Saturday, September 27, 2008

Savoir Faire and Connections Trumped Harvard Scholarship, Integrity

Barack Obama and J.F.K. both wrote two best-selling books. Kennedy's authorship of Why England Slept and Profiles in Courage has been disparaged even by admirers like journalist Richard Reeves, who told Brian Lamb on C-Span's Booknotes program:

Both of Kennedy's books were knockoffs of Winston Churchill books. There is a
certain controversy: Did he write his own books? Well, he probably did, but they
were written first by Winston Churchill, the same books, where Winston Churchill
did a book on British political leadership at the turn of the century which was
exactly the same as Profiles in Courage. Some of the sentences were exactly
the same. Why England Slept, which was Kennedy's college thesis, was taken from
and often repeated Winston Churchill's book While England Slept.

It appears that Kennedy couldn't even be bothered to filch material from Churchill unassisted. A Wikipedia article reports that Georgetown professor "Jules Davids 'materially assisted in the preparation of several chapters' according to the [Profiles in Courage] Foreword, but extensive revelations from many sources, including a detailed account by Jules Davids himself, establish that Davids prepared initial drafts of five of the chapters on the book that then won Kennedy a Pulitzer Prize."

There is no corresponding dispute as to Obama's authorship of his two best-selling autobiographies, Dreams From My Father or The Audacity of Hope.

However, his Harvard academic bona fides are highly suspect. In this article, California conservative writer Jack Cashill turns a critical eye toward Obama's Harvard Law credential.

Why Obama is mum about Harvard
The reason Barack, Michelle don't talk about editor post
By Jack Cashill

On the surface, at least, Barack Obama's single most impressive accomplishment has been his 1990 election to the presidency of the Harvard Law Review. This position also provided Obama his only real executive experience as he supervised the law review's staff of 80 editors.

One has to wonder, then, why neither he nor wife Michelle emphasized this singular honor during the up-by-the-bootstraps biographical sections of their respective speeches in Denver. In fact, neither of them so much as mentioned Obama's time at Harvard, this despite his vulnerability on the executive experience charge.

Their silence likely derives from one verifiable fact: Obama's record at Harvard was no more authentic than John Kerry's record inVietnam. Obama seems to have learned from Kerry.

In the age of the Internet, the less said about a dubious credential the better, and Obama's law presidency credential is dubious on any number of levels.

For starters, Obama did not do nearly well enough at his previous stop, Columbia University, to justify admission to Harvard Law. According to the New York Sun, university spokesman Brian Connolly confirmed that Obama graduated in 1983 with a major in political science, but without honors. In the age of affirmative action and grade inflation, a minority in a relatively easy major like political science had to under-perform dramatically to avoid minimal honors.

Obama apparently did just that. The specifics we may never know. As the New York Times concedes, Obama "declined repeated requests to talk about his New York years, release his Columbia transcript or identify even a single fellow student, co-worker, roommate or friend from those years."

Would that Bristol Palin could get off so easily!

There are any number of possible reasons for Obama's reticence about Columbia : his grades, the courses he took, his writing samples and, of course, his associations.

At that time, for instance, both Bill Ayers and Obama fell within the orbit of left-wing Columbia superstar Edward Said. Just recently out of hiding, Ayers was attending the Bank Street College of Education, which adjoins the Columbia campus.

Five years after leaving Columbia , Obama decided on law school. His lack of resources did not deter him from thinking big. Nor did his B-minus effort at his Hawaii prep school or his equally indifferent grades at Columbia. As Obama relates in "Dreams From My Father," he limited his choices to only three law schools - "Harvard, Yale, Stanford." (It must be nice to be Obama.) He does not mention his connections.

Harvard Law School is notoriously difficult to get into. Annually, some 7,000 applications apply for some 500 seats. Applicant LSAT scores generally chart in the 98 to 99 percentile range, and GPAs average between 3.80 and 3.95. If Obama's LSAT scores merited admission, we would know about them. We don't. The Obama camp guards those scores, like his SAT scores, more tightly that Iran does its nuclear secrets.

We know enough about Obama's Columbia grades to know how far they fall below the Harvard norm, likely even below the affirmative action-adjusted black norm at Harvard. As far back as 1988, however, Obama had serious pull. He would need it.

As previously reported, Khalid al-Mansour, principle adviser to Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal, lobbied friends like Manhattan Borough President Percy Sutton to intervene at Harvard on Obama's behalf. An orthodox Muslim, al-Mansour has not met the crackpot anti-Semitic theory he could not embrace. As for bin Talal, in October 2001, New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani sent his $10 million relief check back un-cashed after the Saudi billionaire blamed 9/11 on America.

These are not connections that Obama would like to see broadcast, which further explains his shyness about the Harvard experience.

There is more. Obama did not make the Harvard Law Review (HLR) 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." It did just that. At the end of his first year, Obama was named, along with 40 or so of his classmates, an editor of the HLR.

Unlike most editors, and likely all its presidents, Obama was not a writer. During his tenure at Harvard, he wrote only one heavily edited, unsigned note. In this note for the third volume of the 1990 HLR, he argued against any limits on abortion, citing the government's interest in "preventing increasing numbers of children from being born in to lives of pain and despair."

Obama's timing, however, was better than his writing. In the same spring 1990 term that he would stand for the presidency of the HLR, the Harvard Law School found itself embroiled in an explosive racial brouhaha. Black firebrand law professor Derrick Bell was demanding that the Harvard Law School 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. As it happened, Obama prevailed only after the HLR's small conservative faction threw him its support.

Curiously, 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."

One more thing: The 1990 Times article about Obama's election notes that the president of the HLR usually goes on to serve as a clerk for a Supreme Court justice. Not the Mansourian Candidate. Here, oddly, his ambition deserted him. He told the Times that he planned "to spend two or three years in private law practice and then return to Chicago to re-enter community work, either in politics or in local organizing." In this unlikely surrender to Chicago politics, the realist sees insecurity at best and, at worst, the quid for al-Mansour's quo.

Jack Cashill is an Emmy-award winning independent writer and producer with a Ph.D. in American Studies from Purdue.

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