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August 30, 2011

Grading Obama's Post-Graduate Writing Ability

Given that Obama's actual grades are hidden in some cavernous government warehouse containing the Ark of the Covenant, Jack Cashill grades a letter Obama wrote while serving as President of the Harvard Law Review.

As background, everyone on a law review has one title in common: Editor. Usually the person elected to head the review is called "Editor in Chief." (At Harvard, apparently it's "President.") That's not just a made-up title; everyone on law review is an editor. That's what the job is: Those serving on law review edit the articles submitted to the journal to ready them for publication.

I stress this isn't just some made-up title that has survived from antiquity but has no real meaning in the current day. Everyone on law review really, actually, truly is an editor, tasked with putting together and editing their publication -- the law review itself, a book of articles on law, reviews of legal-oriented books, notes on breaking cases -- and then shepherding it to the printer.

It's not the case that this is just a formality; it's not the case that the students on law review just have an honorary title, while actual professors, or some hired staffers, do the work. Nope. If you're on law review, you are actually an editor, just the same as an editor at any other publication. You have a part-time unpaid job at law review.

Clean up grammar, patrol for ambiguity, rewrite for clarity, check for accuracy, and, where possible, shorten and condense: that's the job. Now the preceding over-write should indicate that I wasn't actually a very good at that shorten and condense part, but still. (Boston Irish had a saying: Three words -- editors edit.)

So how did Barack Obama, President of the editors at the top-ranked law review in the country (or, if not top-ranked, top two or three) when writing his own brief letters for publication?

Given his performance in the Oval Office, he did pretty much as you'd expect.

Read the whole thing; not only does he repeatedly make grammatical errors in a letter intended for publication, but he writes this senseless sentence, senseless because he ends it with a baffling clause that seems to be missing a verb.

"No editors on the Review will ever know whether any given editor was selected on the basis of grades, writing competition, or affirmative action, and no editors who were selected with affirmative action in mind."

Emphasis added -- Obama wasn't italicizing his own mistakes.

He also can't seem to get the plural/singular noun-verb agreement right in multiple whiffs at the ball. At law review during my years you got a Little Blue Book Bluebook. I forget who published it -- maybe MLA? Not sure. (Turns out, ironically -- it's published by the Harvard Law Review Association.)

But that little book contained the proper rules to correct all of the little errors people make while writing.

Did he not have such a Little Blue Book? Because I guarantee him that he would have discovered the rule for verb-subject agreement for words like "half" had he just flipped through the first twenty pages of it.

Or was he just lazy?

Before serving as President -- a managerial position, chiefly -- in his third year, he would have served as just a gruntwork editor his second year. Did he not learn the rules of verb-subject agreement that second year as an editor, at least?

Or did he just forget them a year later?

One thing that's sort of admirable from Obama is a quote in which he acknowledges the possibility that he "undoubtedly" benefited from Affirmative Action policies. Well, as Cashill notes, at this time the Harvard Law Review had just instituted AA policies a couple of years before, which is, if I can borrow Obama's word, "undoubtedly" how he made the cut, given the hash he makes of standard English grammar.

If even Obama states that he "undoubtedly" benefited from Affirmative Action, is no one else permitted to do likewise? Is it racist to state what Obama has stated himself? Is Obama racist?

This is the weird double-standard liberals impose for discussing Affirmative Action. They proudly proclaim how effective it is in promoting minorities who otherwise might have not gotten a job or gotten into a school (or got a very high honor at a school, like law review). They praise each other for their success in Affirmative Action admissions and placements.

But the moment a conservative tries to say pretty much the damn same thing, they shout "racism!"

But this isn't really about affirmative action per se. With the media asking "Is Rick Perry dumb?" (and "Is every other Republican candidate except Jon Huntsman dumb?"), it's a very legitimate question to ask "Is Obama dumb, or, if not quite dumb, at least far less the scholarly renaissance man the media has claimed he was?"

The media has told the tale of Obama's brilliance based on two main data points: That he was on the Law Review at Harvard (and was elected President, but that is usually strongly influenced by popularity), and that he wrote the "brilliant" Dreams from My Father.

But he seems to have gotten on Law Review thanks to Harvard's then-recently implemented AA policy -- some students would get on the typical way, a combination of grades and writing assignment scores, and other students would then be selected from a pool in which race or physical handicap could be considered -- and suffice to say that there are questions about who actually wrote Dreams from My Father.

So: Is Obama dumb?

Not-so-ironically, the very letter Obama so artlessly wrote explains why this question is forbidden. Obama was responding to someone who suggested the AA policies might "stigmatize" minority students; Obama's response (to the extent we can divine meaning from his gibberished version of English) is that we should simply hector and shut up anyone who might think in such a manner, thus stopping the stigma through moral scolding.

Seems to have worked.

Thanks to Ben, and others.


Correction (?): Commenters are telling me the Little Blue Book -- which isn't what it's called; it's the "Bluebook" -- deals with citations format, not questions of grammar.

I don't think they're right, but I could be wrong. I thought the first chapter or two was on the topic of frequently made errors -- things like "Is the word 'none' singular or plural?"

Like "Ham and eggs." Is Ham and Eggs a unit, considered singular, or read as a collection of plural things, and hence plural? (I think that one depends on particular usage but in most cases it's singular, as people use it.)

I thought the Bluebook covered that stuff.

At any rate, there would be some book issued (or required for purchase, rather) that would cover basics of grammar.


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posted by Ace at 10:55 AM

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