In discussing race relations this week on BET, President Barack Obama said of his future grandsons, “I don’t want them to be subjected to the kind of constant bias that makes them feel as if this is not their home.”
The implication, of course, is that Obama has himself faced “constant bias,” and in this rare instance he speaks the truth.
The bias started early. Obama biographer David Mendell tells the reader that Obama “won” a full scholarship to Occidental, but as a bench-warming, B-minus student in his fancy Honolulu prep school Obama had to know what he had done to “win” it.
The bias continued in college. Biographer David Remnick tells us that Obama was an “unspectacular” student in his 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.” As to Obama’s LSAT scores, Jimmy Hoffa’s body will be unearthed before those are.
How such an indifferent student – he did not graduate from Columbia with any kind of honors – 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.
The bias continued in law school. Obama, it seems, 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 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.”
If Obama’s entry in the writing competition had begun like this bogus passage from “Audacity of Hope” – “I know what it’s like to have people tell me I can’t do something because of my color and I know the bitter swill of swallowed back anger” – I suspect his odds of being chosen for the Law Review would have improved considerably.
“By the time Barack got to campus, in 1988,” fellow alum Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan would tell Obama biographer David Remnick, “all the talk and the debates were shifting to race.”
No one benefited more from this talk than Obama. In the same spring 1990 term that he would stand for the presidency of the HLR, the Law School found itself embroiled in a nasty racial brouhaha.
Black firebrand law professor Derrick Bell was demanding that Harvard appoint a black woman to the law faculty. This protest would culminate in vigils and protests by the racially sensitive student body, in the course of which Obama would compare the increasingly absurd Bell to Rosa Parks.
Feeling the pressure, HLR editors wanted to elect their first African-American president. Obama had an advantage. Spared the legacy of slavery and segregation, and having grown up in a white household, he lacked the hard edge of many of his black colleagues.
“Obama cast himself as an eager listener,” the New York Times reported, “sometimes giving warring classmates the impression that he agreed with all of them at once.”
In February 1990, after an ideologically charged all-day affair, Obama’s fellow editors elected him president from among 19 candidates. More bias still.
As it turned out, Obama prevailed 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.”
Jodi Kantor, the author of a future biography of Obama, conceded as much in a July 2008 puff piece in the New York Times. “While most colleagues published by the pound,” wrote Kantor, “[Obama] never completed a single work of legal scholarship.”
Kantor reported that the University of Chicago Law School gave Obama a fellowship based on “little more” than the editing suggestions he made on a particular article. Still more bias.
Wittingly or not, Kantor led the very next paragraph with a more credible explanation as to why the university recruited him: “The school had almost no black faculty members, a special embarrassment given its location on the South Side.”
Despite his stunning failure to write a single journal article either at Harvard or in the 10 years he taught at the University of Chicago Law School, Obama was given an offer by the law school’s dean that was clearly an extension of the affirmative-action largesse that eased Obama’s ascent at almost every stage.
According to Kantor, the offer included tenure upon hiring; a salary in excess of the $60,000 he was paid as an instructor; and a job for Michelle, then his fiancée, as the director of the legal clinic.
Constant bias indeed, and Obama knows it. While president of the HLR, Obama had a rare honest moment when defending affirmative action.
“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.”
Bottom line: Had Obama’s father come from Kentucky not Kenya and been named O’Hara not Obama, there would been no Harvard Law Review, no Harvard, no Columbia, no Occidental and, Lord knows, no presidency.
Media wishing to interview Jack Cashill, please contact [email protected].