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Claim:   Barack Obama's thesis for Columbia University, entitled "Aristocracy Reborn," noted that America's founding fathers "did not allow for economic freedom."

FALSE

Example:   [Collected via e-mail, October 2009]

I saw someone online claim that the following is a quote from Barack Obama's thesis at Columbia contains the following segment:

"... the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy."
 

Origins:   In academia, a thesis is a typical requirement for a graduate degree (although some schools require a thesis for a bachelor's degree as well), an original research project submitted by a student on a topic related to his major. Many universities keep their students' theses on file and make them available to the public as library resources.

In recent years, theses written by U.S. presidential candidates and their spouses have become subjects of great interest, particularly for the possibility that they might provide some insight into the thinking and mindsets of their authors, including the disclosure of once-held viewpoints that might be now be considered controversial and disadvantageous to their current political careers (or those of their spouses). Accordingly, major political figures have become more circumspect about allowing public access to their theses: Former First Lady Hillary Clinton's 1969 Wellesley College thesis on community organizer Saul D. Alinsky, for example, was not available for examination by the public during the eight years of her husband's presidency, and current First Lady Michelle Obama's 1985 Princeton University thesis on "Princeton-Educated Blacks and the Black Community" was the subject of controversy when access to it was initially blocked during her husband's campaign for the presidency. (The Obama campaign made a copy of Michelle's thesis publicly available in February 2008, and Princeton's restriction on access to it was likewise lifted.)

Throughout the 2008 presidential campaign (and afterwards), one of the items that was frequently cited as a "missing document" connected with Barack Obama was his own thesis for Columbia University, a school from which he graduated in 1983 with a bachelor's degree in political science (with a specialization in international relations). Politico noted in October 2008 that:
There's not a whole lot of information available about Obama's time at Columbia University in New York, which he attended for three years after attending Occidental College in Los Angeles for one year and from which he graduated in 1983.

His campaign would not release his transcripts, and it says it does not have a copy of his thesis, which dealt with Soviet nuclear disarmament and which has drawn intense interest.
As far as has been determined, Barack Obama did not produce a formal thesis for his degree at Columbia University; the closest match is a paper he wrote during his senior year for an honors seminar in American Foreign Policy. However, Columbia University has said it did not retain a copy of that paper, Obama spokesman Ben LaBolt has said that Barack himself does not have a copy, and the professor to whom the paper was submitted has said that he no longer has a copy in his possession either:
In 1983, as a senior at Columbia in New York, Barack Obama enrolled in an intense, eight-student honors seminar called American Foreign Policy. His former professor, Michael Baron, recalled in an interview with NBC News that Obama easily aced the year-long class. But Baron says he never had any inkling that the gangly senior would scale such heights.

[Baron] had saved Obama's senior paper for years, and even hunted for it again [in July 2008] in some boxes. But he said his search was fruitless, and he now thinks he tossed it out [in 2000] during a move.

Baron
described [Obama's] paper as a "thesis" or "senior thesis" in several interviews, and said that Obama spent a year working on it. Baron recalls that the topic was nuclear negotiations with the Soviet Union.

"My recollection is that the paper was an analysis of the evolution of the arms reduction negotiations between the Soviet Union and the United States," Baron said in an e-mail. "At that time, a hot topic in foreign policy circles was finding a way in which each country could safely reduce the large arsenal of nuclear weapons pointed at the other ... For U.S. policy makers in both political parties, the aim was not disarmament, but achieving deep reductions in the Soviet nuclear arsenal and keeping a substantial and permanent American advantage. As I remember it, the paper was about those negotiations, their tactics and chances for success. Barack got an A."

Baron said that, even if he could find a copy of the paper, it would likely disappoint Obama's critics. "The course was not a polemical course, it was a course in decision making and how decisions got made," he said. "None of the papers in the class were controversial."

So would it provide any political ammunition today? "I don't think it would at all," Baron said. "It wasn't a position paper; it was an analysis of decision-making."
In October 2009, a purported excerpt from Barack Obama's "missing" Columbia thesis began circulating widely on the Internet, one which claimed the paper stated that the Constitution drafted by American's founding fathers "did not allow for economic freedom" and failed to mention "the distribution of wealth" (a play on the common campaign charge that a redistribution of wealth was one of Barack Obama's political goals).

Had someone finally turned up Barack Obama's elusive senior paper? The Pajamas Media web site reported on 21 October 2009 that writer/reporter Joe Klein had been permitted to read the first ten pages of it and had revealed that the paper (supposedly entitled "Aristocracy Reborn") included the excerpt reproduced above.

However, that claim seemed dubious, as a paper on "Aristocracy Reborn," with musings about the Founding Fathers' supposed lack of interest in "economic freedom" and "the distribution of wealth," would have been rather unusual content to find in a senior paper on the topic of Soviet nuclear disarmament, written for a seminar on American foreign policy. In fact, the putative excerpt was fictitious, something lifted from a bit of satire published on the Jumping in Pools blog back on 25 August 2009:
Obama was required to write a 'senior seminar' paper in order to graduate from Columbia. The subject of this paper, which totaled 44 pages, was American government. Entitled Aristocracy Reborn, this paper chronicled the long struggle of the working class against, as Obama put it, "plutocratic thugs with one hand on the money and the other on the government."

In the paper, in which only the first ten pages were given to the general media, Obama decries the plight of the poor: "I see poverty in every place I walk. In Los Angeles and New York, the poor reach to me with bleary eyes and all I can do is sigh."

In part, the future President blames this on the current economic system: "There are many who will defend the 'free market.' But who will defend the single mother of four working three jobs. When a system is allowed to be free at the expense of its citizens, then it is tyranny."

However, the President also singled out the American Constitution: "... the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy."
Pajamas Media issued a notice a few days after its original report acknowledging that the information about Barack Obama's Columbia thesis was a hoax. Joe Klein also affirmed that he had never seen the paper in question.

Last updated:   25 October 2009

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Sources:

    Dedman, Bill.   "Reading Hillary Rodham's Hidden Thesis."
    MSNBC.com.   9 May 2007.

    Popkin, Jim.   "Obama and the Case of the Missing 'Thesis.'"
    MSNBC.com.   24 July 2008.

    Saul, Michael.   "Limbaugh Falls for Obama Thesis Hoax."
    [New York] Daily News.   25 October 2009.

    Scott, Janny.   "Obama's Account of New York Years Often Differs from What Others Say."
    The New York Times.   30 October 2007.

    Vogel, Kenneth P.   "What Are the Candidates Hiding?"
    Politico.com.   23 October 2008.