Hey, Pal, Affirm This!

OK, now that Donald Trump’s dealt a major blow to the Birther movement, he’s moving on to his next target: President Obama’s educational record. And, naturally, this has Obama’s defenders once again trotting out the race card — it’s obviously racist to bring up the mere question of whether or not affirmative action played a role in his academic career.

Which is precisely what a lot of us who are concerned about affirmative action have warned about.

Affirmative action was a policy intended to counter years of institutionalized racism in education, business, and government. Prior to that, officially most things were done on a merit basis, with favoritism practiced under the table on the basis of race, sex, or other lousy criteria. AA did some real damage to that despicable practice.

But it had its own drawbacks. By introducing another criterion to the equation beyond ability and achievement, that meant that those who were in a position to benefit from their identity would be put in a position where their own merits as an individual could be questioned and challenged. The biggest example that comes to my mind is Clarence Thomas, who to this day is denigrated and mocked by his opponents on that basis, but the early days of Saturday Night Live and its apparent “one black guy” rule.

Of course, one way past this is to have an actual record of accomplishments, of deeds that one can point to and say “I did that.”

That wasn’t an option for President Obama in 2008. As others noted, he wasn’t accomplished, he was “credentialed.” Where McCain, Palin, and even Biden could point to things they had done, he had his resume and a list of positions he’d held and honors he’d won — but very little he could show that he had done with all those credentials.

I didn’t buy into that. I didn’t vote for the guy. It’s long been an axiom in science that theory is great, but it’s always trumped by reality. But I was outvoted, and the presidency went to the guy who, in theory, was the best qualified — but had never held any kind of leadership or executive position, who’d never held any real power or authority.

So he was elected on his credentials. It’s a bit late, but considering his record of “accomplishments’ in office and how he’s started his campaign for re-election (officially, that is; he never stopped running from the first time), it strikes me as fair and appropriate to examine those credentials and see just what they mean.

It’s not without precedent. In 2004, John Kerry made his three months of Viet Nam service the focal point of his campaign, and people naturally gave that a great deal of scrutiny. (Considering how little Kerry did in the Senate leading up to that, and what he did after he returned, it was no surprise that he’d want to gloss over all that.) In 1984, President Reagan sough re-election on the basis of one simple question: “are you better off than you were four years ago?” That was an invitation to judge him and his worthiness based on his own performance.

As I noted, Obama’s resume is quite impressive. But it’s also very, very opaque.

He was a United States Senator for four years — but he spent most of his time running for president.

He was a State Senator in Illinois for years — but his legislative records are sealed, and there is very little legislation that bears his stamp.

He was a Constitutional law lecturer for the University of Chicago for years — but published no papers or had any real accomplishments of note.

He headed up a non-profit to improve Chicago’s schools, overseeing the spending of millions of dollars — to no apparent effect.

He was a “community organizer” who didn’t really achieve much.

He was editor of Harvard Law Review — but no one can point to any high points of his administration.

He graduated Cum Laude from Harvard Law School — but we don’t know what those grades were, or in what classes.

These are all very fair, very legitimate, and very important questions. And they should have been addressed in 2008, but those of us who asked them were ignored — at best. Usually, we were called “RAAAAACIST” and variants thereof.

Well, we’re now being asked to renew Obama’s contract for a second four-year term. I think we need to review not only his performance, but his initial application.

"Pants-on-fire moment"
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