If one had to name Barack Obama's chief accomplishments in public
life, his two books would outweigh anything he has done in politics.
The New York Times had a fascinating article,
The Story of Obama, Written by Obama, on the front page of Sunday's
paper. The piece points out that Obama's attraction to the masses
is driven not by what he has accomplished in the real world (especially
in the Senate), but by his ability to tell a tale -- his own.
Unspoken by the NYT is that this phenomena does have its place in
history -- it is the very definition of "cult of personality."
After he was elected as the first black president of the Harvard Law
Review. He was approached by an agent, Jane Dystel, who got him a
contract for a book.
original plan was to write a book about race relations
(what else?), but, sitting down to
write, he found his mind "pulled toward rockier shores." So the
book became more personal -- the record of an interior journey, as he
put it in the introduction, "a boy’s search for his father, and through
that a search for a workable meaning for his life as a black American."
Obama had been given free use of an office at the University of Chicago,
along with a law school fellowship and the aforementioned advance, to
finish his first manuscript. Obama missed his deadline, and Dystel promptly got
him another contract and a $40,000 advance for the same book.
The New York Times
reported that Obama's first agent (the one he dumped) got him a a
second book deal with Random House after the first one with Poseidon
Press fell through.
The Times article neglects to mention that Obama received then Random
House publisher Peter Osnos describes as a six figure advance "(about
$125,000, I am told)" from Poseidon. According to Osnos, Obama
would have had to return all or part of the first advance. Did he?
Obama and Dystel worked mostly by telephone and by manuscripts sent by
Federal Express between New York and Chicago. Obama, an inveterate
journal writer who had published poems in a college literary magazine
but had never attempted a book, struggled to finish. His half-sister,
Maya Soetoro-Ng, said he eventually retreated to Bali for several months
with his wife, Michelle, "to find a peaceful sanctuary where there were
Ah, retreating to Bali after getting a second $40,000 advance and while
receiving income from a law school fellowship -- a tough life indeed. We
can all empathize. Oh, and about the "truthfulness of the book"?
In the introduction, Mr. Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms,
composite characters, approximated dialogue and events out of
chronological order. He was writing at a time well before a recent
series of publishing scandals involving fabrication in memoirs. "He was
trying to be careful of people's feelings," said Deborah Baker, the
editor on the first paperback edition of the book. "The fact is, it all
had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn't make up."
That's how we judge "truth" now? Ignore the lies used to build the
foundation for the benefit of the quest for the nebulous "larger truth"?
This article is looking more and more like an apologia for upcoming
disclosures that Obama's story as told by himself has more than a few
holes in it.
Obama's New Book Deal
Spring 2009 -- The White House has
posted the personal financial disclosure reports for Obama, and here are
some interesting tidbits.
Obama's financial disclosure report shows evidence that he
and the first lady trust the government with their money. The couple has
somewhere between $1 million and $5 million invested in Treasury bills.
In the category of It's Never Too Early to Seek New Supporters,
the forms show that Obama in January struck a $500,000 advance deal with
Crown Publishing Group for an abridged version of his best-seller,
"Dreams From My Father," aimed at "middle grade or young adult readers." When the book comes out, Obama will rack up more in royalties: 15% of
the hardcover sales price and 10% of the paperback price.
hard to figure out net worth from these forms because they only ask for
broad ranges when reporting value of assets and debts. But the Obamas
tax day filing had showed they paid $855,323 in taxes on a combined
income of $2,656,902.
Google Books -- Dreams From My
a link to Google Books limited version of "Dreams..." -- you can
bounce around by section -- click "Contents" link next to Zoom symbols.
The Search function in the left column is neat -- it searches entire
text -- very powerful and returns page and paragraph of search phrase --
better than having to read the book.
Dreams From My Father -- The Book
-- The Myth
Well, it probably started with "Dreams . . .."
the introduction, Obama acknowledged his use of pseudonyms, composite
characters, approximated dialogue and events out of chronological order.
"He was trying to be careful of people's feelings," said Deborah Baker,
the editor on the first paperback edition of the book. "The fact
is, it all had a sort of larger truth going on that you couldn't make
Well, folks put that information away. Everybody puffs
up their resume -- no harm -- no foul.
Stanley Ann Helps With "Dreams..."
helped Barack write his book, "Dreams from My Father," while she was
battling cancer. Obama wrote:
During the writing of this book,
she would read the drafts, correcting stories that I had misunderstood,
careful not to comment on my characterizations of her but quick to
explain or defend the less flattering aspects of my father’s character.
Obama noted in the book that it was Ann rather than his natural
father who taught him about his African American heritage.
would come home with books on the civil rights movement, the recordings
of Mahalia Jackson, the speeches of Dr. King. When she told me
stories of schoolchildren in the South who were forced to read books
handed down from wealthier white schools but who went on to become
doctors and lawyers and scientists, I felt chastened by my reluctance to
wake up and study in the mornings…
Every black man was Thurgood
Marshall or Sidney Poitier; every black woman Fannie Lou Hamer or Lena
Horne. To be black was to be the beneficiary of a great
inheritance, a special destiny, glorious burdens that only we were
strong enough to bear.
Obama noted in the book that he might have
written a different book if he had known she was dying when he wrote it:
I think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her
illness, I might have written a different book -- less a meditation on
the absent parent, more a celebration of the one who was the single
constant in my life.
In my daughters I see her every day, her
joy, her capacity for wonder. I won’t try to describe how deeply I
mourn her passing still. I know that she was the kindest, most
generous spirit I have ever known, and that what is best in me I owe to
His mother was his first class and
race propagandist and mentor.
Neocolonial Dreams From Obama's Mother
Newt Gingrich said to National Review Online
recently, "What if [Obama] is so outside our comprehension, that only if
you understand Kenyan, anticolonial behavior, can you begin to piece
together [his actions]?" Gingrich's comment sparked off Dinesh D'Souza's
Forbes article, which argues that America is "governed by the ghost" of
Obama's "Luo tribesman" father.
But, George Neumayr
not forget the white-liberal neocolonialism of his mother, which
influenced him too. In Dreams from My Father, Obama reveals just as many
or more dreams from his mother, the Ford Foundation anthropologist who
introduced enlightened liberal ideology to the native tribes of
Indonesia. There in that "land" of "fatalism," Obama writes, "she was a
lonely witness for secular humanism, a soldier for New Deal, Peace
Corps, position-paper liberalism."
The patronizing tone that
Obama adopts in the book when discussing his father's failures makes him
sound more like a neocolonialist cut from his mother's cloth than an
anticolonialist. While he approves of the anticolonials' anti-western
anger, he still thinks they could use some direction from western
liberals. He expresses disappointment with his father for not swallowing
the liberal faith whole. His father lacked "faith in people" and held
too tightly to certain Luo ways -- "too much of its rigidness, its
suspicions, its male cruelties." If only, he implies, the African anticolonials were less stubborn and let neocolonialists at the Ford
Foundation guide them to Planned Parenthood clinics and schools
bankrolled by Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, all would have been well.
It is an open question how much of the book is real or made up. Obama casually drops into the introduction that quotes in the book are
"an approximation of what was actually said or relayed to me," and that
for "the sake of compression, some of the characters that appear are
composites of people I've known, and some events appear out of precise
chronology." One wonders if he too is a composite in his postmodern
memoir. The book is long on affected literary flourish and short on
candor. He does a lot of "listening to the wind and its whispers of
But here and there amidst the pretentious
throat-clearing he makes some accidental revelations. I didn't know that
his Kenyan grandfather converted from Christianity to Islam, which comes
out in a story told to Obama by his grandmother, a story that doesn't
exactly lend credence to Obama's Islam-is-a-religion-of-peace line:
"What your grandfather respected was strength…This is also why he
rejected the Christian religion, I think. For a brief time, he
converted, and even changed his name to Johnson. But he could not
understand such ideas as mercy towards your enemies, or that this man
Jesus could wash away a man's sins. To your grandfather, this was
foolish sentiment, something to comfort women. And so he converted to
Islam -- he thought its practices conformed more closely to his
Obama writes about his trip to Kenya with the
anthropological detachment of his mother, not so much learning from his
relatives during the "emotional odyssey" as looking down on them. But he
is happy when his sozzled half-brother Roy turns up at his Jeremiah
Wright-presided-over wedding as a convert to Islam. "The person who made
me proudest of all," he writes of the reception, "was Roy." He had
decided to "reassert his African heritage," "converted to Islam," and
"sworn off pork and tobacco and alcohol." His "conversion has given him
solid ground to stand on, a pride in his place in the world."
Obama can't resist a final moment of looking down on him. "Not that the
changes in him are without tension… The words he speaks are not fully
his own, and in his transition he can sometimes sound stilted and
dogmatic," he writes.
The implication left from all the
self-important ruminations about "his divided inheritance" is that the
anticolonial dreams of his father can only be completed through the
neocolonial dreams of his mother.
Obama's Ghostwriter From Hell
Author Chris Andersen
said on "The Mancow Show," a talk-radio show
from Chicago, that he had two sources that suggested unrepentant
terrorist Bill Ayers played a large part in the writing of Barack
Obama's fable, "Dreams From My Father," a book that Time Magazine has
called "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American
Andersen's on-air comments confirmed what he alleges
in his new book, and confirms the literary forensic work of columnist
Jack Cashill, who has provided compelling evidence that the co-founder
of the radical Weather Underground, and author of its
"Prairie Fire," fleshed-out and polished Obama's incomplete manuscript with his exceptional
After Obama was
selected as the first
affirmative-action president of the Harvard Law Review, he was
approached by an agent, Jane Dystel, who got him a contract for a
from Poseidon Press upon his graduation.
He was given free use of an office at the
University of Chicago, a law school fellowship, and a $125,000 advance,
to finish his manuscript. Obama and Dystel worked mostly by telephone
and sending draft manuscripts by Federal Express between New York and Chicago. Even with Dystel's editing, Obama struggled to finish. His half-sister,
Maya Soetoro-Ng, said he eventually retreated to Bali for several months
with his wife, Michelle, "to find a peaceful sanctuary where there were
The real reason Obama scurried off to Bali was to
seek his mother's help
with his manuscript -- but to no avail.
Anyway, Obama blew
his advance, and Dystel got him a second, $40,000 advance from Random
House for the same book.
Again, he was unable to deliver a
manuscript to Random House, and, in desperation, he turned to his friend
and employer at the Chicago
Annenberg Challenge, Bill Ayers, to help him finish what was to become a
work of fiction,
supposedly on the advice of wife, Michelle. Thanks to the help he
received from the skilled Ayers, Obama was able to submit a manuscript
to his editors.
Cashill had picked up a copy of Bill Ayers 2001
memoir, "Fugitive Days." In reading the book, he discovered that Ayers
writes very well, and very much like Obama. This prompted Cashill to
examine "Dreams...," and he found that the book's language, its oddly
specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear an uncanny
similarity to Ayers's own writing. Cashill pointed out that in contrast
to "Dreams," the Obama writing samples unearthed before 1995 "are
pedestrian and uninspired."
Last fall, Cashill commissioned an
independent scientific comparative analysis of writings by Obama and
Ayers to determine whether Ayers had a significant role in the writing
of "Dreams...," and reported at least four different stylometric analysts
supported his extensive forensic evidence.
His experts included
university professors from the U.S. and England in the statistical
analysis of authorship, systems engineers, writers and Ph.D. literary
analysts. One analyst said it was possible Ayers served as a "book
doctor," drastically rewriting work Obama already had done.
Obama has skated by on his
skin-tone, smile, personality and "BS" his entire life -- he's a
complete fraud. Even today, he is helpless and hapless without the
Obama Comes To The Mainland
Jack Cashill writes, for more than a year I have
been making the case that Bill Ayers played a major role in the
authorship of Barack Obama's acclaimed 1995 memoir, "Dreams From My
And for more than a year the hundreds of literary and
political critics in the major media have refused to even glance at what
is arguably the most consequential literary fraud of our time.
Astonishingly, not one of the myriad reviewers of Christopher Andersen's
bestseller Barack and Michelle even commented on the six pages he
dedicates to confirming my thesis.
If analyzing the several Ayers
and Obama books in question is too much of a bother, I would recommend
these critics wander through any two pages of Dreams and concentrate on
the nuggets of fraud and falsehood they can find without even looking
As an example, let us take a look at the two pages of
Dreams (144-145 in the 2004 paperback) in which young Barry Soetoro
first visits the mainland. The date of the visit is specific:
"during the summer after my father's visit to Hawaii, before my eleventh
birthday." This was 1972. Traveling around the country on
Greyhound busses with his mother, grandmother and baby sister, the
ten-year old Obama and his family "watched the Watergate hearings every
night before going to bed."
Of course, Obama took this trip a
year before the Watergate hearings, which actually began in the late
spring of 1973. This is not an isolated misrepresentation.
From the flow of these two pages, I suspect that Ayers took the raw data
of Obama's life and improvised as he saw fit. He does this
throughout the book to score ideological points and make the case for
Obama as political prodigy.
According to Dreams, the little
family with one year-old Maya in tow made a long distance detour from
the obvious places they might visit -- Seattle, Disneyland, the Grand
Canyon, Yellowstone -- to spend three days in Chicago.
tells it, the family rode some 1500 miles on Greyhound buses from the
Grand Canyon and another 1000 miles back to Yellowstone to spend three
dreary days in a motel in the South Loop of Chicago. Something does not
make sense here.
In Chicago, Obama's most vivid memory is of
seeing the shrunken heads on display at the Field Museum. Yes, the
museum did have those heads on display. They were considered,
according to one source, as a "crucial rite of passage for generations
of Chicago kids." Ayers was one such kid. He grew up in
In Dreams, Obama remembers the heads to be of
"European extraction." The man looked like a "conquistador" and
the woman had "flowing red hair." This reversal of Euro-fortune
struck the precocious Barry as "some sort of cosmic joke."
memory too is thoroughly contrived. That some conquistador would
wander into the Ecuadorian jungle with a woman in tow, let alone Lucille
Ball, and end up as a shrunken head defies all probabilities. No
source on the Field exhibit even hints that these were Europeans.
In fact, one source suggests that the tribe in question vanished seven
hundred years before the first European arrived.
has something of a fascination with headhunting. In his 2001
memoir Fugitive Days, Ayers recounts a 1965 anti-war protest on the
Michigan campus that proved formative in his own radicalization.
At the protest, Ayers saw a series of photos that moved him.
One showed "four American boys kneeling in the sun, bare-chested,
smiling broadly." Although these soldiers looked like the kind of
guys Ayers grew up with, they "cradled in their hands now, the severed
heads of human beings, their dull, unseeing eyes eternally open, their
ears cut off, strung into a decorative collar worn around one smiling
kid's neck." That this photo never made its way beyond this
particular protest testifies to the malevolence of Ayers' imagination.
Another of the photos Ayers saw at this same protest showed water
buffaloes and "small boys with bamboo sticks perched upon their backs."
Curiously, in Dreams, Obama also remembers seeing a boy sitting "on the
back of a dumb-faced water buffalo, whipping its haunch with a stick of
bamboo." Note that these boys whip the beast not just with sticks
but with bamboo sticks.
He blurted out: "I wrote ‘Dreams From My Father... Michelle asked me
to." Then he added "And if you can prove it we can split the
Anne responded, "Stop pulling my leg!"
repeated insistently, "I wrote it, the wording was similar [to Ayers'
Anne responded, "I believe you probably heavily
Ayers stated firmly, "I wrote it."
Simpson's account of Anne Leary's run-in with Bill Ayers
here . . .
A Closer Look At Obama's Odyssey
Jack Cashill is back with more -- Cashill believes that Christopher
Andersen's new book, "Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American
Marriage," it made it increasingly clear that Obama friend and
neighbor, Bill Ayers, gave the book its structure. As Andersen relates,
after four futile years of trying to finish the contracted book, a
"hopelessly blocked" Obama delivered his family's "oral histories, along
with his partial manuscript and a trunk-load of notes" to Ayers for a
Here's a link to Google Books limited version of "Dreams..." -- you
can bounce around by section -- click "Contents" link next to Zoom
The Search function in the left column is neat -- it
searches entire text -- very powerful and returns page and paragraph of
search phrase -- better than having to read the book.
How Obama Himself Made More Than "Enough
says in defending his administration's efforts at putative financial
reform, Obama suggested a ceiling, perhaps government-imposed, for Wall
Street executives. Although he did not begrudge them income that
is "fairly earned," he added ominously, "I do think that at a certain
point, you've made enough money."
Obama may be projecting guilt
from his own excellent adventures in greed. A surprising 2006
article for the American Century Foundation by liberal publisher Peter
Osnos sheds useful light on this subject. As Osnos relates, a 1990
New York Times profile on The Harvard Law Review's first black president
caught the eye of a hustling young literary agent named Jane Dystel.
Dystel persuaded Obama to put a book proposal together, and she
submitted it. Poseidon, a small imprint of Simon & Schuster,
signed on and authorized a roughly $125,000 advance in November 1990 for
Obama's proposed memoir.
With advance in hand, Obama repaired to
Chicago, where the University of Chicago offered him an office and
stipend to help him write. Obama dithered. At one point, in
order to finish without interruption, he decamped to Bali for a month.
Obama was supposed to have finished the book within a year. Bali
or not, advance or no, he could not. He was surely in way over his
"Obama had missed deadlines and handed in bloated, yet
incomplete drafts," David Remnick tells us in The Bridge. Simon &
Schuster lost patience. In the summer of 1993, Simon & Schuster
canceled the contract. According to Osnos, the publisher asked
that Obama return at least some of the advance
the Obama-friendly Remnick skips some of the details that Christopher
Andersen includes in his book, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an
American Marriage, such as how Obama had spent $75,000 of the advance
and could not pay it back. According to Andersen, the publisher
let Obama keep the money only after he pled poverty due to "massive
student loan debt" -- this despite a combined salary for the still
childless Obamas well into six figures, not to mention the trip to Bali
and a trip to Kenya for the couple as well.
As Osnos tells it,
Dystel did not give up. She solicited Times Books, the division of
Random House at which Osnos was publisher. He met with Obama, took
his word that he could finish the book, and authorized a new advance of
During this same period, Obama was working as a
full-time associate at the law firm of Davis Miner, teaching classes at
the University of Chicago Law School, and spinning through a social
whirl that would have left Scarlett O'Hara dizzy. Writes Remnick,
"He and Michelle accepted countless invitations to lunches, dinners,
cocktail parties, barbecues, and receptions for right minded charities."
Obama had also joined the East Bank Club, a combined gym and urban
country club, and served on at least a few charitable boards.
addition, Obama, as Remnick admits, was a slow writer. He would
later explain his plodding, 19th-century technique to Daphne Durham of
Amazon. "I would work off an outline -- certain themes or stories
that I wanted to tell -- and get them down in longhand on a yellow pad.
Then I'd edit while typing in what I'd written."
tells it, Obama found himself deeply in debt and "hopelessly blocked."
At "Michelle's urging," Obama "sought advice from his friend and Hyde
Park neighbor Bill Ayers." What attracted the Obamas were "Ayers's
proven abilities as a writer." Noting that Obama had already taped
interviews with many of his relatives, both African and American,
Andersen elaborates, "These oral histories, along with his partial
manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers." The
result was "Dreams From My Father" -- Obama's automythology
Although Dreams did not do particularly well in 1995, the sales shot
through the roof after Obama's keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic
convention. As Osnos relates, Obama unceremoniously dumped his
devoted longtime agent after Dreams took off and then signed a
seven-figure deal with Crown, using only a by-the-hour attorney.
Obama pulled off the deal after his election but before being sworn
in as Senator in order to avoid the disclosure and reporting
requirements applicable to members of Congress. Although an
Obama-supporter, Osnos publicly scolds Obama for his "ruthlessness" and
"his questionable judgment about using public service as a personal
As to the question of income "fairly earned," Obama
makes Fabrice 'Fabulous Fab' Tourre look like a lumberjack.
For The Serious Student
Obama school chum and ex-Marxist, John C. Drew, Ph.D,
says Jack Cashill voices the pain of those of us who are
doing the journalistic work we once thought was
the sole responsibility of CBS’s 60 Minutes.
In his newest book, he indicates it is not so
easy to balance his efforts to save Western
civilization with his concurrent responsibility
of bagging leaves. In my case, I have
sought to expose Barack Obama’s intellectual
roots as a revolutionary Marxist while
addressing my nagging doubts about the
necessity of rinsing dishes prior to loading in
the dishwasher. If you understand that
neither Cashill or me are kidding about our
lives, then you will be thrilled by the tone
and fresh insight in Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President
As an eyewitness
to young Obama’s Marxist ideology, I was
excited to see Cashill busting up the myths
surrounding Obama and replacing them with a
more believable story that is a much better fit
with accessible evidence. Cashill’s results are
politically significant because Obama’s
charisma is dependent on the images in his
first book, Dreams from My Father. Cashill’s
new insights about the real Obama should be
particularly relevant to the sort of swing
voters who tell survey researchers that they do
not care for Obama’s policies while
still liking him as a person. After reading Cashill’s book, I suspect these swing voters
will be disappointed by the titanic gap between
Obama’s all-American myth and the cold facts of
his real life.
I Wrote That Book
Question: Thank you sir, thank you,
thank you. Time magazine columnist Joe Klein wrote that President
Obama's book, "Dreams from My Father," quote: "may be the best
written memoir ever produced by an American politician."
Ayers: I agree with that.
Question: What is your
opinion of Barack Obama's style as a writer and uh …
I think the book is very good, the second book ("The Audacity of
Hope") is more of a political hack book, but uh, the first book is
Question: Also, you just mentioned the
Pentagon and Tomahawk …
Ayers: Did you know that I
wrote it, incidentally?
Question: What's that?
Ayers: I wrote that book.
members: Yeah, we know that.
Question: You wrote
Ayers: Yeah, yeah. And if you help me
prove it, I'll split the royalties with you. Thank you very
Is Gallmann's Memoir The Source For Obama's?
says: Sometime in 1994, as I have
argued on these pages and in my book,
one-time terrorist Bill Ayers took over the memoir that his struggling
protégé, Barack Obama, proved unable to complete. Although my evidence
was textual or circumstantial, celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen
had sources within the Chicago community that confirmed the
Noting that a "hopelessly blocked" Obama had
already taped interviews with many of his relatives, both African and
American, Andersen elaborates, "These oral histories, along with his
partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers." The
result was the much-acclaimed Dreams from My Father. In that the
audience for Andersen's favorable book, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of
an American Marriage, skewed left, he had no reason to fabricate
Ayers knew Obama's terrain well, in some
ways better than Obama himself. "I also thought I was black," writes
Ayers only half-jokingly in his own 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days. He read
all the authors Obama did -- James Baldwin, Leroi Jones, Richard Wright,
Malcolm X. Tellingly, like Obama, he began his career as a
self-described "community organizer," Ayers in inner-city Cleveland.
Like Obama, too, Ayers spent many years in both New York and
Chicago, and, fortuitously, he and his family spent their spring 1993
vacation in Hawaii. A careful craftsman, Ayers has a novelist's eye for
detail. He used his own experiences to good effect in helping Obama
create what Time Magazine would call "the best-written memoir ever
produced by an American politician."
What Ayers did not know was
Kenya, the setting for the last third of Dreams. There was no Google in
1994 and little else of use on the still embryonic Internet. Obama did
not know Kenya much better. He visited for a few weeks in 1987 or 1988
-- he can never get the date quite straight -- and again briefly with
Michelle in 1992.
Lacking an authoritative source, Ayers may
well have turned for useful local color to the memoirs of longtime Kenya
resident Kuki Gallmannn. So theorizes Shawn Glasco, the tireless
researcher that I refer to in Deconstructing Obama as "Mr. Southwest."
In June 2010, while searching for nonfiction books about Kenya at
the public library, Glasco spotted Gallmann's 1991 memoir, I Dreamed of
Africa, which was later made into a film of the same name starring Kim
Basinger. The similarity between Gallmann's title and Obama's caught his
At the library, Glasco randomly opened Gallmann's book and
was struck by the similarity in word choice and writing styles between
her work and Dreams. He suspects that the Gallmann memoir may have
inspired the "dreams" trope that Ayers likely invented to provide
structure to Obama's memoir.
In 1994, Gallmann's memoir, African
Nights, was published. Glasco believes that Ayers mined both books. A
meticulous researcher, Glasco has completed his review of African
Nights, the results of which follow. Glasco worked from hard copies. Had
he digital copies available, the results would have been more impressive
still. Glasco has also been in touch with Gallmann to verify details.
Presuming that Glasco is right, Ayers is not a plagiarist. He is
careful, in fact, to avoid the kind of piracy that got author Alex Haley
in trouble. For Roots -- his presumably factual, Pulitzer Prize-winning
family history -- Haley plundered a novel titled The African, written by
In 1978, Courlander sued Haley in U.S.
District Court for copyright infringement. Midway through the trial, the
judge counseled the dissembling Haley to settle with Courlander or face
a perjury charge. Haley did just that to the tune of $650,000, or more
than $2 million by today's standards. The publishing world chose not to
notice. Haley was too sacred a cow and Roots too valuable a property.
Although not illegal, what Obama apparently allowed Ayers to do
violates any number of ethical standards, and the fault here lies with
Obama. Dreams was alleged to have been his own memoir, faithfully told.
Using a ghostwriter is fair enough. Letting the ghostwriter mine someone
else's experiences and call them your own is not.
instance, tells the reader of a certain acquaintance. "He was a little
man with a perennial grin" and a "readiness to obey or volunteer for any
work." His "sentences often became tangled in a painful stutter." Obama
meets a man just like this: "He was a short, gentle man with a bit of a
stutter; he did odd jobs."
In assessing sentences like this, the
reader has to ask: did Obama really know such a man, or is the character
on loan from Gallmann? The reader has every reason to be suspicious. In
Dreams, Ayers often attributes his own thoughts and experiences to
Obama. Even Obama-friendly biographer David Remnick concedes that Dreams
is a "mixture of verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention,
and artful shaping." The same could be said for James Frey's bestselling
memoir, A Million Little Pieces, whose many inventions, once revealed,
made Frey a national pariah.
As will become obvious, Dreams and
African Nights share any number of distinctive words and phrases, many
of which are commonly in use in East Africa: Baobab [a tree], bhang
[cannabis], boma [an enclosure], samosa [a fried snack], shamba [a farm
field], liana [a vine], tilapia [a fish], kanga [a sheet of fabric],
shuka [decorative sashes]. It is possible that Obama remembered these
phrases from his few weeks in country, but it is not at all likely.
On the fashion front, both books have young women "wrapped" in their
kangas and "dressed" in "rags." The women in both books wear shukas,
head shawls, head scarves, and goatskins, and they balance baskets on
heads graced with "laughing smiles."
On the animal front, men in
both books spearfish in "ink-black" waters and hunt by torchlight.
Elephants are "fanning" themselves, birds "trill," insects "buzz,"
weaver birds "nest," and monkeys "mesmerize." The books share a
veritable Noah's ark of additional fauna: crickets, crocodiles,
starlings, dragonflies, tilapia, cattle, lions, sand crabs, vultures,
hyenas, "herds of gazelle," and leopards that can hold small animals "in
On the flora front, the shared references are just
as compelling: roadside palms, yellow grass, red bougainvillaea, pink
bougainvillaea, fig trees, shady mango trees, thornbrush, banana leaves,
Baobab trees, liana vines, tomatoes. The landscape, occasionally
"barren," is rich in "undulating hills" whose "grazing lands" are dotted
with the occasional "watering hole."
The "mud and dung" houses
feature "thatched roofs" "verandas," and "vegetable gardens." People
seem to be carrying "straw mats" everywhere. The stars "glint" and
people "waltz" underneath them. Eyes "glimmer" in the light of
"campfires." Children sing in "high-pitched" rhythms, and girls endure
"barbaric" circumcisions. Obama, like Gallmannn, travels to the Great
Rift Valley and stands at its edge. Both visit the small trading town of
Karl Rove tells of running into "the best writer to occupy
the White House since Lincoln" soon after the latter's second book,
Audacity of Hope, was published. "Hey, I understand you got me in your
book," said Rove. "I don't think so," Obama replied. Rove continued, "I
think you got me in your book saying, 'we're a Christian nation.'" Said
Obama, "Where'd I say that?" Rove showed him.
I suspect if
someone asked Obama what a shamba was or a shuka, the inquirer would get
an equally dumb answer.
All Obama Really Needed To Know He Learned
From His Composites
says the new Obama biography by David Maraniss finds still more
composites haunting the pages of Dreams From My Father. That
"still more" is not surprising, as Dreams says up front that some
composites have been employed, but the importance of them to the
narrative, and the lengths to which the compositing of them went, really
is. Black-power extremist "Ray" and authentic black experience "Regina"
now appear to be even more tangled webs of fabrication than the
privileged white "New York Girlfriend" composite I discussed here. So
the always-worth-reading Andrew Ferguson explains at The Weekly
Standard. His judgment hits the right balance between that's weird/lying's
bad, on one hand, and why he likely did it on the other:
We can see
the dilemma he faced. Obama signed a contract to write a racial
memoir. They were all the rage in those days, but in fact their
moment had passed. Even with the distant father and absent mother,
the schooling in Indonesia and the remote stepfather, Obama lived a
life of relative ease. He moved, however uncomfortably, into one
elite institution after another, protected by civil rights laws… …So
Obama moved the drama inside himself, and said he'd found there an
experience both singular and universal, and he brought nonexistent
friends like Regina and Ray to goose the story along.
Ferguson's overall judgment is that this is dispiriting…it reveals a
squishy post-modern reserve. Obama, even in a memoir that used
confessional tropes, gave us little to work with in terms of
understanding him. In Ferguson's hands, that suggests not so much a
sinister character, but rather, a pretty uninteresting one.
dispiriting is that throughout Dreams, the moments that Obama has
invented are precisely the occasions of his epiphanies -- precisely
those periodic aha! moments that carry the book and bring its author
closer to self-discovery. Without them not much is left: a lot of
lovely writing, some unoriginal social observations, a handful of
precocious literary turns.
And I think Ferguson could go further, to speculate
that Obama's staged "conservations" with his composited characters,
usually touching on racial identity matters, might reflect a pattern not
just of "self-branding" narrative-construction, but of this
construction-process at some level taking in and fooling himself.
These little details about Obama's long practice of playing with the
truth seem more significant to me than the debate about his socialism.
Yes, Stanley Kurtz's sober book on Obama's socialist past
Radical-in-Chief: Barack Obama and the Untold Story of American
got one of its key factual findings further documented last week, but in
my opinion the most shocking thing in that book is not its revealing
Obama's socialism (he was a democratic socialist at least up through the
90s), but the brazen acceptance of deception and smear-tactics that
pervaded the movement, and which he did nothing to diminish when he was
in community-organizer or political-candidate leadership positions.
Bonus: Ferguson also demolishes the latest big Obama-hating book, The
Amateur, as no one but he can, and to a large degree on the basis that
there's just too little available evidence about Obama's pre-candidate
life to make the judgments it does.