possibility" from a candidate since he supported John F. Kennedy '40 in 1960.

"He doesn't bring to mind the divisions in our society that we've seen over the past decades," Tribe said. "He represents the future in the best sense."

—Staff writer Nathan C. Strauss can be reached at strauss@fas.harvard.edu.