Media depictions of personalities often contrast with reality. While in some cases the camera or microphone (or now YouTube) capture who we are, often there is a contrast between our real being and how we are presented. This dichotomy came home to me recently as I thought about two individuals who I know personally–Tom Emmer and now John Yoo.
I remember in 1992 while teaching in Texas Bill Clinton had won the primaries and would be the Democratic presidential candidate. He had yet to pick a VP. My university president called me one day and asked if I would mind opening up my class to a U.S. senator who was doing a book tour and he wanted to visit a couple of political science classes. I agreed and we combined two or three classes together to create a room of about 65 students.
For the next 90 minutes the senator captivated me and students. He was engaging, funny, witting, and demonstrated a brilliance and grasp of policy issues I seldom see among elected officials. I also shook his hand, had him autograph his book. Overall, he was one of the nicest and most compelling people I had ever met. I went home, told my wife about him and said Clinton should make him VP. Clinton did that. The senator was Al Gore.
But the Gore I saw in class that day was the not same Al Gore I saw on television and as vice-president. As VP, and then presidential candidate, he was wooden, stiff, and generally failed to demonstrate any of the charm I knew he had. I often wondered and asked: “Will the real Al Gore please stand up.” There were two Gores I saw–one up close and personal–the other through the eyes of the media, and reconciling them was difficult.
I tell the Gore story because it reminds me of my personal experiences with two other people in the news.
Tom Emmer is the Republican nominee for Minnesota Governor. I will skip all the media depictions of him. Instead me let describe how I know him.
When he first got elected to the Minnesota House of Representatives he called me. I had no idea who he was and he was just starting off his political career. He wanted to meet. He told me he was interested in campaign finance reform and concerned about money in politics. He told me a story. He said he had been at some event where the conservative pro-life Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) had said something to the effect that they had the votes of a whole bunch of legislators because of all of the money that had been raised or channeled to candidates. Emmer told me: “I may vote with the MCCL, but I do not like the idea that they think they can buy me with their money.” Tom was sincere, he wanted to do something about cutting off money in politics. He was told I was a past president for Common Cause and had consistently testified for Senator John Marty and others seeking to limit the role of money in politics.
Emmer asked me if I had any ideas for bills. I gave him my wish list. It included a state version of McCain-Feingold, limits on contributions to political parties, new disclosure laws, and more. Tom introduced all of the legislation. Against the wishes of the Republican majority that controlled the House and the MCCL he pushed for the bills. He fought DFL resistence too. The bills did not pass, but for at least two years he fought hard and I testified for him. His bills got farther on campaign finance than any others in Minnesota since 1994.
I have no idea where Emmer stands today on campaign finance. However, then I never doubted his sincerity on the issue.
Emmer and I stand opposite on other issues. He once supported a bill that would require the public positing of names of state judges who issue judicial bypasses for minors seeking abortions. I testified against the bill arguing that it would damage the judiciary. We also testify on opposite sides of voter photo identification bills. I mention all this because I have come to know Emmer as a person. In all the times we have worked together or opposite one another he has treated me with respect and I see something in him that does not come out in the media.
John Yoo is famous for being the Bush Administration attorney who penned the legal opinions for the War on Terror. He authored the critical opinions that supported presidential power detain prisoners at Gitmo without trial and to torture. In the media, he is attributed with drafting the “torture memos.”
In my own writings, including a paper at Oxford University and two scholarly articles, I criticized Yoo. He has been hammered in the media, subject to demands to prosecute for war crimes, and investigated for legal ethics violations. He is picketed where ever he speaks. He must be a monster!
I met Yoo this past Thursday at the University of St Thomas Law School. We were both invited along with others to speak and give papers at a University of St. Thomas Journal of Law and Public Policy conference on presidential war powers. The journal and conference are student operated and they did a great job on Thursday. I was privileged to be on the panel with great names. The conference was loaded with conservatives and I was the token.
There were demonstrators present in and outside. Collen Rowley, a former FBI agent featured on the 2002 Time magazine, was there to protest. Security was tight.
John and I spoke a lot that day and had lunch together. We did disagree on topics, but we also shared observations. His talk on George Washington and presidential power was terrific even if I disagreed. Finally at the end of the day we talked baseball–he a Philly fan me a Yankee–and we discussed the prospects of a 2010 repeat of the 2009 World Series.
I walked away from the day thinking how nice Yoo as a person was. I cannot explain how or why he came to his conclusions in 2002 about presidential war powers, and I will not discuss why I think his arguments were flawed. I will simply say that for the day I met him I saw someone different than I had previously read about or saw from a distance.