If there’s a siller right-wing preoccupation today than the WSJ column extolling George “Batman” Bush (see staff post below), it would have to be the reported efforts of conservative “investigators” to uncover Barack Obama’s senior thesis from Columbia University. Seems he doesn’t have a copy, and his professor doesn’t have a copy (hardly shocking since it was 25 years ago, and believe it or not, in a less documented pre-Internet era), and though everyone remembers it had something to do with nuclear proliferation, certain bloodhounds are apparently convinced it could include politically damaging material.
Well, whatever. But I was amused by the innocent puzzlement of Noam Scheiber at TNR over Obama’s spotty memories of his college work:
For what it’s worth, I also had a semi-strange experience involving the Obama thesis back in February. An aide happened to mention that Obama had written his thesis on nuclear deterrence. When I went back to verify it in a subsequent conversation, the aide told me he’d have to double-check. He subsequently e-mailed to say Obama couldn’t remember whether it was his actual thesis or just a paper for a class, so it was probably best to drop the reference altogether. It wasn’t a particularly big deal either way–just a minor detail in the context of a much larger piece–but it did leave me scratching my head a bit. I mean, who doesn’t remember their senior thesis?
I’m not sure exactly how old Noam is, but I suspect his senior thesis was written a lot more recently than Obama’s, while my own Emory senior thesis was submitted (and was promptly destroyed, more than likely) much earlier than either. And all I really remember with any specificity is that I decided I had to reinterpret the history of Western Thought at least back to the Nominalists and Realists in order to explain the prose works of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Even today, I cringe with embarassment every time I hear a reference to The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.
I realize we’re all supposed to be endlessly curious about every detail of the lives of candidates for president, and also recall the odd “joke” by the Clinton campaign earlier this year suggesting that a perusal of Obama’s elementary school scribblings showed a lifelong lust for high office. But if Obama’s senior thesis didn’t make it into the extensive self-revelations he’s offered in two books, then it probably wasn’t worth remembing.
John McCain has basically said he didn’t grow up until the crucible of his experience in Vietnam, when he was over 30, and George W. Bush famously referred to the foibles of his drinking days as a matter of being “young and irresponsible,” though he didn’t dump his buddy Jack Daniels until he was 40. So let’s give that 22-year-old scholar Barack Obama a break.
I suspect that it is hard for people to find Obama’s “senior thesis” because Columbia students don’t write senior theses. At least they didn’t when I attended (graduating in 1977 — Magna Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa).