What did Barack Obama do while at Columbia from 1981 to 1983 and in the year after his graduation? That part of his life is scarcely mentioned in "Dreams From My Father"; the Wall Street Journal remarked in the mystery a month ago and the NY Times puzzled over it a year ago.
Let me just toss out the outlines of a theory that has just hit my inbox and left me agog. First, the usual disclaimers - this is speculative, there are gaps and leaps of logic, and nothing can be proven. However, that said... well, see if you are agog as well.
1. From Dreams From My Father and other sources we know that Obama was interested in South Africa divestment in the early 80's. For example, he had a moment of awakening at Occidental College when he gave a brief but well-received speech to kick off an anti-apartheid demonstration. Other sources indicate he maintained that interest while at Columbia.
2. A major focal point of the anti-apartheid movement in the fall of 1981 was the Springboks rugby tour - they were an integrated South African rugby team on a "goodwill" tour of the US, creating controversy and drawing protests everywhere. Some of the protests were violent, including one at John F. Kennedy Airport (from whence the team departed, I believe), and bombs were exploded.
3. Did I say "bombs"? Yes, and here is the jaw-dropping connection - the Weather Underground was involved in some fashion and the Brinks robbery which left two police officers and a security guard dead was apparently undertaken to finance activities such as the Springboks bombings. A flavor from the Times:
The police said they had several links between the robbery suspects and other people associated with radical activities in the past. Federal officials said they were looking into possible links between the holdup gang and the Black Liberation Army, which, like the Weather Underground of years ago, has been linked more recently to bombings, attacks on police officers and other violence aimed at toppling ''the establishment.'' Getaway Car Recovered
A yellow Honda used as one of the getaway cars, for example, was recovered and found to have been registered to Eve S. Rosahn, who was a Barnard College student in the late 1960's and was arrested in radical demonstrations at Columbia University then and more recently at a New York City airport demonstration against the Springboks, the South African rugby team.
These are just dots and it may be impossible to connect them, but we have Barack Obama at Columbia working on South African divestment (as were many peaceful protestors) while other radical elements with a Weather Underground flavor are setting bombs, killing cops, and working on South African divestment. As a bonus, Bill Ayers is studying at Bank Street College a quarter mile from Columbia towards his Masters in Education and Kathy Boudin, one of the Brinks getaway drivers, was working at a progressive Upper West Side School. Eventually Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn raised Kathy's child while she was in jail, so it seems a fair guess that they were close.
A small, small world in which Obama never met any of these people despite their shared passion for justice in South Africa. Never heard them speak at a rally, never heard anyone describe the Weather Underground to him, and felt comfortable assuming that Bill Ayers had been rehabilitated by 1995. In fact, a world so small that Obama won't talk about it now.
For clarity, let me emphasize that I am not alleging that Obama was making bombs with Kathy Boudin. I am wondering how he managed to be active on South African divestment without ever encountering these radicals, I am wondering why he won't talk about his Columbia years, and I am wondering why he and his campaign have consistently provided misinformation when asked about Bill Ayers.
Three more weeks to keep the lid on.
FROM THE TIMES LOOK AT COLUMBIA:
When the Times peered into Obama's Columbia past they found this:
In a long profile of Mr. Obama in a Columbia alumni magazine in 2005, in which his Columbia years occupied just two paragraphs, he called that time âan intense period of study.â
âI spent a lot of time in the library. I didnât socialize that much. I was like a monk,â he was quoted as saying.
He said he was somewhat involved with the Black Student Organization and anti-apartheid activities, though, in recent interviews, several prominent student leaders said they did not remember his playing a role.
Odd. Here was a guy who had spent his life hanging with radicals and seeking out causes. Now, at what was practically Ground Zero for campus activists, he decides to hide in the library.
MORE: From this book, Bill and Bernardine surfaced in NYC in December 1980.
And the Ace was quicker to the Columbia/Weather link but did not note the South African connection.
LATE ADDITION: A heavily researched article just can't prove the link between Obama and the violent anti-apartheid protests,but it is surely suggestive.