Alma mater

A commenter has been telling us lately (but with no actual checkable references) that Obama is not all that intelligent because he got only Bs at Harvard. Since all the commenter has offered in response to a request for references is that somebody said that on a (nameless) BBC documentary last week, there’s no need to pay any attention, but in looking for something else I happened on an interesting piece about Obama’s student days from last February. There’s not much about having an average mind (there’s nothing, actually) and there is a fair amount of the other thing. Of course the reporter could be a raving fan and have simply thrown all the ‘average mind’ stuff into the trash can – but for what it’s worth, some people remember Obama as being quite clever.

Mr. Obama wrote that he learned of a transfer program that Occidental had with Columbia and applied. “He was so bright and wanted a wider urban experience,” recalled Anne Howells, a former English professor at Occidental who taught Mr. Obama and wrote him a recommendation for Columbia…Mr. Obama displayed a deft but unobtrusive manner of debating.“When he talked, it was an E. F. Hutton moment: people listened,” said John Boyer, who lived across the hall from Mr. Obama. “He would point out the negatives of a policy and its consequences and illuminate the complexities of an issue the way others could not.”…The professor, Roger Boesche, has memories of him at a popular burger joint on campus. “He was always sitting there with students who were some of the most articulate and those concerned with issues like violence in Central America and having businesses divest from South Africa,” he said. “These were the kids most concerned with issues of social justice and who took classes and books seriously.”

No mention of B grades, or of mediocrity. The memories could be fallible, they could be shaded by the present, but for what they’re worth, there they are. And at least that’s a checkable reference, which ‘a BBC 4 documentary last week’ is not.

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