Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Some Thoughts On Debo P. Adegbile

Jonathan Bernstein had a good piece on the defeat of Debo P. Adegbile who Obama nominated to head up the Justice Department's Civil Rights Department. Basically six Democrats joined the GOP in shooting down the nomination because Adegbile has links to the to the lawyers that overturned the death sentence of Mumia Abu-Jamal. 

Personally I think it's a great cometary on a lot of the arguments that progressives have been making about race and Obama over the last few years. I think it's a great example of the false promise of "twice as good"  that Ta-Nehisi Coates has been talking about for the last year or so:
I've spent the past couple of years thinking about the "twice as good" notion in the black community, and the bindings that we put on young black boys so that their country will not kill them. Of course "twice as good" ultimately means half as many arrive, and those who do receive half as much. Let us dispense with self-congratulation and great men. The question is not, "What did Jackie Robinson achieve in spite of racism?" It is, "How much more would he have achieved without it?" An ethic of "twice as good" divorced from any complaint, divorced from history is "Go for self" and can have no effect whatsoever upon a justice system, upon voter ID laws, upon asset forfeiture, upon Wells Fargo. The masses of the plundered will never be respectable to those who plunder them. The essence of plunder is disrespect. They can never respect you. They hate you, sir.
That is Adegbile can come from a single parent home, pull himself up by his bootstraps, pass his peers on the career track (who have far greater advantages than he ever did), and basically do everything right and be "twice as good" only to be disqualified for public service because he dared argue that John Adam's, Clarence Darrow's, and the Constitution's principle that everyone is entitled to a robust defense in our criminal justice system actually has meaning.

Meanwhile as Bernstein points out, this was a defeat for Obama! The correct move all along was never to fight the battle in the first place and find a palatable person who wouldn't rock the boat with his crazy ideas of equality before the law and working pro bono on death penalty cases (which by the way is what law students are taught is what folks in the legal profession should do with some of their spare time.)

I think Coates is right to point out the false promise of "twice as good", but where I differ from him is that he would like to shelf it for the more radical idea of race based policy itself. I just don't any reason how this could possibly work if so many people won't even accept "twice as good" at times. In short "twice as good" might be flawed but Obama might embrace it because it remains a radical concept even today, which is pretty disheartening to liberals, but might just be reality when it comes to the issue of race.


  1. I think you have the problem wrong. The nominee came along late in the process while Mumia had been well represented.
    His egregious actions outside the legal field were the issue. Which, I should point out, everybody knows.
    Also, considering your piece at GMP, I should point out that far more people have heard about "Obama's stash", than Mrs. Boonstra. Perhaps that would have been a more useful example of irrationality than a mix up in arithmetic.
    Anyway, as to "better", Mrs. Boonstra was forced by the government to do something she didn't want to do "for her own good". It may or may not have worked out, but the "forced by the government" is the part that has people's backs up.

    Richard Aubrey

    1. I just think that's plain wrong, representing death row defendants on a pro bono manner is standard operating procedure in the legal profession. The idea that some people accused of murder deserve a fair process and others don't is a deeply un-American idea and it's terrible so many people have embraced these talking points.

      As to government forcing people to do stuff, well I just think that's silly argument to make. The government forces you to do stuff all the time like drive on the right hand side of the road and stop at red lights. Or ummm buy car insurance. Boonstra is entitled to her opinions, all of us are, but that doesn't mean they aren't silly and irrational.