Like fish in some kind of receptacle

Last Tuesday the Chicago Tribune published an op-ed by Steven Calabresi where he argues, as an attempted parody of “purposive, pragmatic interpretation of the Constitution” that Barack Obama doesn’t meet the age minimum for the Presidency. His article argues against a view which no prominent judge or constitutional scholar, the attempted targets of his parody, actually holds, which is nice for Calabresi because it lets him avoid the hard work of actually giving reasons to support his own view. In the course of illustrating his faux-argument that Sen. Obama isn’t functionally mature enough for the presidency, Calabresi makes what he thinks are some very serious charges against him. One of these is a good thing (willingness to negotiate with Iran), another absurd, two more false (and I have reason to believe Calabresi knows that about at least one them making him, you know, a liar) and the rest of which are essentially silly as criticisms of Obama as future President, as opposed to Obama as perfect person who has never spoken to or otherwise associated with anyone who did or said anything wrong (Ayers, Rezko, Wright, and Pfleger). The combination of all this is what led me to call the op-ed “fucking maddening.Much more detail below.

Calabresi is talking about art. II, §1, cl. 5 of the which specifies that, “neither shall any person be eligible to that office who shall not have attained to the age of thirty five years.” Absolutely everyone who argues for an interpretation other the originalism which Calabresi argues for, and even people making arguments in support of various types of originalism, distinguish between how narrow, structural clauses should be interpreted and how broader clauses should be; noting that it is inappropriate to give broad readings to the structural parts of the Constitution. The normal citation here is to Dworkin, either his section of A Matter of Interpretation or Law's Empire, but it's not just Dworkin, no one argues for interpreting all Constitutional provisions in the manner Calabresi parodies, so I have no idea who he thinks he's mocking.

First Calabresi claims, without explanation, that Obama “has called for levels of federal spending, taxation and regulation that would cause a Great Depression.” Responding to this with any facts is more than it deserves, but this chart of U.S. GDP growth under various Presidents combined with historical taxation rates points towards why it's just embarassing.

Then, Calabresi falsely states that Obama “has criticized the war in Iraq but visited the country for the first time Monday to see how well the surge there is working.” Obama visited Iraq in January 2006. Presumably, Calabresi means that this is the first time Sen. Obama has visited specifically for the purpose of seeing how well the surge is going, since the January 2006 visit roughly coincides with Bush's speech announcing the troop escalation strategy and therefore wasn't for that purpose, but the only reason you'd interpret his sentence that way is if you already know that Sen. Obama has been to Iraq before and are struggling for an interpretation that makes Calabresi's sentence true. It's not how it would normally be read in English, and I think Calabresi is trying to deceive with it, by eliding the fact that Obama had been there before.

Next, Calabresi falsely asserts that “Obama promised that if he were nominated for president he would accept public funding for his presidential campaign and forgo private contributions.” This is so egregious it's not even what the McCain campaign normally claims happened, let alone the truth. The standard claim is that he promised to accept public funding if his opponent accepted it as well, McCain did accept it, and Obama didn't. That's also not true, but it's closer than what Calabresi goes with. The truth is that Obama said he'd “aggressively pursue an agreement with the Republican nominee to preserve a publicly financed general election.” This was supposed to have been a framework which “would require some significant agreement about how to handle outside money, 527s, "Swift Boat"-type attack groups, party money, etc., and other factors that have undermined the last two publicly financed elections, from both sides.” Anyway, Obama didn't, as far as I know, pursue the agreement either, which he should have (though it wouldn't have worked out, so he still would have remained outside the public financing system), but that's what he said he would do, not what Calabresi or the McCain campaign claim.

At least as far as his standards of argumentation go, Calabresi is a bad person and not to be trusted.