What Does 'Composite Girl' Tell Us About Obama?

Within hours after Dylan Byers of Politico created a mini-firestorm on Wednesday with the article titled "Obama: 'New York girlfriend' was composite," David Graham of the Atlantic had all but smothered the flames with his article, "Obama's Composite Girlfriend: How Politico and Drudge Created Fake News."

Graham argued that since Obama owned up to using composite characters in the forward of the book in question, his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, there was nothing shady about the practice.  Not surprisingly, Graham overlooked the real problem.  So did Byers.  So did veteran Washington Post reporter David Maraniss, whose forthcoming book, Obama: The Story, ignited the controversy when it was excerpted in Vanity Fair.  No, the real problem with Dreams is the inexcusable dishonesty throughout the book.  The promiscuous use of composites is merely a symptom of the larger problem.

In the Vanity Fair excerpt, Maraniss profiles two former Obama girlfriends, heretofore unknown to Obama fans.  One of them, the Australian Genevieve Cook, seems to have provided most of the grist for Obama's white "mystery woman," the only girlfriend mentioned in Dreams -- and she only briefly.

"Like many characters in the memoir," says Maraniss of Cook, "[Obama] introduced her to advance a theme, another thread of thought in his musings about race."  What Maraniss does not say, and may not know, is that most, if not all, of the dramatic racial moments in the book are fully manufactured. 

With the help of his muse and co-author, Bill Ayers, Obama wove a series of racial grievances into the narrative to toughen up Obama's life story.  These stories aren't "compressed," as Obama claims.  They are contrived.  In his own memoir, Fugitive Days, Ayers likewise shows a casual disdain for facts.  "Is this then the truth?" he asks.  "Not exactly. Although it feels entirely honest to me."  When lesser memoirists do the same -- James Frey of A Million Little Pieces fame comes quickly to mind -- they get trashed on national TV by Oprah.

In the case of composite girl, for instance, Obama tells of how their relationship came to a bitter end over her failure to understand black angst.  "We had a big fight, right in front of the theater, writes Obama.  "When we got back to the car she started crying. She couldn't be black, she said."  Cook denies that this ever happened.

As Obama later explained to Maraniss, "I thought that [the anecdote] was a useful theme to make about sort of the interactions that I had in the relationships with white girlfriends."  Frey felt much the same way.  "A memoir literally means my story.  A memoir is a subjective retelling of events," he protested, adding,  "I never expected the book to come under the type of scrutiny that it has."  When Obama used the theater story in Dreams, he never expected this kind of scrutiny, either.  At the time, no one beyond his neighborhood knew who Obama was.  Nor did Obama expect scrutiny when he shared in Dreams the following racial life lessons, all of which have since been proven false (For a fuller accounting, see Friday's WND):

  • As a nine year-old, he saw in Life magazine a story about a black man turned grotesquely white in a desperate chemical effort to lighten his appearance.  Life never ran such an article.  When challenged, Obama claimed that it was EbonyEbony ran no such article, either.
  • In his first days at his Hawaiian prep school, Obama shamefully rejects "Coretta," the only other black student, lest he be tainted by her blackness.  Obama biographer David Remnick found the girl.  She had no such memory.  "He was my knight in shining armor," she gushed.  In his book, A Kind and Just Parent, Ayers tells much the same story.  He talks of a useful reading assignment about the travails of Clint, one of two black students in an otherwise all-white school, who rudely tries to distance himself from Marvin, the other black boy.  Like Obama, Clint feels guilty on reflection.
  • After Columbia, Obama worked for what he describes in Dreams as "a consulting house to multinational corporations."  He observes, "As far as I could tell I was the only black man in the company."  In full grievance mode, he considers his unique status "a source of shame."  A former coworker (and fan) revealed Obama's account to be a "serious exaggeration."  It was not a multinational corporation, but a "small company that published newsletters."  Obama was not the only black.  He did not, as claimed, have his own office, wear a jacket and tie, interview international businessmen, or write articles.
  • In Dreams, "Frank," the real-life Communist Frank Marshall Davis, slams college education.  "Understand something, boy," he tells the college-bound Obama.  You're not going to college to get educated. You're going there to get trained."  Adds Frank, "They'll train you so good, you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit."  Davis would never say this.  In his memoir, Livin the Blues, he tells of the richly rewarding years he spent at Kansas State University: its "beautiful" campus, its "usually agreeable" students, its "excellent" journalism department.  Later, he would see open-minded white college students as the hope for America's racial future.  His college poetry-reading tours on the mainland in 1973 and 1974 were huge successes.  It was Ayers who had the grudge against orthodox education.  "Education is for self-activating explorers of life, for those who would challenge fate, for doers and activists, for citizens," he writes in his 1993 book To Teach.  "Training," on the other hand, "is for slaves, for loyal subjects, for tractable employees, for willing consumers, for obedient soldiers."  Sound familiar?
  • In Dreams, the composite character "Asante Moran" tells Obama, "The public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social control. Period."  Social control -- no surprise here -- is an Ayers obsession.  "The message to Black people was that at any moment and for any reason whatsoever your life or the lives of your loved ones could be randomly snuffed out," he writes in Fugitive Days.  "The intention was social control through random intimidation and unpredictable violence."
  • To shore up the black base in a book calculated to get Obama elected mayor of Chicago, Obama suggests that the mystery white woman was the only white woman he dated.  "There are several black ladies out there who've broken my heart just as good," Obama tells his half-sister Auma.  This has yet to be proven false, but I doubt if even Maraniss will turn up any of these ladies.

Although I believe Maraniss wrote the Obama book in good faith, too much of what he learned from these two women in question is too convenient.  The events they "remember" fill holes in the Obama narrative much too neatly.  Maraniss has been misled by useful memories of old Obama friends before.  In fact, on the eve of the election in 2008, he misinterpreted one such memory so completely it may have saved Obama's campaign -- but more on this later.  Given Obama's elusiveness, Maraniss should have been more on guard here.  He should have asked out loud why he was allowed to "find" sources no one else, including Obama's most prominent biographer, David Remnick, had. 

When celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen went looking for the mystery woman post-election, he came up with nothing.  "No one," he writes in Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, "including his roommate and closest friend at the time, Siddiqi, knew of this mysterious lover's existence."  Siddiqi apparently regained his memory.  Maraniss writes, "If Barack and Genevieve were in social occasions as a couple, it was almost always with the Pakistanis. ... Sohale Siddiqi was part of the crowd."

Here is what I wrote about this narrative hole in my book Deconstructing Obama: "Given Remnick's list of the allowable ways to interpret Dreams -- verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention, and artful shaping -- I choose 'D' for the mystery woman, 'invention.'  In the absence of any contrary information, best evidence argues for a creation largely of Ayers' contrivance."

Ayers' great lost love, Diana Oughton, a Weatherwoman killed in a 1970 bomb blast, matches the brief description of this woman in Dreams even better than Cook does, right down to the "specks of green" in her eyes and a multi-generational estate with a lake in the middle.  "The house was very old, her grandfather's house," Obama writes of his girlfriend's country home.  "He had inherited it from his grandfather."  In real life, Oughton's father's grandfather built the main house on their estate, a 20-room Victorian mansion, which is now on the national historic register.

Maraniss makes a point to establish that Cook and Obama visit a family house in the country in the fall.  He concedes that it is not her father's house, but her stepfather's, and that Cook has "flecks of brown, not green, in her hazel eyes," but otherwise Cook does seem to fill the bill.  In its inimitably oily way, Media Matters noticed.  The discovery of Cook, the reader is told, undermines "one of the main pieces of 'evidence'" in my book.  Media Matters headlined its article, "The Obama Ex-Girlfriend Conspiracy Inevitably Falls Apart."  My suspicion is that Team Obama green-lit the Cook story expecting the Media Matters spin to prevail, not Politico's.  The White House could not have been pleased with the results.  All the e-mails I received were congratulatory. 

It should be noted too that Cook, an avid diarist, does not produce any diary entries to corroborate the trip to the country.  At least, Maraniss does not share any.  Nor is there a diary entry to back Cook's least credible recollection.  In his memoir, Obama relates a preposterously detailed dream about his father that sets him on his quest to find his roots.  "Genevieve recalled the morning he awoke from that dream," writes Maraniss of a day thirty years prior.  "He woke up from that dream and started talking about it," Cook tells Maraniss.  "I think he was haunted."  This memory is much too useful.  It validates the legitimacy of Obama's quest and gives him full ownership of the book's thesis.

Maraniss writes for the kind of audience that reads Vanity Fair.  Most of them are barely aware that serious questions have been raised about Obama's identity, his origins, and the authorship of his two books.  Maraniss makes no effort to enlighten them.  Unwittingly or otherwise, he immunizes his audience against the charges that will continue to bubble up as we approach November.

Alex McNear, the second and lesser mystery girl, helps shore up the "Obama as writer" myth that got him get elected in 2008.  McNear apparently knew Obama at Occidental College and reconnected with him when she spent the summer of 1982 in New York.  Like Cook, she conveniently kept a "lasting record" of her relationship with Obama, McNear's in the form of 30-year-old letters.  One of these letters from Obama, Maraniss reproduces at length.  Here are some excerpts:

Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he [T. S. Eliot] accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality.

Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.

... but you're pretty pleased, and your stride gets lighter, the slumber slipping off behind you, into the wake of the past.

Graham of the Atlantic dismisses Obama's youthful take on writer T.S. Eliot as "awful, pretentious gibberish," and he is not far off the mark.  But the letter leaves a different first impression on casual readers, as evidenced by this e-mail from a foreign correspondent supportive of my research:

Jack,

reading Obama's letters quoted in  the Vanity Fair article

I wonder whether his share in the writing of Dreams

was not bigger than you (and I) thought.


I still think that the structure of the book points to Ayers

as the main "plotter" and that he is responsible for ideas

like having composite characters. He must have edited

Obama's ramblings and improved on them.

At first glance, I felt the same way this fellow did, and then I noticed a major red flag: the letter is entirely free of the problems with punctuation, noun-verb agreement, and participle use that dog Obama to this day.  From Maraniss's account, Obama's would seem to have written the letter in his senior year at Columbia, the same year he wrote the one fully documented writing sample from that era, his 1,800-word article for the Columbia Sundial, "Breaking the War Mentality."  Let me cite just a couple of quick samples from this article with commentary:

The belief that moribund institutions, rather than individuals are at the root of the problem, keep SAM's energies alive.

This is one of an incredible five sentences in the piece in which the noun and verb do not agree.  This should read, "The belief ... keeps SAM's energies alive."  The random use of commas throws everything off.  Plus, the word choice sucks all logic out of the sentence.  The reader is told that these institutions are "moribund" -- that is, "nearly dead."  How their debilitated state keeps the "energies" of the Students Against Militarism (SAM) "alive" is not exactly clear.

Regarding Columbia's possible compliance, one comment in particular hit upon an important point with the Solomon bill.

The subject of "hit upon," not an apt verb to begin with, should have been a person, not a "comment."  Obama did not understand participle use.

What members of ARA and SAM try to do is infuse what they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jefferson, and Whitman, to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part.

I went back and reread the hard copy on this sentence to make sure it had not been deformed when digitized.  This, alas, reads as weirdly as written.  "Infuse" is the wrong word.  One infuses something "into" something else.  There should be an "and" after "situation," not a comma.  Obama utterly mangles the "bring to bear" phrase.  It should read something like "bring the words of those formidable men on the face of the Butler Library -- Thoreau, Jefferson, Whitman -- to bear."  As to how or whether we are part of a "twisted logic," I will leave that to the reader's imagination.

These same grammatical problems surface in Obama's awkward 1988 article "Why Organize" and in a published letter on affirmative action he later wrote while a student at Harvard Law.  They continue to show up in his spoken words today.  The letter that Maraniss reproduces, by contrast, is exquisitely punctuated and free of all such errors.  The author of the letter even uses his or her participles correctly. 

Given the questions around Obama's writing skills and the fact that Team Obama has been credibly accused of forging a birth certificate, Maraniss owes his reader some proof of this letter's legitimacy.  He should tell us whether he saw a hard copy of the letter, whether it was typed or hand-written, and why it reads so much better than Obama's published work of the same period.

Maraniss has been down this road before.  In a lengthy biographical piece on Obama for the Washington Post in August 2008, Maraniss mistakenly shored up the myth of a happy little Obama family, the myth on which Obama built his candidacy.  Maraniss did so by relying on the testimony of Susan Botkin, a childhood friend of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham.  In the process, he made an amateurish botch of the timeline of Obama's early years.

As Maraniss acknowledges, Obama Sr. left Hawaii for the mainland and ultimately Harvard in June 1962.  Maraniss implies that the family had been living together since Obama's birth in August 1961.  Based on Botkin's testimony, Maraniss contends that Dunham stopped by Seattle in the fall of 1962 on her way to visit her presumed husband at Harvard.  Botkin reportedly tells Maraniss, "[She said] he had transferred to grad school and she was going to join him."   Maraniss adds, "But as Botkin and others later remembered it, something happened in Cambridge, and Stanley Ann returned to Seattle. They saw her a few more times, and they thought she even tried to enroll in classes at the University of Washington, before she packed up and returned to Hawaii."

Other earlier interviews with Botkin, one of which was posted online, yield a much clearer picture.  In these, Ann had come to visit "briefly" with Barry at Botkin's family home.  Botkin placed the time as "a late August afternoon" in 1961 "when Barry was just a few weeks old," and she claimed to have changed Barry's diaper.  

In April 2008, Botkin told the Seattle Times that Ann was excited about her husband's plans to return not to Harvard, but to Kenya.  Botkin said the same thing to writer Michael Patrick Leahy, who interviewed her early in the summer of 2008.  Here, too, Botkin adds a clarifying detail: "[Dunham] left [Hawaii] just as soon she had clearance from her doctor to travel with her new baby." 

As Botkin acknowledged in several interviews, she never saw her friend again.  The visit at Botkin's mother's house had to be in 1961, a year before Barack Sr. left for Harvard.  Dunham arrived in Seattle in August 1961 and stayed for a year, enrolling at the University of Washington.  Obama would not see Obama Sr. until he was ten.

What Maraniss needs to do is explain whether he was misled by Botkin or whether he willfully misinterpreted what she told him.  He also should reveal whether he actually saw the letters that Dunham allegedly sent Botkin detailing her romance with Obama Sr., the only such proof of the same.  If Maraniss can correct the record on Obama's origins and tell us a little more about those heart-breaking "black ladies out there," I may even buy the book.

Within hours after Dylan Byers of Politico created a mini-firestorm on Wednesday with the article titled "Obama: 'New York girlfriend' was composite," David Graham of the Atlantic had all but smothered the flames with his article, "Obama's Composite Girlfriend: How Politico and Drudge Created Fake News."

Graham argued that since Obama owned up to using composite characters in the forward of the book in question, his 1995 memoir, Dreams from My Father, there was nothing shady about the practice.  Not surprisingly, Graham overlooked the real problem.  So did Byers.  So did veteran Washington Post reporter David Maraniss, whose forthcoming book, Obama: The Story, ignited the controversy when it was excerpted in Vanity Fair.  No, the real problem with Dreams is the inexcusable dishonesty throughout the book.  The promiscuous use of composites is merely a symptom of the larger problem.

In the Vanity Fair excerpt, Maraniss profiles two former Obama girlfriends, heretofore unknown to Obama fans.  One of them, the Australian Genevieve Cook, seems to have provided most of the grist for Obama's white "mystery woman," the only girlfriend mentioned in Dreams -- and she only briefly.

"Like many characters in the memoir," says Maraniss of Cook, "[Obama] introduced her to advance a theme, another thread of thought in his musings about race."  What Maraniss does not say, and may not know, is that most, if not all, of the dramatic racial moments in the book are fully manufactured. 

With the help of his muse and co-author, Bill Ayers, Obama wove a series of racial grievances into the narrative to toughen up Obama's life story.  These stories aren't "compressed," as Obama claims.  They are contrived.  In his own memoir, Fugitive Days, Ayers likewise shows a casual disdain for facts.  "Is this then the truth?" he asks.  "Not exactly. Although it feels entirely honest to me."  When lesser memoirists do the same -- James Frey of A Million Little Pieces fame comes quickly to mind -- they get trashed on national TV by Oprah.

In the case of composite girl, for instance, Obama tells of how their relationship came to a bitter end over her failure to understand black angst.  "We had a big fight, right in front of the theater, writes Obama.  "When we got back to the car she started crying. She couldn't be black, she said."  Cook denies that this ever happened.

As Obama later explained to Maraniss, "I thought that [the anecdote] was a useful theme to make about sort of the interactions that I had in the relationships with white girlfriends."  Frey felt much the same way.  "A memoir literally means my story.  A memoir is a subjective retelling of events," he protested, adding,  "I never expected the book to come under the type of scrutiny that it has."  When Obama used the theater story in Dreams, he never expected this kind of scrutiny, either.  At the time, no one beyond his neighborhood knew who Obama was.  Nor did Obama expect scrutiny when he shared in Dreams the following racial life lessons, all of which have since been proven false (For a fuller accounting, see Friday's WND):

  • As a nine year-old, he saw in Life magazine a story about a black man turned grotesquely white in a desperate chemical effort to lighten his appearance.  Life never ran such an article.  When challenged, Obama claimed that it was EbonyEbony ran no such article, either.
  • In his first days at his Hawaiian prep school, Obama shamefully rejects "Coretta," the only other black student, lest he be tainted by her blackness.  Obama biographer David Remnick found the girl.  She had no such memory.  "He was my knight in shining armor," she gushed.  In his book, A Kind and Just Parent, Ayers tells much the same story.  He talks of a useful reading assignment about the travails of Clint, one of two black students in an otherwise all-white school, who rudely tries to distance himself from Marvin, the other black boy.  Like Obama, Clint feels guilty on reflection.
  • After Columbia, Obama worked for what he describes in Dreams as "a consulting house to multinational corporations."  He observes, "As far as I could tell I was the only black man in the company."  In full grievance mode, he considers his unique status "a source of shame."  A former coworker (and fan) revealed Obama's account to be a "serious exaggeration."  It was not a multinational corporation, but a "small company that published newsletters."  Obama was not the only black.  He did not, as claimed, have his own office, wear a jacket and tie, interview international businessmen, or write articles.
  • In Dreams, "Frank," the real-life Communist Frank Marshall Davis, slams college education.  "Understand something, boy," he tells the college-bound Obama.  You're not going to college to get educated. You're going there to get trained."  Adds Frank, "They'll train you so good, you'll start believing what they tell you about equal opportunity and the American way and all that shit."  Davis would never say this.  In his memoir, Livin the Blues, he tells of the richly rewarding years he spent at Kansas State University: its "beautiful" campus, its "usually agreeable" students, its "excellent" journalism department.  Later, he would see open-minded white college students as the hope for America's racial future.  His college poetry-reading tours on the mainland in 1973 and 1974 were huge successes.  It was Ayers who had the grudge against orthodox education.  "Education is for self-activating explorers of life, for those who would challenge fate, for doers and activists, for citizens," he writes in his 1993 book To Teach.  "Training," on the other hand, "is for slaves, for loyal subjects, for tractable employees, for willing consumers, for obedient soldiers."  Sound familiar?
  • In Dreams, the composite character "Asante Moran" tells Obama, "The public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social control. Period."  Social control -- no surprise here -- is an Ayers obsession.  "The message to Black people was that at any moment and for any reason whatsoever your life or the lives of your loved ones could be randomly snuffed out," he writes in Fugitive Days.  "The intention was social control through random intimidation and unpredictable violence."
  • To shore up the black base in a book calculated to get Obama elected mayor of Chicago, Obama suggests that the mystery white woman was the only white woman he dated.  "There are several black ladies out there who've broken my heart just as good," Obama tells his half-sister Auma.  This has yet to be proven false, but I doubt if even Maraniss will turn up any of these ladies.

Although I believe Maraniss wrote the Obama book in good faith, too much of what he learned from these two women in question is too convenient.  The events they "remember" fill holes in the Obama narrative much too neatly.  Maraniss has been misled by useful memories of old Obama friends before.  In fact, on the eve of the election in 2008, he misinterpreted one such memory so completely it may have saved Obama's campaign -- but more on this later.  Given Obama's elusiveness, Maraniss should have been more on guard here.  He should have asked out loud why he was allowed to "find" sources no one else, including Obama's most prominent biographer, David Remnick, had. 

When celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen went looking for the mystery woman post-election, he came up with nothing.  "No one," he writes in Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, "including his roommate and closest friend at the time, Siddiqi, knew of this mysterious lover's existence."  Siddiqi apparently regained his memory.  Maraniss writes, "If Barack and Genevieve were in social occasions as a couple, it was almost always with the Pakistanis. ... Sohale Siddiqi was part of the crowd."

Here is what I wrote about this narrative hole in my book Deconstructing Obama: "Given Remnick's list of the allowable ways to interpret Dreams -- verifiable fact, recollection, recreation, invention, and artful shaping -- I choose 'D' for the mystery woman, 'invention.'  In the absence of any contrary information, best evidence argues for a creation largely of Ayers' contrivance."

Ayers' great lost love, Diana Oughton, a Weatherwoman killed in a 1970 bomb blast, matches the brief description of this woman in Dreams even better than Cook does, right down to the "specks of green" in her eyes and a multi-generational estate with a lake in the middle.  "The house was very old, her grandfather's house," Obama writes of his girlfriend's country home.  "He had inherited it from his grandfather."  In real life, Oughton's father's grandfather built the main house on their estate, a 20-room Victorian mansion, which is now on the national historic register.

Maraniss makes a point to establish that Cook and Obama visit a family house in the country in the fall.  He concedes that it is not her father's house, but her stepfather's, and that Cook has "flecks of brown, not green, in her hazel eyes," but otherwise Cook does seem to fill the bill.  In its inimitably oily way, Media Matters noticed.  The discovery of Cook, the reader is told, undermines "one of the main pieces of 'evidence'" in my book.  Media Matters headlined its article, "The Obama Ex-Girlfriend Conspiracy Inevitably Falls Apart."  My suspicion is that Team Obama green-lit the Cook story expecting the Media Matters spin to prevail, not Politico's.  The White House could not have been pleased with the results.  All the e-mails I received were congratulatory. 

It should be noted too that Cook, an avid diarist, does not produce any diary entries to corroborate the trip to the country.  At least, Maraniss does not share any.  Nor is there a diary entry to back Cook's least credible recollection.  In his memoir, Obama relates a preposterously detailed dream about his father that sets him on his quest to find his roots.  "Genevieve recalled the morning he awoke from that dream," writes Maraniss of a day thirty years prior.  "He woke up from that dream and started talking about it," Cook tells Maraniss.  "I think he was haunted."  This memory is much too useful.  It validates the legitimacy of Obama's quest and gives him full ownership of the book's thesis.

Maraniss writes for the kind of audience that reads Vanity Fair.  Most of them are barely aware that serious questions have been raised about Obama's identity, his origins, and the authorship of his two books.  Maraniss makes no effort to enlighten them.  Unwittingly or otherwise, he immunizes his audience against the charges that will continue to bubble up as we approach November.

Alex McNear, the second and lesser mystery girl, helps shore up the "Obama as writer" myth that got him get elected in 2008.  McNear apparently knew Obama at Occidental College and reconnected with him when she spent the summer of 1982 in New York.  Like Cook, she conveniently kept a "lasting record" of her relationship with Obama, McNear's in the form of 30-year-old letters.  One of these letters from Obama, Maraniss reproduces at length.  Here are some excerpts:

Facing what he perceives as a choice between ecstatic chaos and lifeless mechanistic order, he [T. S. Eliot] accedes to maintaining a separation of asexual purity and brutal sexual reality.

Counter him with Yeats or Pound, who, arising from the same milieu, opted to support Hitler and Mussolini.

... but you're pretty pleased, and your stride gets lighter, the slumber slipping off behind you, into the wake of the past.

Graham of the Atlantic dismisses Obama's youthful take on writer T.S. Eliot as "awful, pretentious gibberish," and he is not far off the mark.  But the letter leaves a different first impression on casual readers, as evidenced by this e-mail from a foreign correspondent supportive of my research:

Jack,

reading Obama's letters quoted in  the Vanity Fair article

I wonder whether his share in the writing of Dreams

was not bigger than you (and I) thought.


I still think that the structure of the book points to Ayers

as the main "plotter" and that he is responsible for ideas

like having composite characters. He must have edited

Obama's ramblings and improved on them.

At first glance, I felt the same way this fellow did, and then I noticed a major red flag: the letter is entirely free of the problems with punctuation, noun-verb agreement, and participle use that dog Obama to this day.  From Maraniss's account, Obama's would seem to have written the letter in his senior year at Columbia, the same year he wrote the one fully documented writing sample from that era, his 1,800-word article for the Columbia Sundial, "Breaking the War Mentality."  Let me cite just a couple of quick samples from this article with commentary:

The belief that moribund institutions, rather than individuals are at the root of the problem, keep SAM's energies alive.

This is one of an incredible five sentences in the piece in which the noun and verb do not agree.  This should read, "The belief ... keeps SAM's energies alive."  The random use of commas throws everything off.  Plus, the word choice sucks all logic out of the sentence.  The reader is told that these institutions are "moribund" -- that is, "nearly dead."  How their debilitated state keeps the "energies" of the Students Against Militarism (SAM) "alive" is not exactly clear.

Regarding Columbia's possible compliance, one comment in particular hit upon an important point with the Solomon bill.

The subject of "hit upon," not an apt verb to begin with, should have been a person, not a "comment."  Obama did not understand participle use.

What members of ARA and SAM try to do is infuse what they have learned about the current situation, bring the words of that formidable roster on the face of Butler Library, names like Thoreau, Jefferson, and Whitman, to bear on the twisted logic of which we are today a part.

I went back and reread the hard copy on this sentence to make sure it had not been deformed when digitized.  This, alas, reads as weirdly as written.  "Infuse" is the wrong word.  One infuses something "into" something else.  There should be an "and" after "situation," not a comma.  Obama utterly mangles the "bring to bear" phrase.  It should read something like "bring the words of those formidable men on the face of the Butler Library -- Thoreau, Jefferson, Whitman -- to bear."  As to how or whether we are part of a "twisted logic," I will leave that to the reader's imagination.

These same grammatical problems surface in Obama's awkward 1988 article "Why Organize" and in a published letter on affirmative action he later wrote while a student at Harvard Law.  They continue to show up in his spoken words today.  The letter that Maraniss reproduces, by contrast, is exquisitely punctuated and free of all such errors.  The author of the letter even uses his or her participles correctly. 

Given the questions around Obama's writing skills and the fact that Team Obama has been credibly accused of forging a birth certificate, Maraniss owes his reader some proof of this letter's legitimacy.  He should tell us whether he saw a hard copy of the letter, whether it was typed or hand-written, and why it reads so much better than Obama's published work of the same period.

Maraniss has been down this road before.  In a lengthy biographical piece on Obama for the Washington Post in August 2008, Maraniss mistakenly shored up the myth of a happy little Obama family, the myth on which Obama built his candidacy.  Maraniss did so by relying on the testimony of Susan Botkin, a childhood friend of Obama's mother, Ann Dunham.  In the process, he made an amateurish botch of the timeline of Obama's early years.

As Maraniss acknowledges, Obama Sr. left Hawaii for the mainland and ultimately Harvard in June 1962.  Maraniss implies that the family had been living together since Obama's birth in August 1961.  Based on Botkin's testimony, Maraniss contends that Dunham stopped by Seattle in the fall of 1962 on her way to visit her presumed husband at Harvard.  Botkin reportedly tells Maraniss, "[She said] he had transferred to grad school and she was going to join him."   Maraniss adds, "But as Botkin and others later remembered it, something happened in Cambridge, and Stanley Ann returned to Seattle. They saw her a few more times, and they thought she even tried to enroll in classes at the University of Washington, before she packed up and returned to Hawaii."

Other earlier interviews with Botkin, one of which was posted online, yield a much clearer picture.  In these, Ann had come to visit "briefly" with Barry at Botkin's family home.  Botkin placed the time as "a late August afternoon" in 1961 "when Barry was just a few weeks old," and she claimed to have changed Barry's diaper.  

In April 2008, Botkin told the Seattle Times that Ann was excited about her husband's plans to return not to Harvard, but to Kenya.  Botkin said the same thing to writer Michael Patrick Leahy, who interviewed her early in the summer of 2008.  Here, too, Botkin adds a clarifying detail: "[Dunham] left [Hawaii] just as soon she had clearance from her doctor to travel with her new baby." 

As Botkin acknowledged in several interviews, she never saw her friend again.  The visit at Botkin's mother's house had to be in 1961, a year before Barack Sr. left for Harvard.  Dunham arrived in Seattle in August 1961 and stayed for a year, enrolling at the University of Washington.  Obama would not see Obama Sr. until he was ten.

What Maraniss needs to do is explain whether he was misled by Botkin or whether he willfully misinterpreted what she told him.  He also should reveal whether he actually saw the letters that Dunham allegedly sent Botkin detailing her romance with Obama Sr., the only such proof of the same.  If Maraniss can correct the record on Obama's origins and tell us a little more about those heart-breaking "black ladies out there," I may even buy the book.

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