Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wayne Allyn Root's Columbia Conspiracism, Part 1

Wayne Allyn Root, who was the Libertarian Party's candidate for Vice President in 2008*, has continued to occasionally pop up on the Birther radar in the last four years, typically espousing arguments and accusations that Barack Obama's Columbia University education is somehow...suspicious. Root, who graduated from Columbia in 1983 like Obama, has floated multiple theories, while being seemingly reluctant to commit to any one. But is this suspicion about Obama something that Root has always felt? Or did it only appear, suddenly, right before the 2008 election?
Root announced his candidacy for President on May 4, 2007. That day, Root released a press release that BEGAN with this sentence:
Barack Obama and Wayne Allyn Root used to have one thing in common, both graduated from the same college class, Class of ’83 Columbia University; after Root’s announcement they share a second commonality, they are both running for the 2008 Presidential election.
Notice that in May 2007, Obama and Root's Columbia connection was a bragging point for Root. It wasn't until September 2008, over a year and a half later, in an interview with Reason.com, that Root first began publicly disputing Obama's Columbia credentials:
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!
...
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.
...
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.
That's almost exactly sixteen months between beginning his run for President and his first attempt to cast aspersions upon Obama's history. Still, this sort of delay might be excusable; for instance, if Root was never presented with an opportune time to share any preexisting doubts about Obama's time at Columbia.
Except Root not only had many such opportunities, but, as illustrated by that initial press release, he unabashedly made his shared alma mater with Obama an overarching theme of Wayne Root's own Presidential campaign. Root didn't question Obama's Columbia credentials; he emphasized them at every possible opportunity, for over a year and a half.
Root's campaign website, Root4America.com, featured a blog that Root made regular posts to. Like this post on May 15, 2007:
Barack Obama (my Columbia College Class of '83 classmate) certainly doesn't think like you.
On September 17, 2007, Root published a post that compared and contrasted his and Obama's Columbia experiences at length:
OBAMA vs. ROOT- Two Very Different Career Paths from Columbia University Class of 1983: The Case for a Small Businessman as President
Barack Obama and I both graduated from the same class at the same college- Columbia University, Class of '83. We both chose the same major-Political Science. Today we are both running for President of the United States. The only difference is that Barack is the darling of the liberal news media- who give him a "free pass" on whether he's qualified to run the greatest country and economy in world history. Since we come from such similar educational backgrounds, yet we each chose such divergent paths since graduation, I thought a study of what each has accomplished in the "real world" might shed some light on who is best qualified to occupy the White House and run the greatest economy in world history...
I'm sure my old college classmate Barack is a nice guy. I'm certain he's a smart guy. I know he went to a great college!
Obama was mentioned again in passing on September 24, 2007:
[O]ver 25 years later as I read my Columbia College Today alumni magazine and see updates on the career success of my classmates, I see the names of future Supreme Court justices, close advisors to Presidents (George Stephanapoulus was a classmate), liberal United States Senators (Barack Obama of Illinois), the best and brightest legal minds in the country (any wonder lawyers seem to be at the root of most problems in our society?), and many of the most influential journalists and media executives in America.
And again on October 9, 2007:
Then there's my old Columbia College classmate Barack Obama.
And again on January 14, 2008:
Hillary has never risked her own money on a business, never created a job, never run any business of any kind. Ditto for my Columbia College '83 classmate Barack Obama.
Root similarly referenced his common Columbia background in an interview with Wikinews on February 6, 2008:
Mr. Root: Barack Obama (my college classmate Columbia University Class of '83) talks nonstop about change. So do Hillary and McCain. None of them are agents of change.
In a blog post on February 29, 2008, Root didn't simply off-handedly refer to Obama as a "classmate"; he dwelled on that commonality, and stressed its details:
You see I am not just Barack's match as a salesman and communicator of a political message. I am Barack Obama's college classmate. Yes, we are graduates of the same college (Columbia University), same class (Class of '83), same major (Political Science). We graduated on the same day 25 years ago. Never before in the history of American politics have two college classmates run against each other for President. Talent aside, sometimes you just need a bit of luck. Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined running for President in the same election as my college classmate.
Then, in an interview with Glenn Beck on March 7, 2008, Root was actually asked if he remembered Obama from their Columbia days. And Root's answer didn't raise the spectre of fraud or misconduct; Root simply admitted he didn't know Obama, and didn't think that was odd:
GLENN: Hang on just a second. You were actual — did you have any classes with Barack Obama?
ROOT: Well, I’m sure I did. I just never knew him. We were both political science majors at the same college, Columbia University, graduated in the class of ’83. So I guarantee you we were sitting in the same classes together but I did not know him. It’s probably a graduating class of 600 or 700. So it’s very possible to be in the same class and not know a person. I didn’t know everyone in the whole class.
Root again emphasized his and Obama's shared Columbia roots in this May 2008 press release from Root's campaign:
Wayne went onto graduate prestigious Columbia University Class of 1983 in political science (classmate of Barrack Obama). Wayne and Barrack Obama will be the first classmates to ever run against each other for President.
The Columbia connection was again invoked in a blog post of Root's on May 16, 2008:
Wayne Allyn Root is a New York-born son of a butcher; small businessman; home-school father of 4 young children; Ivy League-educated college classmate of Barack Obama;
And on May 23, 2008:
A Root victory in the Libertarian nominating convention would set the stage for a history-making election. Root, like Senator Barack Obama, was a 1983 graduate of Columbia University, which according to Root, creates the first presidential contest in history featuring two college classmates from the same graduating class squaring off against each other.
And again on August 11, 2008, just three weeks before the Reason interview where he first questioned Obama's grades at Columbia:
That loan, by the way, helped pay my way through Columbia University Class of 1983, the same graduating class as Barack Obama...It is telling to contrast my choices with those of my college classmate Barack Obama - who graduated on the same day 25 years ago.
Even after that interview, and after the election, the bio that Root attached to multiple blog posts in 2009 still included this sentence:
Wayne also happens to be Barack Obama's college classmate (Columbia University Class of '83).
So what, if anything, happened between August 11, 2008, when Wayne Root seemingly had no qualms with Obama's Columbia education, and August 28, 2008**, when he was willing to offer a million dollars to make Obama release his college records? Well, on August 18, 2008, Fox News aired "Presidential Character & Conduct 2008: Barack Obama". This was the program that infamously said that 400 Columbia graduates were contacted, and none of them knew Obama. Curiously, just weeks after that was broadcast, Wayne Allyn Root suddenly stopped bragging about his Columbia connection with Obama, and instead started questioning Obama's time there.
And that's just what led up to Root's change of heart. In Part 2, we'll look at how Root has descended further into conspiracism and crankery since September 2008.
----------
*Secret shame: I (reluctantly) voted for Root in 2008. I liked Bob Barr, but not Root. So much so that even as a VP candidate on a zero-chance third-party ticket, I was strongly tempted to not vote Libertarian. It was only the fact that he had absolutely no chance of occupying the VP's office that I was able to conscientiously vote for a ticket with him on it.
**The Reason article was published September 5, but the intro explains that the interview was conducted on or about August 28.

(This post and its follow-up were originally posted in July 2013.  Since the blog has been effectively retired due to a lack of novelty in the Birther arena, I've since backdated these two posts in order to keep the Birtherversary and Skepticality posts at the top of the page.  The Birtherversary post, in particular, I felt was a better feature item than a random treatment on Mr. Root.)



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