Jacob Heilbrunn

Is Obama Hiding His College Transcripts?

The issue of Barack Obama's birth has faded. Now some on the Right are alleging that President Obama is engaged in a different cover-up. They say, the Los Angeles Times reports, that he's hiding his college grades from scrutiny.

The allegations go something like this: Barack Obama's supporters claim he's a Great Brain type. Nonsense. Obama's record as president doesn't suggest that he has an IQ much over room temperature. Divulging the grades that he received might help settle the matter. Did he really score well at Occidental College and Columbia University? Or were his grades, in fact, lousy? Did he slide into Harvard Law as the result of affirmative actions programs rather than his own intellectual prowess?

In case you are interested in pursuing the matter, here's the website that first offered what it called a $10,000 "bounty"—since raised to $20,000—for anyone who coughs up the president's old transcripts.

The problem with this theory, of course, is that Obama gives every indication of having prospered at college. The man assimilated himself perfectly into the Ivy League ethos—the smooth syntax, the sense of complacency and the penchant for philosophical musings, as in his Nobel-Prize speech, where he alluded to Reinhold Niebuhr's thoughts on just-war doctrine. If anything, you could argue that Obama lost his edge, that he soaked up the Harvard worldview all too well, which is why he hired Clinton-administration retreads such as Lawrence Summers to join his administration.

But none of this suggests someone who was inattentive or impercipient during his college years. Judging by the two books he's published, Obama is no slouch as a writer. The Ivy League appears to have shaped him intellectually, prompting him to sophisticated musings about, as an old letter published in Vanity Fair indicated, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot. Obama writes,

Remember how I said there’s a certain kind of conservatism which I respect more than bourgeois liberalism—Eliot is of this type. Of course, the dichotomy he maintains is reactionary, but it’s due to a deep fatalism, not ignorance.  

The gravamen of the charge—whoops, there's the kind of phrase an elitist would use—of the transcript whisperers is that Obama himself is guilty, it would seem, of phony elitism. That he is simply pretending to be something he is not—well-educated and so forth. Of course, if he were that skilled at dissimulation, it would also suggest that he's no dummy at all. So the college-transcript affair is really, to use another highfalutin word, a taradiddle. For some reason, a number of conservatives seem to keep trying to overcomplicate Obama, to divine sinister motives, when the truth about him is rather prosaic.

What's more, even if his grades were substandard, what would it prove? That there was a conspiracy to promote Obama, dating all the way back to his college years? Anway, as the LA Times observes, the grades of George W. Bush and John Kerry, both Yale graduates, were nothing to write home about. It's also the case that you don't necessarily have to go to a fancy college or have good grades to be a successful president—Ronald Reagan went to Eureka College.

Those on the Right who are becoming obsessed about Obama's college years should take a sabbatical from conspiracy theorizing. Isn't Obama's record enough for them to criticize without inventing lurid fables about his past?

Image: Systemman