The Campaign Spot

The Obama of 1991 We Weren’t Allowed to See

I hadn’t planned on posting more of the Morning Jolt today, but the video from Obama’s Harvard days seems to be the big story of the morning. It becomes the big story when CNN’s morning program features an old sitcom-actor-turned-pundit Jay Thomas suggesting that Breitbart.com editor-in-chief Joel Pollak is a racist for making a point about Barack Obama’s support for a proponent of “critical race theory” during his days at Harvard Law School. Unbeknownst to Thomas, Pollak’s wife is black.

Breitbart.com also has footage of Prof. Charles Ogletree showing the 1991 video of Obama to an audience and saying with a chuckle, “We hid this throughout the 2008 campaign.”

The full video of Obama in 1991 — somewhat grainy — can be found here.

ABC News’ Jake Tapper offers some context on the protest:

By Obama’s second year at Harvard Law School, there were five African-American men on the Harvard Law School faculty, but no African-American women. After a black visiting professor from the University of Pennsylvania named Regina Austin was denied tenure, Bell again threatened to leave the school. He began a hunger strike. Some students began to rally around him. Classmates were curious as to how Obama would react. He was considered liberal, but not a leader, when it came to political controversies, or racial ones.

Outside Harkness Commons, Obama joined the cause.

Recalling Bell speaking to Harvard Law student, Obama — with a now-familiar speaking style — called Bell “the Rosa Parks of legal education.” Obama praised the “excellence of his scholarship.”

“Open up your hearts and your minds to the words of Professor Derrick Bell,” Obama said.

Bell, incidentally, left Harvard, and went on to teach at New York University. He died last October.

The footage depicts a young Barack Obama in khakis singing the praises of Professor Bell. So why does this matter?

Michelle Horstman of Pajamas Media offers a bit on this figure:

This obituary, written upon his death, had some interesting points to make:

Bell was credited with developing “critical race theory,” which suggested that the U.S. legal system was inherently biased against African Americans and other minorities because it was built on an ingrained white point of view. He argued in his many books and lectures that the life experiences of black people and other minorities should be considered in hiring decisions and in applying the law.

Bell maintained that the standards for promotion and tenure at law schools — and Harvard, in particular — were inherently discriminatory and excluded a broad group of minorities. By hiring only graduates of top-tier law schools who had clerked at the Supreme Court, he argued, academia was populated by a uniform group of standard-issue professors, most of them white men.

And why are we not surprised that he was a Farrakhan supporter?

Some scholars, both black and white, challenged Bell’s ideas, as well as his strong support of Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan. Nonetheless, Bell remained one of the country’s most outspoken public intellectuals until his death.

At first glance, Bell is the sort of figure it would be almost pro forma for Obama to praise to the heavens — after all, Obama was the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review, and Bell was the first tenured African-American professor of law at Harvard University. On the other hand, Breitbart’s point of an unvetted president is proven: At no point in 2008 was the American electorate informed that Obama led a protest on behalf of a law professor who believed that the U.S. legal system was incontrovertibly racist from its moment of creation, or that he thought so well of an outspoken public defender of Louis Farrakhan. (Or, in conjunction with Jeremiah Wright, it would have further established the pattern.) In fact, in 2008, Obama declared, “I have been a consistent, before I go any further, a consistent denunciator of Louis Farrakhan, nobody challenges that.

That should have been challenged.

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