The irrepressible Donald Trump has raised still another question the major media have dared not to ask: Did Barack Obama qualify for Columbia and Harvard on his own accomplishments?
“How does a bad student go to Columbia and then to Harvard?” asked Trump of the Associated Press. “I’m thinking about it, I’m certainly looking into it. Let him show his records.”
Trump asks a very good question for which the anti-journalists of the major media have no good answer. So allow me to fill in the gaps.
Although the late New York politico Percy Sutton admitted to helping Obama get into Harvard Law, Obama likely could have gotten in on his own.
Obama had the one thing it took all along, and he surely began to understand this when, as a bench-warming, B-minus student at his Hawaiian prep school, he “won” a full scholarship to Occidental where he spent his first two years of college.
New Yorker editor David Remnick has chosen not to see what greased Obama’s skids despite adding considerable information about Obama’s academic record in his Obama biography, “The Bridge.”
Remnick tells us that Obama was an “unspectacular” student in his final two years at Columbia and at every stop before that going back to grade school.
A Northwestern University prof who wrote a letter of reference for Obama reinforces the point, telling Remnick, “I don’t think [Obama] did too well in college.”
How such an indifferent student got into a law school whose applicants’ LSAT scores typically track between 98 to 99 percentile and whose GPAs range between 3.8 and 4.0 is a subject Remnick bypasses.
Obama had decided on law school as a way to follow in the career path of the recently deceased Chicago mayor, Harold Washington. Washington went to Northwestern’s very respectable law school in Chicago. The thought doesn’t cross Obama’s mind.
In “Dreams from My Father,” he limits his choices to “Harvard, Yale, Stanford.” Writes Obama biographer David Mendell as casually as if the honor were deserved, “Obama would soon be accepted at the most prestigious law school in the nation.”
As to Obama’s LSAT scores, Jimmy Hoffa’s body will be unearthed before those are.
Michelle Obama’s experience shows just how wonderfully accessible Harvard Law School could be. “Told by counselors that her SAT scores and her grades weren’t good enough for an Ivy League school,” writes biographer Christopher Andersen, “Michelle applied to Princeton and Harvard anyway.”
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Sympathetic biographer Liza Mundy writes, “Michelle frequently deplores the modern reliance on test scores, describing herself as a person who did not test well.” She did not write well, either. Mundy charitably describes her senior thesis at Princeton as “dense and turgid.”
The less charitable Christopher Hitchens observes, “To describe [the thesis] as hard to read would be a mistake; the thesis cannot be ‘read’ at all, in the strict sense of the verb. This is because it wasn’t written in any known language.”
Still, Michelle was admitted to and graduated from Harvard Law. She had to have been as anxious as Bart Simpson at Genius School, but Bart at least knew he was in over his head, and he knew why: He had cheated on his IQ test.
Obama was sufficiently self-deluding – some would say narcissistic – that he felt little of that anxiety. Later in his book, Remnick lets slip into the record a revealing letter Obama had written while president of the Harvard Law Review.
Remnick attempts here to illustrate Obama’s maturity on matters racial. In the process, however, he suggests one explanation for how Obama got into Harvard and how he became an editor of the Harvard Law Review (HLR). Wrote Obama to the Harvard Law Record:
I must say, however, that as someone who has undoubtedly benefited from affirmative action programs during my academic career, and as someone who may have benefited from the Law Review’s affirmative action policy when I was selected to join the Review last year, I have not felt stigmatized within the broader law school community or as a staff member of the Review.
Remnick refuses to concede Obama’s need for affirmative action, let alone any stigma attached to it. He boasts that this “inner sanctum of the establishment” accepted only the “brightest and most ambitious” first-year students and offers as explanation, “Obama’s grades were good.”
As he does on many occasions, Remnick chooses not to share with the reader a larger truth. The fact is that Obama did not make the Law Review the old-fashioned way, the way HLR’s first black editor, Charles Houston, did 70 years prior.
To Obama’s good fortune, the HLR had replaced a meritocracy in which editors were elected based on grades – the president being the student with the highest academic rank – with one in which half the editors were chosen through a writing competition.
This competition, the New York Times reported in 1990, was “meant to help insure that minority students became editors of the Law Review.”
The election for president of the Harvard Law Review was based more on popularity than competence. Obama prevailed over 18 other candidates only after the HLR’s small conservative faction threw him its support.
Once elected, Obama contributed not one signed word to the HLR or any other law journal. As Matthew Franck has pointed out in National Review Online, “A search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at any time.”
In calling Obama a “terrible student,” Trump speaks a bit harshly, but not overly so. By Harvard Law standards, Obama was a terrible student prior to admission. Following graduation, he contributed nothing to legal scholarship.
Obama graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, but that was surely as much due to charm as it was to performance.
Remember that Michelle, who both wrote and tested poorly, also graduated from Harvard Law.