Did Barack Obama ever graduate from Columbia?
In late August 2008, just before senator Barack Obama’s (D-IL) big speech, the two Reason editors Tim Cavanaugh and Matt Welch attended a small fundraiser for Libertarian Party vice presidential nominee Wayne Allyn Root. The chatty Vegas sports bettor, memorably profiled by David Weigel two months back in Reason magazine, was in a mind to talk about a fellow classmate of his at Columbia University back in the early 1980s, a guy by the name of Barack Obama. Root is no fan of the Democratic nominee: “A vote for Obama is four years of Karl Marx, and no one should be happy about that,” he told the two libertarian journalists and a few genial young libertarian activists over cocktails. “He’s a communist! I don’t care what anybody says. The guy’s a communist… And his mother was a card-carrying communist, and he says she’s the most important person in his entire life; he learned everything from her.” But the thing Root really wanted to talk about was Obama’s grades. Specifically, he was willing to bet a million dollars that he earned a better grade point average at Columbia University than his old classmate, and that the only reason Barack Obama went on to Harvard Law School was the color of his skin.
The following excerpts from that conversation were published as an interview in the September 2008 issue of Reason magazine.
Matt Welch: So tell us what we should know about Barack Obama that we don’t?
Wayne Allyn Root: I think the most dangerous thing you should know about Barack Obama is that I don’t know a single person at Columbia that knows him, and they all know me. I don’t have a classmate who ever knew Barack Obama at Columbia. Ever!
Welch: Yeah, but you were like selling, you know, Amway in college or something, weren’t you?
Root: Is that what you think of me! And the best damned Amway salesman ever!
Welch: No, I’m sure that you were an outgoing young man, I’m just guessing.
Root: I am! That’s my point. Where was Obama? He wasn’t an outgoing young man, no one ever heard of him.
Tim Cavanaugh: Maybe he was a late bloomer.
Root: Maybe. Or maybe he was involved in some sort of black radical politics.
Root: Maybe he was too busy smoking pot in his dorm room to ever show up for class. I don’t know what he was doing!
Welch: Wait, you weren’t smoking pot in your dorm room?
Root: No, I wasn’t. I wasn’t. But I don’t hold that against anybody, but I wasn’t… Nobody recalls him. I’m not exaggerating, I’m not kidding.
Welch: Were you the exact same class?
Root: Class of ’83 political science, pre-law Columbia University. You don’t get more exact than that. Never met him in my life, don’t know anyone who ever met him. At the class reunion, our 20th reunion five years ago, 20th reunion, who was asked to be the speaker of the class? Me. No one ever heard of Barack! Who was he, and five years ago, nobody even knew who he was.
Cavanaugh: Did he even show up to the reunion?
Root: I don’t know! I didn’t know him. I don’t think anybody knew him. But I know that the guy who writes the class notes, who’s kind of the, as we say in New York, the macha who knows everybody, has yet to find a person, a human who ever met him. Is that not strange? It’s very strange.
Welch: That’s peculiar! Do you have any theories?
Root: Don’t have any theories. I don’t know. Don’t know why. Kept to himself…. The only thing I could even imagine is that he talks in his biographies about being, you know, his identity crisis, his “am I black or am I white?” He chose black. And he hung out with a couple of black kids and never went near anybody and his wife? That’s the only thing I can think of. All my buddies are white, what can I tell you! They don’t know him, nobody’s ever seen him, I don’t know what to tell you.
Cavanaugh: That’s the era.
Root: That’s the era. I mean, when I went to Columbia, the black kids were all at like tables going “Black Power!” We used to walk by and go, “What the hell are they talking about.” And they didn’t associate with us and we didn’t associate with them. So if you track down a couple of black students, they’ll probably know him. But nobody white’s ever heard of this guy. It’s quite amazing. Nobody remembers him. They don’t remember him sitting in class.
Welch: Black power in ’83?
Root: Ha ha. That’s Columbia. Colubmia’s radical, always was. There was gay power over here, and pot power over here, and black power over there, and Hispanic power over here, and feminism.
Welch: And what was your power?
Root: Oh I was the bookie guy, don’t worry about it…. But here’s the story that I think the press should be digging up, I really mean this, about Barack Obama. When George Bush annoyed everyone the first thing they went to was how dumb he was, and they said how bad he did in Yale, and blah blah blah, he got a C average. Then they found his C average was better than Al Gore’s average, and it was better than John Kerry’s average!
Cavanaugh: And then you stopped hearing the story.
Root: Right. But the point is all three of them had C averages. I had a B-plus, A-minus average at Columbia University.
Welch: Wait, you’re bragging on your GPA?
Root: No, no I’m not, because here’s the moral to the story…. I had a B-plus, A-minus average at Columbia University, in four years. When I graduated, I took the LSATs and I did well. I didn’t do great, I did well; B-plus, A-minus average. My counselor at Columbia said don’t even bother applying to Harvard Law School, because you can get into any law school in the country with your record, except Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton. Except for the very top, you can get in anywhere, but don’t even try those, because your grades don’t cut it. Well, everyone says how bright Barack is, but Barack won’t release his transcripts from Columbia University.
Root: And I’d be willing to bet every dime I have in the world, a million dollars I’ll put, I’ll put a million dollars cash on the fact—
Welch: This is on the record—
Root: —that my GPA was better than Barack’s—
Root: …and he got in based on the color of his skin. Does anyone doubt that possibly Barack could have gotten into Harvard with a C average because he’s black, where as I, white, couldn’t get into the same school with a B-plus, A-minus average? And yet his wife says that America is a terrible nation unfair to minorities! I say, Au contraire! I say the whole problem with America is we are racist against people because of the color of their skin. We’re helping people because they’re black. We’re helping people because they’re minority. We’re helping people because they’re poor. In reality only those who have the most skill and talent should get into Harvard, not because of the color of their skin. So now I ask out loud in the press, I challenge my classmate to give his GPA against mine. And let’s see if he really is the bright guy they all say he is. What if we discover he got into Harvard with a C average? Is he then the brilliant man America thinks he is? That would be a very good question, don’t you think?
Welch: The follow-up I want to ask is: What if it’s better than yours? You just said a million dollars!
Root: Well, who’s taking the bet? I didn’t hear anyone accept. No, I’m pretty sure I’m right. I’ll go out on a limb. Listen, they always said with O.J. Simpson, you know, never ask the question if you don’t know the answer, does the glove fit? I don’t know the answer but I’m pretty sure I know the answer. He had a lower average than me and he got into Harvard and I didn’t. And so my answer is, has America really been unfair to minorities? No it hasn’t. It was unfair to me. A white butcher’s kid, whose father had no money, but nobody gave me a break. And do I have a chip on my shoulder? You’re damn right I do. And I represent millions and millions of poor people in this country who weren’t lucky enough to be poor and black, they were unlucky enough to be poor and white, and they can’t get into Harvard. So maybe that country Barack’s fighting for, he’s got the wrong country here. He’s been just fine in this country. The rest of us need someone to defend them…. Anyway my point is, for those of us in America who want to fight for talent being the determiner of who’s successful or not, I’m your representative. Obama’s the wrong representative. And for those who disagree, I say: I’m for affirmative action—I think the NBA should be 80 percent white. [...]
Welch: And are you hitting this note as you’re doing all this media that you’re doing from Nevada and stuff?
Root: I actually haven’t; I brought it up tonight to you guys for the first time because I think reason is the right media to bring it up with, without being painted as a racist. Because I don’t have a racist bone in my body.