As the White House deals a devastating blow to one Obama conspiracy theory, leave it to leftists to dig up another one to browbeat allegedly-bigoted conservatives with. At the Daily Beast, pseudo-feminist Michelle Goldberg “traces the far-right history of the claim” that something funny’s going on with Barack Obama’s academic background:
Claims about Obama’s educational history date back to September 2008, when The Wall Street Journal attacked him for not releasing his school records, writing in an editorial, “Some think his transcript, if released, would reveal Mr. Obama as a mediocre student who benefited from racial preference.” Since then, Orly Taitz, queen of the birthers, has developed elaborate theories about Obama’s college years. As Taitz argues, Obama himself acknowledged that he was directionless when he started college. How, then, did he get himself accepted into the Ivy League?
Despite purporting to refute the right-wing “fever swamps,” Goldberg won’t actually reference the WSJ piece again, so it’s worth mentioning that it makes substantive points, among them that the ambiguity of Obama’s college days doesn’t square with the prominence of his personal story in his claim to fame. And as Andy McCarthy points out, Obama has a habit of modifying details of his biography for different audiences. (Ace has more solid analysis of Obama’s college days here.)
But not a peep about any of this from Goldberg. Instead of addressing what serious Obama critics have said, she spends the next couple paragraphs shooting down the theories of Orly Taitz, an especially destructive Birther attorney, who speculates that Obama attended Columbia as a foreign exchange student, attended for a mere nine months instead of two years, and even that he got into Harvard Law thanks to the machinations of a Saudi prince.
Whatever the fact-to-crap ratio of Taitz’s allegations may be (the Saudi connection seems outlandish, but the explanation of the National Student Clearinghouse rep, who says Taitz got bad results from submitting queries to NSC’s database incorrectly, doesn’t seem adequate either), it’s ultimately a sideshow. The point is, Goldberg is making clowns like Orly Taitz the face of the opposition rather than McCarthy or the Wall Street Journal editorial board because she wants to delegitimize their argument without addressing it. Why? Why else—race-baiting:
It’s easy enough to see why this particular narrative has endured. Not only does it position the president as a Muslim Manchurian candidate with longtime ties to agents of the caliphate, but it also assures resentful whites that this seemingly brilliant black man isn’t so smart after all. In that sense, it’s of a piece with the right-wing obsession with Obama’s use of a teleprompter, and with the widespread suspicion that he didn’t really write the eloquent Dreams From My Father, a claim Trump recently made at a Tea Party rally. Obama, in this view, is both sinister and stupid, canny enough to perpetrate one of the biggest frauds in American history but still the ultimate affirmative-action baby.
Trump is clearly not as intelligent as Obama, but he’s not an idiot, either. When he blows this particular dog whistle, he knows exactly what the Republican base is hearing.
No, the Right’s desire to knock Obama’s brain down a peg is a reaction to the endless mainstream media narrative that conservatives and Republicans are morons, while Obama is a genius (indeed, look no further than Goldberg’s own unsupported claim that Donald Trump’s intellect “clearly” pales in comparison to The One’s). To demonstrate the absurdity of claiming this is about Obama’s race, let’s perform a little thought experiment.
Imagine for a moment that instead of black Democrat President Barack Obama, we currently have white Democrat President Barry Osborn, who, aside from his racial and ethnic background, is identical to Obama in every way—same handling of the economy, same healthcare plan, same treatment of Israel, and the same positions on abortion, guns, etc. Then take any of the claims listed above—the president isn’t that bright, he didn’t write his book, he’s helpless without a teleprompter. Regardless of their particular merits, simply ask yourself: do you really think we’d be treating Osborn any more favorably than Obama? Do you think we’d pull these punches against a white ideological opponent, or be more open to left-wing ideas just because they came from a white leftist?
Of course not. Leftists understood from the start that Obama’s skin color would make a potent weapon for smearing opponents instead of engaging their ideas, which is exactly what Michelle Goldberg has done here.