When it’s not being dominated by gossips, Washington is dominated by lawyers. The Congress, the lobbyists, the permanent governments in alternating exile that line K street are all filled with overacheivers who have bar admission certificates gathering dust in their attics. But strangely, that outsize influence stops at the gates to the White House. Yes, presidents in the modern era seem surrounded by phalanxes of counsel who guard their boss with a vigilance matched only by the Secret Service. But the chief executives themselves are lawyers less and less. America sent 18 attorneys to the White House in the nineteenth century. In the twentieth, by contrast, only seven served: the Roosevelts, Calvin Coolidge, William Howard Taft, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, and, Bill Clinton.
Curious, then, that voters elected such an obvious pettifogger eight years ago. True, Clinton was always more politico than lawyer — his only significant legal practice having occurred when he spent his late twenties, fresh from Yale Law School, as Arkansas’s attorney general. And he wouldn’t have prevailed without the corroborating testimony of his wife, the First Character Witness. Maybe it’s no accident (despite the spelling difference) that the patron saint of lawyers is Hilary.
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