Sunday, May 14, 2017

Living History: Reading David Garrow's Rising Star

I’m still reading through David J. Garrow’s new presidential biography, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. Already, however, I can report that he cited a number – but not all – of my American Thinker articles. Garrow recommends reading them in chronological order.
He also reports that I completed my Ph.D. and taught at Williams College. I have to think the late presidential history James MacGregor Burns who was a colleague of mine at Williams College would be proud of me today.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Unsafe at Any Speed: Should I Go to Williams College?

I’m a former Williams College political science professor. I highly recommend avoiding it. It is, of course, highly rated by U.S. News & World Report.

This is why I was once proud to teach there and why I suppose so many are still interested in attending it. Its frequent number one ranking, however, conceals a number of problematic aspects of the college which should factor into your decision-making regarding whether or not you should go to Williams.
First, it is ridiculously cold and isolated geographically. My stomach still turns into knots when I remember what it was like to drive from the airport in Albany, NY into Williamstown, MA. The only route was a thin, two-lane highway. In the winter it was covered with ice and snow. The roads to both the north, south and east were also windy, tiny and inadequate. While I was teaching there one of my students died in a winter car accident. The road to the east was so bad that it had what they called a Deadman’s Curve, and it was indeed a place where there had been frequent accidents and deaths. Even in town, I remember the roads were narrow and dangerous. During my first year on the campus, one of my colleagues in the political science department was killed in a car accident as he made a short one-line commute back to his home.
Second, it is unbelievably cliquish. Because the campus is small and isolated you will quickly find that living there means that you are quickly identified, sorted out, accepted or isolated, and conveniently locked into place. For those who settle in the area, the rule of thumb is that you are not accepted by the locals until you are a third generation inhabitant.
The social pressures for ideological conformity are immense and thoroughly enforced on the campus. In particular, Williams College has a long-standing hostility to conservative students, speakers, and scholars. If you are a Christian, a Republican, a conservative or even a middle of the road liberal Democrat, then I highly recommend you find another place to study unless you want to endure four years of hostility and stigma.
The school has recently been in the news for banning conservative speakers including the relatively innocuous Suzanne Venker.
Third, if you are interested in parties and the opposite sex, then I also recommend against attending Williams College. At this school, being in a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is discouraged by the social pressures which assume that such relationships are unhealthy and probably interfering with one’s academic advancement. The women who were interested in men, in my experience, were mainly interested in dating older men who had good jobs and good careers in nearby urban areas like New York or Boston. For the life of me, I cannot remember if any of the students I taught while I was there from 1986 to 1989 even went out on dates.
The social environment has apparently gotten even worse since I taught at Williams College by new rules and bureaucratic policies which appear to me to place young men at danger of being labeled as rapists simply because they had consensual sex with a girl who has been drinking. If I had a son, Williams College would be among the last places on Earth I would send him for school. As far as I am concerned Williams College is an unsafe environment for young men.
Fourth, the geographic isolation means there is little to do that is fun or interesting off campus. I remember being so bored while I taught there that I would get in my car and drive to the top of the nearby Mt. Greylock to enjoy a view of the surrounding area at the height of 3,491 feet. The nearby city of North Adams is an extremely depressing, poor, rotted out post-industrial population center.
Fifth, perhaps because there is so little to do in the area, the school has a bad reputation for out-of-control drug use. It was, in fact, once rated among the top ten druggiest colleges in the nation.
Ironically, when I taught at Williams College, one of the students I most enjoyed mentoring and working with as an adviser turned out to be one of the very top drug dealers on campus.
Sixth, I believe there is a lot of mental illness on the campus. I think it is an unhappy place because of the bad weather, the substance abuse, the atheism, the cliques, and the low social IQ’s of many of its bright, but immature inhabitants. It is the sort of place where young, unstable students flame out and end up taking five years instead of four years to finish their college educations. One ex-president of the college, Harry C. Payne, jumped to his death from the eighth floor of a hotel. While I taught at Williams one of the science professors killed himself by releasing deadly gas in his airtight car. As I recall a second professor also killed himself around that time although I did not remember the details. Maybe I was just teaching there at a bad time.
Finally, I would observe that the U.S. News and World Report rankings seem to be heavily dependent on a school’s endowment. I can confirm that Williams College is awash in money. There are plenty of resources available there to the students and the faculty. Thanks to all this money, it is a wonderful place to spend the summer if you are there when the students are gone and the community is packed with movie stars and celebrities who are part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival.
To be sure, not all my memories of the place are negative. I finished up my award-winning thesis while I taught there. I had good friends in the local community and incredible spiritual support from folks I met off campus including an inspiring Quaker group which met up north in nearby Vermont. (Although, come to think of it, I ran my car off the road and into a ditch while driving back from a meeting.)
My neighbors were some of the friendliest and nicest people I have ever known. The students, by far, were the best part of my campus experience. It was fun to teach such bright, energetic young people. Nevertheless, knowing what I know now, I would never have accepted a job there. I got sucked in by the prestige and underestimated how much I would miss a safe, sane, high quality of life.
My recommendation? Look for another college or university. Preferably a college or university near a big city where you can get lost, enjoy some anonymity, and lead a healthy, balanced life. Williams College is a great place to visit over the summer, but a terrible place to spend four years of your life.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Waiting for Garrow: New Obama Biography Due This Week

Those of us who want to reduce President Obama’s future influence in American politics are looking forward to the release of David J. Garrow’s new 1,400 page opus, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. Although Professor Garrow is a Bernie Sanders donor, he has a reputation as an honest, straightforward historian. This reputation is the result of his balanced and even somewhat damaging Pulitzer Prize winning book on Martin Luther King, Bearing the Cross (1986).

John Drew with David Garrow in Laguna Niguel, CA.

While some journalists have already received preliminary copies of Rising Star, most of us will have to wait a little longer since the book will be released on May 9, 2017. As for me, however, I have been waiting to read Garrow’s book since December 2011.

I was one of the 1,000 people who Garrow interviewed, a number he repeatedly refers to when he wants to present his book as the new, gold standard for Obama biographies. Garrow’s book is competing for this honor against David Remnick’s The Bridge (2010) and David Maraniss’s Barack Obama: The Story (2012). Neither Remnick or Maraniss interviewed me even though they interviewed almost all of the students I knew at Occidental College between 1979-1981.

I have always found this odd since my face-to-face observations of young Obama’s radical ideology were reported -- prior to the publication of either book -- by Ronald Kessler in a NEWSMAX article that appeared in early February 2010. See, http://www.newsmax.com/RonaldKessler/obama-college-marxism-occidental/2010/02/08/id/349329/

Later, my complete report of Obama’s commitment to a leadership role in a coming, inevitable Communist revolution appeared in an article I wrote called “Meeting Young Obama” that was published in American Thinker in February 2011. See, http://www.americanthinker.com/articles/2011/02/meeting_young_obama.html

Maraniss’s failure to interview me seems particularly misguided since my first impression of young Obama has been accessed and cited by so many other authors. So far, it has appeared in Glenn Beck’s “Liars” (2016), Jack Cashill’s “Deconstructing Obama” (2011), Stanley Kurtz’s “Radical-In-Chief” (2010), Paul Kengor’s “Dupes” (2010) and “The Communist” (2012), and Michael Savages’ “Trickle Up Poverty” (2010).

Accordingly, I was suspicious when I first heard from Garrow by e-mail because my story had been so neglected by previous mainstream historians. In an abundance of caution, I checked out his YouTube videos and then asked him to give me a call so I could be sure I was talking to the real Pulitzer Prize historian and not some deranged Occupy Wall Street protester. Over the phone, we agreed to meet at my home in Laguna Niguel.

As a political scientist, I have spoken with presidential historians before, including the late James MacGregor Burns who was a colleague at Williams College. However, I had never been interviewed by one. 

I was surprisingly nervous.  As Garrow sat in my living room, I almost dumped a full glass of ice tea on him.  It was also surprisingly unpleasant to remember my youthful days as a recent Occidental College graduate who was dating a girl, Caroline Boss, who was still a senior at Occidental and who was so close to young Obama that Maraniss claims she was one of the most significant composite characters included in Obama’s Dreams from My Father (1995).  I prepared for the interview by sorting through old photographs and rereading about 30 cards and letters from that era of my life. 

As it turned out, Garrow was something of a gossip. He entertained me with news regarding the fate of my old friends and acquaintances:  who got married to who, who succeeded in life and who failed. I also found out Garrow plays an awkward role in informing people of the deaths of those who used to be in their social circles.  In my case, Garrow revealed one of the Occidental College radical leaders I knew best, Gary Chapman, 58, had died of a heart attack the previous December.

During the recorded interview, my aim was to stress my credibility and to get as much of my story as I could into the historical record. I shared with him evidence of my relationship with Boss including some photos and a romantic card she sent me.

Over time, it became clear that while Garrow was familiar with my American Thinker piece on young Obama, he was much more interested in tracking down the community which surrounded Obama at Occidental and by all accounts continued to support and stay in touch with him right up to his election as president.

Sensing his true interests, I surprised him by bringing out an old, tattered, green address book which included Boss’s phone numbers and addresses in both the U.S. and Europe. He seemed positively giddy about it.  He wrote down nothing and instead he read out loud from my address book into his recorder.

I did speak to him off-the-record too, but only about sexual matters, the sort of unseemly things which would be embarrassing to air but still would help him understand the intimate social connections of Obama’s Occidental College friends. He indicated to me that his next stop would be Washington state where he would interview Caroline and her husband, Tom, who had also been a student at Occidental College.

After we were done, I remember Garrow was gracious enough to pose with me for a photo. It turns out his wife, Darleen, had been waiting for us in a car while the interview took place. As she took the picture, I praised her husband for his status as a Pulitzer Prize winning biographer. She seemed a little jaded by my compliment and less effusive than me in praising his worthwhile accomplishments.

At this point, I am not at all confident I had much impact on Garrow’s book.

I listened to a radio interview he gave to Jamie Weinstein and he flatly dismissed any suggestion that young Obama was gay, Marxist, Muslim or a beneficiary of the writing and editing skills of Bill Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist. Using the broadest possible definitions, in contrast, I see the young Obama as all four. I am waiting to see if the mainstream media will use Garrow’s book to short-circuit future attempts to create an honest account of Obama life, an account which should rightfully end his political influence.

Note: This article was originally published in American Thinker on May 8, 2017.

John C. Drew, Ph.D. is an award-winning political scientist.