10.01.2008 0

Was Ayers the Ghostwriter for Obama’s First Book?

  • On: 10/31/2008 11:03:11
  • In: Barack Obama
  • By Jack Cashill

    ALG Editor’s Note: In the following featured guest commentary, Jack Cashill, author of Hoodwinked, a study of intellectual and literary fraud, advances a provocative and controversial theory: that Bill Ayers ghostwrote Barack Obama’s first book, Dreams From My Father. We publish it understanding full well that it will not be well-received in some quarters, but a part of free speech is giving air to alternative, compelling points of view that raise legitimate questions about elected leaders and politicians. A part of a healthy democracy is the ability of individuals to challenge those leaders, even with views that are unpopular.

    “The bizarre accusation Jack Cashill made in The American Thinker that Obama didn’t write ‘Dreams From My Father’ (and that Bill Ayers did) has caught fire in the blogosphere and on talk radio.”

    Kirsten Powers’ clueless blip above in the New York Post represents the sum of the major media’s response to a story that tells itself. A reporter need not visit Kenya or Indonesia or even Chicago to discover the truth of it. All he or she need do is read Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and Bill Ayers’ memoir, Fugitive Days.

    My attempts to share this story with the major media will confirm the reader’s worst suspicions: The media, including much of the “respectable” conservative media, simply do not want to know. Any one of them might have pursued this story to test the truth of it. None of them bothered.

    When historians tell the story of the 2008 election a century hence, they will tell how the ABETTTO factor—a blind eye to the obvious—finally undid America’s once proud journalism establishment. The following untold tale will be Exhibit A.

    In 1995, Barack Obama published his first book, Dreams From My Father, a book that Time Magazine has called “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”

    The very quality of the book piqued the curiosity of at least two Ph.D. literary detectives, myself included. Our writing, in turn, attracted the attention of several sets of technical analysts, three of those university-based.

    After exhaustive research and analysis, we have independently reached the conclusion that William Ayers played a significant role in the authorship of Dreams. We do not come to this conclusion lightly. We know what is at stake, but the evidence is compelling.

    After receiving a six-figure advance in 1990 to write a book, Obama failed to deliver. Back in Chicago, he received a second smaller contract to begin anew.

    Ayers, also in Chicago, served as something of a leftwing neighborhood literary doctor. Fellow radical Rashid Khalidi says as much in the very first sentence of the acknowledgement section in his book, Resurrecting Empire.

    “There are many people without whose support and assistance I could not have written this book, or written it in the way that it was written,” he writes. “First, chronologically, and in other ways, comes Bill Ayers.”

    Obama’s memoir was published in June 1995. Earlier that year, Ayers helped Obama get appointed chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant. In the fall of that same year, 1995, he held a fundraiser for Obama in his Chicago home.

    Obama’s writing before the publication of his literary masterwork in 1995—two poems, one essay, and one unsigned case comment—shows no particular talent or promise. This transformation alerted researchers. There was no precedent for it.

    If there were no other evidence, the fact that Ayers tells at least three distinctive stories in his work that Obama retells with only slight changes in Dreams would be enough to make a case. Ayers, by the way, also began his career as a “community organizer.”

    In his 1993 book, To Teach, for instance, Ayers tells the story of an adventurous teacher who takes her students out to the streets of New York to learn interesting life lessons about the culture and history of the city.

    As Ayers tells it, the students were fascinated by the Hudson River nearby and asked to see it. When they got to the river’s edge, one student says, ”Look, the river is flowing up.” A second student answers, “No, it has to flow south-down.”

    Upon further research, the teacher discovers “that the Hudson River is a tidal river, that it flows both north and south, and they had visited the exact spot where the tide stops its northward push.”

    In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Obama shares a similar story from his own brief New York sojourn. As Obama tells it, he takes an otherwise inexplicable detour to the exact spot on the parallel East River where the north-flowing tide meets the south-flowing river.

    There, a young black boy approaches this strange man and asks, “You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?” Obama tells the boy it “had to do with the tides.”

    Although there are no literal sea experiences in Dreams, the following words appear in both Dreams and in Ayers’ work: fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky. Ayers had served as a merchant seaman.

    Not surprisingly, Ayers uses “ship” as a metaphor with some frequency. Early in the book he tells us that his mother is “the captain of her own ship,” not a substantial one either but “a ragged thing with fatal leaks” launched into a “sea of carelessness.”

    Obama too finds himself “feeling like the first mate on a sinking ship.” He also makes a metaphorical reference to “a tranquil sea.” Similarly, Obama uses the word “ragged” as an adjective as in the highly poetic “ragged air” or “ragged laughter.”

    Both books use “storms” and “horizons” both as metaphor and as reality. Ayers writes poetically of an “unbounded horizon,” and Obama writes of “boundless prairie storms” and poetic horizons­-“violet horizon,” “eastern horizon,” “western horizon.”

    The metaphorical use of the word “tangled” might also derive from one’s nautical adventures. Ayers writes of his “tangled love affairs” and Obama of his “tangled arguments.”

    In Dreams, we read of the “whole panorama of life out there” and in Fugitive Days, “the whole weird panorama.” Ayers writes of still another panorama, this one “an immense panorama of waste and cruelty.” Obama employs the word “cruel” and its derivatives no fewer than fourteen times in Dreams.

    On at least twelve occasions, Obama speaks of “despair,” as in the “ocean of despair.” Ayers speaks of a “deepening despair,” a constant theme for him as well. Curiously, Obama describes the black nationalist message in nautical terms: “A steady attack on the white race . . . served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair.” Ballast? Who knows from Ballast?

    Bill Ayers’ 2001 memoir Fugitive Days and Obama’s Dreams follow strikingly similar “postmodern” rules. They both deliberately blur facts, create characters, make no claims at history, and talk repeatedly about lies, lying and what each calls his “constructed” reality.

    There are at least a dozen nearly parallel attempts to define the role of the postmodern memoirist in Obama’s writing and in Ayers’. Writes Ayers, “The reader must actually see the struggle. It’s a journey, not by a tourist, but by a pilgrim.” Writes Obama, “But all in all it was an intellectual journey that I imagined for myself, complete with maps and restpoints and a strict itinerary.”

    Writes Ayers, “Narrative writers strive for a personal signature, but must be aware that the struggle for honesty is constant.” Writes Obama, “I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America.”

    The computer-based data studies confirm what is obvious to the reader. On all key variables—vocabulary, sentence length, syllables, stop words, attribution, readability, verbal phrases, gender words, clichés, structure, flow, sensory triggers—these two memoirs test as if they were written by the same person.

    “Using the chi-square statistic,” observes one professor at a major state university, “Obama’s and Ayers’s books were indistinguishable while Obama’s book was easily distinguishable from books by other authors.”

    Writes programmer and scholar, Chris Yavelow, using his own proprietary software, “There is a strong likelihood that the author of Fugitive Days ghost-wrote Dreams From My Father using recordings of dialog (either tape recorded or notes). Alternatively, another scenario could be possible: Ayers might have served as a ‘book doctor.’”

    Although it is an imprecise science, data-driven literary forensics has had some notable successes, including the identification of the “anonymous” author of the political novel, Primary Colors.

    The media, however indifferent they may be, have an obligation to pursue this further, to ask the Obama camp to fill in the blanks and show the test scores and transitional writing samples that would make Obama’s authorship claim more credible. There is too much at stake to dismiss these charges as “bizarre” and leave these arguments unanswered.

    Jack Cashill is a writer, producer, and executive editor of Ingram’s, a midwestern business magazine. He has a Ph.D. in American studies from Purdue. Among his seven books is Hoodwinked, a study of intellectual and literary fraud. You may visit his website at www.cashill.com.


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