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No, We Don’t Need To See The President’s College Transcripts (Or Romney’s Either)

Apparently, some blogger is offering $10,000 for Barack Obama’s transcripts from any one of the three colleges he attended, which leads Sarah Hoyt, guest-blogging for Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit, to make this comment:

I think in his vaunted intellectual prowess we’re facing a deception of Elizabeth Warren proportions.  But I could be wrong.  Very smart people can be startlingly dumb.  So — Why can’t we see the transcripts?

My response to this question is another question, why do we need to see the transcripts? Of what possible relevance are the grades that Barack Obama got at Occidental, Columbia, or Harvard Law School to judging his time in office and whether he deserves to be re-elected? What would it reveal about his Presidency that we don’t know? To ask the same question about Romney, what possible relevance to evaluating whether he’d be a good President his grades at Brigham Young University and Harvard (where Romney simultaneously obtained a J.D. and an M.B.A.) could possibly be. It’s been 37 years since Mitt Romney finished his college education, and 20 years since Obama finished his, as James Joyner asked back in 2008, isn’t there a statute of limitations on the use of college achievements as evidence of achievement? If there’s not, there should be.

The common response to the points I’m raising here usually boils down to mentioning the fact that The New Yorker managed to get its hands on George W. Bush’s Yale transcripts during the 2000 campaign.  They didn’t get them from the Bush campaign and, technically, whoever released them was violating Federal laws regarding the privacy of education records. Several months later, The Washington Post managed to get its hands on Al Gore’s education records, again without the consent of the campaign and in apparent violation of Federal law. Supposedly, these transcripts were meant to show that Bush was a lackluster student in college, although what we actually saw was that Bush’s grades weren’t all that different than Gore’s and roughly equivalent to John Kerry’s, who authorized the release of his transcripts after the 2004 Election.

Ever since then, there’s always been a contingent of people in the media and the pundit class who argue that candidates for President should release their grades. I’ve never been quite sure what the purpose of this other than the hope that there might be something in there that would embarress the candidate. The fact that there’s not likely to be anything in there relevant to the election doesn’t seem to matter. In the particular case of Barack Obama, the demand for college transcripts is often pushed by the same people who have spent the last four years demanding to see his birth certificate, often making the erroneous claim that Obama was registered as a foreign student when he was in college, or that there is some admission in the college records that would prove he isn’t eligible to be President. For the non-birthers, the demands for transcripts is often linked to the equally erroneous belief that he wasn’t properly vetted in 2008. As I noted earlier this month, that’s a ridiculous idea:

Barack Obama has been President of the United States for nearly four years now, and he’s been on the national scene as either a candidate for President or as President since 2007. The idea that we have no idea who the man is, or that he hasn’t been “vetted” is simply an absurd fantasy that partisans are using in what looks for all the world like a desperate effort to find something, anything that they can use against him in the upcoming election.

Even if that were true, though, we get back to my original question — what possible relevance would college transcripts from more than two decades about be to a proper “vetting” of Barack Obama? I can’t find any at all.

So, here’s an idea. Let’s stop demanding anyone’s college transcripts and concentrate on things that are actually relevant. Additionally, I’d also advise anyone thinking of taking that blogger up on his offer of a financial reward that they might want to think twice about accepting what amounts to a bribe to violate several state and federal laws covering the privacy of education records.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Hey Norm says:

    It’s Glenn Reynolds. Stupid is as stupid does.
    You need to stop reading these fools.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 25 Thumb down 4

  2. Hey Norm says:

    And stop giving them addditional oxygen by writing about, and linking to, them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 3

  3. michael reynolds says:

    Because grades a perfect indicator of intelligence, dontcha know.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 8

  4. Gromitt Gunn says:

    Just one more example of how “we don’t know who he is” is barely disguised code for “the President is a n-*CLANG*.”

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 18 Thumb down 7

  5. legion says:

    Very smart people can be startlingly dumb.

    Yes, Glenn. Yes they can.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  6. Moderate Mom says:

    Doug, the President graduated from Harvard, not Yale. You might want to correct that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  7. @Moderate Mom:

    Yea thanks, I think I was typing about Obama and thinking about how I could trackdown that New Yorker article about Bush……

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

  8. JKB says:

    Well, they would go a long way to destroying many on the Left’s fevered belief that Obama is the smartest guy in the room. His persistent misunderstanding of the Constitution even though he lectured on Constitutional law hasn’t seemed to have phased them. But otherwise, it would be an amusing footnote in Wikipedia.

    However, just this morning, there was lots and lots of discussion of how Mitt Romney might not have been the symbol of maturity in high school. So if college grades aren’t important surely high school misbehavior isn’t.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 38

  9. James H says:

    which leads Glenn Reynolds to make this comment:

    Sarah Hoyt, guest-blogging for Reynolds.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Evidently you’re not too bright yourself.

    So if college grades aren’t important surely high school misbehavior isn’t.

    Grades and behavior. Ooookay. So one hypothetical college guy gets a D and another hypothetical college guy commits a murder.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 5

  11. @James H:

    Indeed. I never get used to checking for a different byline at Instapundit.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  12. I would argue that Obama (and Romney’s) grades are irrelevant, and so is something that may or may not have happened in High School three years before I was even born.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  13. James H says:

    As to the substance of this: I’m a little ambivalent. On the one hand, I don’t think it’s fair to excoriate a politician for acts he committed nearly half a century ago, when he was in high school. On the other hand, these general kinds of stories are valuable. People want to get to know their presidential candidates, and those childhood backgrounds (high school, communities where they grew up, and so forth) are part of that process. And if a story like this comes up, well … that’s part of what comes up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  14. mantis says:

    Well, they would go a long way to destroying many on the Left’s fevered belief that Obama is the smartest guy in the room.

    Really, you’ve seen them and know that? Why don’t you claim the reward then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 3

  15. anjin-san says:

    so is something that may or may not have happened in High School three years before I was even born.

    Would you also argue that a grown man has no responsibility to own things he did when he was younger? I think most of us remember a kid who committed suicide because of relentless bullying. There was one in my school. We are not talking about “youthful hijinks” – they brutalized a weaker kid, they did not steal the other teams mascot.

    The real issue is not what Romney did when he was a boy. The issue is how he is dealing with this today. It has not been impressive, or indicative of leadership on any level, much less the presidential one.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4

  16. PJ says:

    I wouldn’t be surprised if Obama releases them before the election just to make these idiots look stupid again.
    And then I guess they will start shouting for his kindergarten records…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 2

  17. anjin-san says:

    @ PJ

    It’s well known that Obama did finger paintings of Mao & Che Guevara in kindergarten. The mainstream media is covering it up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 2

  18. mantis says:

    @PJ:

    And then I guess they will start shouting for his kindergarten records…

    You underestimate the birthers. They’ve been demanding his kindergarten records, among others, be “surrendered” for years.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  19. PD Shaw says:

    Here’s my question and I’m not sure I know the answer, but are the vetting requirements for Presidential appointments higher than for President? Did Hillary Clinton have to produce her grade transcripts to be appointed Secretary of State?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  20. Jenos Idanian says:

    I can’t really argue that Obama’s transcripts are exceptionally relevant now.

    But what was the argument that they were irrelevant back before he was elected?

    His intelligence and academic accomplishments were touted as some of his leading credentials for the presidency. Why weren’t they investigated back then?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 7

  21. anjin-san says:

    There seems to be a bit of a panic on the right to change the subject, as it is starting to look like this story might have legs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  22. @Jenos Idanian:

    Because college transcripts from 20 years ago are irrelevant to what kind of person is running for President 20 years later.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  23. rudderpedals says:

    The bounty is soliciting a crime. Just another day in the dirt for certain bloggers.

    More useful to this voter than moldy transcripts will be the what I hope is a thorough doc dump of tax returns for 10 years and a schedule of assets. Both domestic and overseas including trust interests.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  24. Murray says:

    “Let’s stop demanding anyone’s college transcripts and concentrate on things that are actually relevant”

    Nobody with half a brain ever considered it relevant. So stop blogging about it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  25. Dave Schuler says:

    Well, let’s see. The Washington Post, the New Yorker, ThinkProgress, and hundreds of bloggers are all musing over how things that Mitt Romney may or may not have done in high school are predictors of the kind of man he is today.

    - how good a predictor is high school behavior of one’s character and beliefs 40 years later?
    - how good a predictor are college and grad school grades of intelligence or competence?

    I think the whole thing is absurd but it’s getting so much coverage that I don’t think that it can merely be dismissed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  26. @Dave Schuler:

    Sadly this is how things work in our politico-media culture. One media outlet breaks a “story” that may or may not be relevant and then it suddenly becomes relevant.

    I honestly don’t think that the fact that Mitt Romney may have been a bit of a prick in HS is relevant to the kind of man he is at the age of 65, and I don’t disbelieve for a second that he might not remember the incident. Heck, I don’t remember a lot of stuff that happened in HS and I’m more than 20 years younger than Romney.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  27. @rudderpedals:

    The blogger in question is a person of rather ill repute so it’s not surprising he’d do such a thing.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. Tsar Nicholas says:

    Definitely we don’t need to see Obama’s transcripts. It’s a moot point. He’s president. He should be judged based upon what he’s done as president, not what happened 25-30 years ago.

    That aside, if we’re speaking hypothetically, concerning a prospective election in the future, not concerning this incumbent-based election, I think everything should be fair game. Transcripts. Journals. Medical records. Articles. Letters. Everything. I mean everything.

    This is supposed to be a representative democracy. The U.S. president is the most powerful person on earth. I for one want to know what makes them tick. I want to know everything about them.

    Buyer’s remorse is bad enough in the case of a lemon for a car. In the case of the U.S. president, however, the stakes are a million times greater and the prospective negative ripple effects can last for decades and have deleterious effects for hundreds of millions. The best way to avoid buyer’s remorse is to be as well informed as practicable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  29. Jenos Idanian says:

    @Doug Mataconis: So, what would be relevant from Obama’s background?

    His legislative records from his time in Illinois? Sealed.

    His accomplishments as a “Community Organizer?” Undocumented.

    His work at the Chicago Annenberg Challenge? Mostly unavailable, but apparently nothing of real substance.

    His tenure in the Senate? Nothing of any real import.

    His academic career as a (quasi) professor of Constitutional Law? Utterly unremarkable, apparently — no one ever seemed to remark about it.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 11 Thumb down 12

  30. grumpy realist says:

    I’d be far more interested in Mitt Romney’s records of what he did at Bain and how “hands on” he was with some of their decisions.

    If he’s going to run on this “we’re going to run the USA like I ran Bain!” then we’re going to have to know what he did, right?

    Idiots.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  31. rudderpedals says:

    @Doug Mataconis

    Brooks Blain. I never heard of him.

    Clicking through to The Blaze to find his site gave me a sad. For me it’s obvious why, but for you too since you’re reading this stuff so we don’t have to (thank you)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  32. @rudderpedals:

    You should see the crap that idiot posts on Twitter.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  33. mantis says:

    Shorter @Jenos Idanian:

    I lie and pretend things don’t exist and then blame a conspiracy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

  34. Davebo says:
  35. al-Ameda says:

    So, the morons have moved on from their Birth Certificate Disorder to a new Transcript Disorder.
    Can’t we get Donald Trump on this right away?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  36. michael reynolds says:

    @Davebo:

    So once again Jenos is full of baloney. Quel surprise!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  37. michael reynolds says:

    Republicans really should have learned from the birth certificate fiasco. What happens if Obama does release his record?

    Do you honestly think he had anything less than a B average? And if it turns out he had a B average, what’s the next Republican play? To insult the vast majority of Americans who know they could never carry a B average at Harvard?

    “Well, I’m shocked and horrified that the president didn’t straight A’s! I can’t believe he only got a C- in calculus!” Do you somehow imagine his electoral support will melt away? Hello? Are you people idiots? Do you ever think anything through? Anything at all?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 4

  38. jukeboxgrad says:

    Of what possible relevance are the grades that Barack Obama got at Occidental, Columbia, or Harvard Law School

    No one has mentioned that we essentially know his grades at HLS, since he graduated magna cum laude, which is based on grades, which are blind. And that’s why someone like Jim Lindgren would say something like this:

    In traditional academic terms, Obama did better in school than any president in the last 40 years.

    So this is a nice example of nuts demanding an answer to a question that’s already been answered.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  39. Tsar Nicholas says:

    @michael reynolds: The chances of the GOP and the RNC learning from prior mistakes and not rope-a-doping themselves in the process nearly are the same as the Pope’s chances of being named King of England, or Sarah Palin’s chances of being named dean of Harvard Law School.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  40. michael reynolds says:

    @Tsar Nicholas:
    We find ourselves in rare agreement. Basic analysis 101 requires one to consider the possible best case and worst case scenarios. There appears to be no upside for the GOP, and plenty of downside. And thus, they blow the trumpet and charge!

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  41. Joe R. says:

    As an atheist, I find it ridiculous that open belief in something that no one can prove even exists is a requirement for office. From that perspective, a request for college transcripts seems downright reasonable.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  42. Hey Norm says:

    Jenos lied again?
    Show of hands…who is surprised?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  43. Hey Norm says:

    @ Joe R…
    Another way to look at it…if they actually believe in an infinitely old, infinitely powerful, omnipotent being for which there is no proof…what do their grades matter?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  44. michael reynolds says:

    @Dave Schuler:
    @Doug Mataconis:

    The more I read about this gay-bashing by Romney the more it bothers me. Having confessed to being a dick when I was a younger man, fully aware of my own moral and ethical failings, it bothers me that Romney tries to laugh this off.

    He led a gang of bullies in targeting a gay kid, assaulted and humiliated that kid as his victim cried and begged. And all he’s got is some mealy-mouthed bullshit non-apology? Sorry: no. If he’s a different man now, I’ll accept that: if he admits what happened, takes responsibility and apologizes sincerely. I believe in redemption, I believe that people can change. But that’s not what we have here.

    What we have right now is a bully who refuses to take responsibility. Which means he’s still a bully. There are kids in this country who’ve committed suicide over things like this, this is not trivial.

    You’re both wrong on this issue. This matters.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  45. Jeremy R says:

    From a 2008 Frontline interview with Bradford Berenson, “a conservative lawyer who served as an associate White House counsel under President George W. Bush,” and fellow editor at the Harvard Law Review w/ Obama:

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/choice2008/obama/harvard.html

    You don’t become president of the Harvard Law Review, no matter how political, or how liberal the place is, by virtue of affirmative action, or by virtue of not being at the very top of your class in terms of legal ability. Barack was at the very top of his class in terms of legal ability. He had a first-class legal mind and, in my view, was selected to be president of the Review entirely on his merits.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2

  46. Jeremy R says:

    @Jeremy R:

    Heh, I had to whittle that post down and try re-posting it a bunch of times until it finally went through the OTB spam filter — not sure why. The entire interview is interesting though.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  47. David M says:

    @Jenos Idanian:

    But what was the argument that [Obama’s transcripts] were irrelevant back before he was elected? His intelligence and academic accomplishments were touted as some of his leading credentials for the presidency. Why weren’t they investigated back then?

    What part of graduating magna cum laude from Harvard makes you think his transcripts would be interesting? It’s pretty easy to look up the requirements to achieve that at Harvard, and then you already know what the transcripts would show.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  48. anjin-san says:

    The more I read about this gay-bashing by Romney the more it bothers me. Having confessed to being a dick when I was a younger man, fully aware of my own moral and ethical failings, it bothers me that Romney tries to laugh this off.

    Roger that. I was involved in some bullying in jr. high school. It was a long time ago, but it still weighs on me. When I was 12, I was the small fry getting pounded on. When I was 14, suddenly I was 6 feet tall and I was the guy being the jerk. I was more of a follower than an instigator, but that is really no excuse, I wanted to be one of the guys, so I compromised myself very badly.

    There is also no excuse for someone who calls himself a leader to try and brush something like this off. Show some cajones Mitt, if you have any. Its time to stand up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  49. michael reynolds says:

    @anjin-san:
    It wasn’t school for me but later, so I had even less excuse. But it’s simply wrong to say that these early events are irrelevant. On the contrary, awareness of what I can only call my sins makes me more self-aware now. If Romney had come out and said, “Yeah, I did that and I was a dick, I’m so sorry, and it changed me,” I’d be impressed.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  50. Edward G. says:

    Everything Obama does is carefully calculated. He has gone out of his way to hide his college records. That alone is powerful reason to see them.

    Clearly he is hiding something and I want to know what it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 4