Matthew Yglesias on Jeff Sessions
Matt Yglesias snarks,
Watching the Senator from Alabama’s press conference, I’m comforted by the fact that whatever our ideological disagreements this is a man who’s made it in life without any preferential treatment. One hundred percent meritocracy in action. America is a beautiful place.
Presumably, no one makes it to high office without some sort of “preferential treatment.” Still, Sessions’ biography hardly suggests that success was handed to him on a silver platter. Here’s the Wikipedia entry on his early life:
Sessions was born in Selma, Alabama, to Abbie Powe and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions, Jr. His father owned a general store and then a farm equipment dealership. Sessions grew up in the small town of Hybart. In 1964 he became an Eagle Scout. In his adult life, he became a recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.
After attending school in nearby Camden, Sessions studied at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1969. He was active in the Young Republicans and student body president there. Sessions received a Juris Doctor degree from the University of Alabama in 1973.
Sessions became a practicing attorney first in Russellville and then in Mobile, where he now lives. He was also an army reservist in the 1970s, achieving the rank of captain.
His parents were decidedly middle class and he went to the local public school in a not particularly affluent part of Alabama. He was an Eagle Scout. He went to a Methodist college down the road. After a year teaching elementary school, he got into the state’s only public law school and did his time in the Army.
He got tabbed as an Assistant United States Attorney under President Ford just two years out of law school and then as a U.S. Attorney and later a U.S. District Court Judge by President Reagan (albeit not confirmed by the Senate to the latter). There’s not much treatment more “preferential” than a presidential appointment. Even though I was living in Alabama during Reagan’s tenure and when Sessions was later elected Attorney General and then United States Senator, I honestly have no idea how he came to presidential attention at such a young age. It certainly wasn’t because his daddy owned a farm equipment dealership.
Given what I know about Alabama politics circa 1975-1981, the fact that he was an active College Republican — and I’d guess a leader among that group, given his rapid success in actual politics — during a period when the Democratic primary was the election in that state was likely quite helpful. A Republican president needing to appoint someone from Alabama had a relatively limited field in those days. But it’s not like Sessions Peter Principled after getting his first appointment; he was quickly moved up to ever-loftier posts.
If Matt’s simply making the point that Sessions isn’t acquitting himself with particular distinction in the present debate . . . meh. I haven’t watched any of it but it wouldn’t surprise me. But we don’t select Senators in the same way we do brain surgeons or even Supreme Court justices; let’s just say that not all of them would have been candidates for NASA if politics had been unavailable to them as a career choice. Beyond that, even bright Senators often come across as yahoos on television. They’re talking to their constituents, not policy wonks.