Does Barack Obama Have a Learning Disability?

Does Barack Obama have a learning disability (LD)? It seems like an outlandish question to ask, but the actions of President Obama suggest that he may suffer from one. Consider:


Learning is "the cognitive process of acquiring skill or knowledge."

Intelligence is defined as

capacity for learning, reasoning, understanding, and similar forms of mental activity; aptitude in grasping truths, relationships, facts, meanings, etc. or

1 a (1) : the ability to learn or understand or to deal with new or trying situations : reason; also :the skilled use of reason (2) : the ability to apply knowledge to manipulate one's environment or to think abstractly as measured by objective criteria (as tests)

There is a relationship between learning and intelligence.

Intelligence is measurable. IQ tests "are designed to measure your general ability to solve problems and understand concepts. This includes reasoning ability, problem-solving ability, ability to perceive relationships between things and ability to store and retrieve information."

Learning Disability

It follows that a learning disability affects a person's capacity or ability to learn or understand, to grasp truths, facts, meanings, and relationships. So what demonstrations of LD can we find in Obama?

Presidential Appointments

The president has recruited a number of key appointments who appear to have LDs.

Regina Benjamin is the Surgeon General of the United States.

Benjamin states that overweight/obesity is incompatible with health.

She admits that she is fat.

According to the definition she accepts and publishes, she is a health illiterate: "Health literacy is the ability of an individual to access, understand, and use health-related information and services to make appropriate health decisions."

Somewhere along the bucket brigade of learning -- i.e., "access, understand, and use health-related information" -- all the water spilled, since she certainly failed to "make appropriate health decisions." Hence, her self-recognized and personally lamentable fatness.

Clearly in the domain of sick care, health illiteracy despite medical training is evidence of an LD.

Eric Hampton Holder, Jr., is the Attorney General of the United States.

Holder is pursuing a lawsuit alleging that "the state of Arizona's recently passed immigration law, S.B. 1070" "unconstitutionally interferes with the federal government's authority to set and enforce immigration policy."

However, during a House Judiciary Committee meeting, Holder admitted to not having read the law, despite repeatedly voicing concerns about it, especially about "racial profiling." His statements must have been based on hearsay.

Holder's bio states that he attended law school and is in the practice of law.

In training to become an attorney, hearsay, a fundamental concept of evidence that is not new, is taught to law students.

Holder should have acquired a grasp of hearsay, absent an LD.

Timothy F. Geithner is Secretary of the Treasury.

Geithner is a person who demonstrated an inability to properly do his own taxes even with the help of a mass-market consumer tax preparation software package used by people without a financial background.

It would be expected that a person nominated for Treasury Secretary would be able to figure out how to do taxes, unless an LD was present.

Clearly, BHO was unable to learn how to recognize individuals qualified for appointment.

The Supreme Court and Professorship of Law

BHO claims to have been a professor of constitutional law.

[BHO] ... has regularly referred to himself as "a constitutional law professor," most famously at a March 30, 2007, fundraiser when he said, "I was a constitutional law professor, which means unlike the current president I actually respect the Constitution."

He was not really a law professor. He was a "senior lecturer," though the University of Chicago (U of C), where BHO served as a senior lecturer, claims that he was "regarded as" a professor.

How one is regarded does not always determine what one is.

Persons other than constitutional law professors claim respect for the Constitution. Absent an LD, certainly at some point in his career, BHO should have learned that respect for the Constitution is not limited to law professors or senior lecturers -- e.g., The Founders.

In his 2010 State of the Union address, BHO chastised the Supreme Court justices for their decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission.

... last week the Supreme Court reversed a century of law that I believe will open the floodgates for special interests -- including foreign corporations -- to spend without limit in our elections.

Justice Samuel Alito mouthed that BHO's claim was "not true."

Analyses of that decision, including ones by law professors with apparently uncontested credentials, support Justice Alito, not BHO.

It would appear that a U of C "constitutional law professor" did not learn how to analyze U.S. law. (BHO also should have learned about hearsay during his legal training, absent an LD.)


In 1972, Jeremiah Wright became pastor of the Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. BHO became a member in 1988.

Wright achieved some prominence for sermons he gave.

BHO claims unawareness of them and Wright's views. Wright and church members claim otherwise.

BHO admits that Wright was his spiritual leader, married him to Michelle, and baptized his children. BHO took them to Trinity United Church for sermons.

Assuming he cares about his children, it is reasonable to expect that he would have paid attention to the words from the pulpit and been aware of what his kids' spirits were being fed.

He did not and was not.

Further, assuming the same, one would have expected conversations between parents and children discussing the contents of the sermons, their takeaway lessons, what his children may have learned from their friends in attendance, etc.

It stretches credulity that in about twenty years' worth of attendance (around 1,040 Sundays, though he claims not to have gone every week), a number of them with children in tow, BHO never heard Wright speak "controversially" or learned of Wright's positions, either directly at church or indirectly from family, friends, newsletters, etc

Never -- unless BHO suffered from LD, or perhaps ADHD (or mendacity). ADHD is considered by many not to be a learning disability. However, LD can coexist with ADHD. And ADHD can be an adult condition, possibly from an undiagnosed childhood ADHD.

Inattention is a feature of ADHD.

This could explain how over the many years BHO spent attending church, the nature of Wright's sermons eluded him.

Anyway, LD, ADHD, ADHD-associated LD, or a combination, the presence of a condition inimical to learning is problematic. Those who believe in the exceptional nature of the office might say that this is even truer in the case of the presidency.

It is not beyond possibility that an episode or episodes of inattention or inability to understand will compromise the nation.

Perhaps one already has.

In the matter of the Gulf oil spill, some have suggested that presidential inattentiveness contributed substantially to the suffering and damage. Although others might argue that the delay was a variation of a brilliant political move (H. L. Mencken: "The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed [and hence clamorous to be led to safety] by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary."), James Carville, renowned for his political acumen, certainly felt otherwise.

The Harvard Counter-Argument

Some might argue that BHO's attendance at Harvard Law where he graduated magna cum laude is conclusive evidence against an LD.

They would be wrong.

BHO entered Harvard Law after apparently undistinguished academic careers at Occidental College and Columbia College. At Columbia he majored in political science and graduated sans honors.

Despite his pedestrian undergraduate achievements, Harvard Law gave him entry -- some suggest under intriguing circumstances.

He was elected to the editorial staff of the Harvard Law Review (HLR).

Election to HLR is not meritocratic.

Until the 1970's the editors were picked on the basis of grades, and the president of the Law Review was the student with the highest academic rank....

That system came under attack in the 1970's and was replaced by a program in which about half the editors are chosen for their grades and the other half are chosen by fellow students after a special writing competition. The new system, disputed when it began, was meant to help insure that minority students became editors of The Law Review.

The Harvard Law Review (HLR) "is a student-run organization[.]"

...the Review has two other goals. First, the journal is designed to be an effective research tool for practicing lawyers and students of the law. Second, it provides opportunities for Review members to develop their own editing and writing skills.

There are indications that as president of HLR, BHO wrote nothing.

Without a "paper trail" to evaluate his abilities, basically only his grades remain. His Harvard transcript was never released (neither were the Occidental and Columbia transcripts). His graduation magna cum laude appears uncontroverted.

A problem in exculpating BHO of an LD on this basis is that grades from Harvard are suspect. Grade inflation is apparently a perennial endemic. "Harvard honors has actually become the laughingstock of the Ivy League."

Law schools are not immune to creative grading.

And if one were to assert that the grades are still from Harvard, and the world regards these students as America's best, even BHO himself would have to assert that he "believes in Harvard exceptionalism, just as I suspect that the students at University of Bridgeport believe in Bridgeport exceptionalism" -- i.e., there is nothing special about a Harvard grade.

This essay is not offered as a professional diagnosis.

Michael Applebaum is a physician and attorney practicing in Chicago, IL. His website is