Why fringe conservatives are obsessed with Obama's college grades: 4 theories

The Week

Birthers are so 2011 — meet the "transcripters," who fervently believe Obama was a lousy student and vow not to rest until you know how he did in school 30 years ago

The conspiracy theory about President Obama's birth certificate and supposed ineligibility to be president has mostly died down, but if "birtherism" is out, "transcripterism" is back in style. In a Tuesday article in Glenn Beck's The Blaze that circulated widely in conservative circles, Wayne Allyn Root — a conservative radio host and, by his own description, "one of the most accurate Las Vegas oddsmakers and prognosticators" — says his infallible "gut" tells him that Obama's undergraduate transcript from Columbia University contains scandalous info "that threatens to bring down his presidency." Root believes that Obama earned poor grades and was a beneficiary of affirmative action, and maybe even a "foreign student." This isn't the first time the fringe Right has been obsessed with such matters: In May, conservative blogger Brooks Bayne offered $20,000 for Obama's Columbia, Occidental College, and Harvard Law transcripts. What's behind the insistence that Obama release his college records? Here, four theories:

1. Transcripters want to paint Obama as a dumb, affirmative-action fraud
In his $20,000 offer for Obama's transcripts, Bayne lays out his rationale: "We're not convinced that Barack is as smart as you media elitists keep insisting he is." The charge that the president got bad grades 30 years ago doesn't hold water, however: Biographer David Maraniss says Obama got a 3.7 GPA at Columbia and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law, something you can't do with bad grades. But unless Obama agrees to release his transcripts, says Nadra Kareem Nittle in Loop 21, these activists can keep on insinuating "that Obama made his way to the Ivy League by way of affirmative action, that he’s just another undeserving minority who played the system."

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2. Transcripters are obsessed with "vetting" Obama
The play to shame Obama into releasing his college grades "is nothing more than a pathetically desperate effort to find something, anything that they can use against him in the upcoming election," says Doug Mataconis at Outside the Beltway. It's part of the Right's effort to "vet" Obama, four years after the media made him "one of the most vetted presidential candidates in recent memory." The whole idea that we don't know Obama is "simply absurd," rooted in the fact that extreme conservatives "still cannot accept that he beat them in 2008."

3. This is just birtherism warmed over
When you "get to the bottom of the conspiracy," says Sarah Jones at Politicus USA, it's clear that Wayne is a birther, and his "foreign exchange student" theory is part of the claim that Obama isn't really American. Indeed, this "irrelevant nonsense about college transcripts... has been a central part of birtherism from the beginning," says Outside the Beltway's Mataconis. Essentially, Root is pushing both "'Obama isn’t very smart' and 'Obama is a foreigner' arguments," and voters still aren't buying it. 

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4. The Right is desperate to distract from Romney's taxes
The reason transcripters are "freaking out in unison" about Obama's college grades "couldn't be more obvious," says Charles Johnson at Little Green Footballs: They're trying anything they can to "divert attention away from Mitt Romney's refusal to release financial information." Donald Trump gave the game away when he told CNBC Tuesday that, if he were Romney, he'd offer to turn over more of his tax returns if Obama released "the information that we want." Even with "the best-known Transcript Truther," Trump, peddling this nonsense, it won't be "enough to get the country to stop wondering about Mitt Romney's tax returns," says Steve M. at No More Mister Nice Blog. Still, expect to hear a lot about Obama's grades over the next few weeks.

Read more political coverage at The Week's 2012 Election Center.

SEE MORE: Why President Obama's tax attack on Mitt Romney will backfire

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