How Author Obama Foreshadowed President Obama
"I've written two books," Senator Barack Obama told a crowd of teachers in Virginia on the campaign trial in July of 2008. The teachers applauded. "I actually wrote them myself," he added with a wink and a nod, and now the teachers exploded in laughter. They got the joke: Republicans were too stupid to write their books.
Although few fussed over Obama's second book, a first-person memoir/ policy brief published in 2006 titled The Audacity of Hope, Obama's 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father had emerged as the sacred text in the cult of Obama "There is no underestimating the importance of Dreams From My Father in the political rise of Barack Obama," David Remnick would later write in his exhaustive look at Obama's life and career, The Bridge.
The only problem, of course, is that Obama did not write either of those books "by myself." He was as incapable of writing those books as he was of guaranteeing that his eponymous health care system would allow millions of individual policyholders to keep the health care plans that they liked. Still, he had no obvious qualms about deceiving the public in either case.
Mendacity was just one of the predictive traits on display in Obama's literary career. As a would-be writer Obama also showed himself to be narcissistic, indecisive, opportunistic, and exploitative -- character flaws that even his allies have come to acknowledge in our forty-fourth president.
Obama owed his literary career to a 1990 New York Times profile on the Harvard Law Review's first black president, a position he attained through an unholy mix of affirmative action and white guilt. The article caught the eye of literary agent Jane Dystel. She submitted a proposal, and Poseidon, a small imprint of Simon & Schuster, authorized a $125,000 advance in November 1990 -- the equivalent of $225,000 today.
With advance in hand, Obama repaired to Chicago where the University of Chicago offered him a stipend, benefits, and an office to help him write what Obama told the administrators would be a book on race and voting rights. When he switched topics to pure memoir, Remnick reported, the University brass were "unfazed."
In the spring of 1992, by accepting an assignment with Project Vote, Obama gave himself still another excuse for not being able to meet his generous, 18-month deadline. Simon & Schuster extended it. In November 1992, he and Michelle married. After their honeymoon, in order to finish without interruption, Obama decamped to Bali for a month. Nothing happened. His friends have been at pains to excuse his inability to honor his contract.
Intimate friend Valerie Jarrett would tell Remnick, "He had to come to terms with some events in his life that some people pays years of therapy to get comfortable revealing." She added, "The writing went slowly because everything was so raw."There is a simpler explanation. The writing went slowly because he was not a writer. The little he had written before Dreams was clunky and amateurish.
Simon & Schuster cancelled the contract and asked for the advance back, but Obama had already spent most of it. According to mainstream biographer Christopher Andersen, author of the Obama-friendly Barack and Michelle: Portrait of a Marriage, 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.
Dystel did not give up. She solicited Times Book, a division of Random House. The publisher met with Obama, took his word that he could finish the book, and authorized a new advance of $40,000. During this same period, Obama was working as a full-time associate at 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.
If these distractions were not burden enough, Obama's Luddite approach to writing slowed him down further. "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," he would later relate to Daphne Durham of Amazon. "Then I'd edit while typing in what I'd written."
Andersen based his account of Dreams' creation on two unnamed sources within Hyde Park-- not on my own literary detective work on the subject. As Andersen told it, Obama found himself deeply in debt and "hopelessly blocked" even after accepting a second contract. 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, Andersen elaborated, "These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers."
In 1995, Dreams sold poorly. In 2004, after Obama's emergence on the national stage, the book turned into a raging bestseller. Obama promptly dumped Dystel, his agent, and signed a seven-figure deal with Crown, using a by-the-hour attorney.
In order to avoid Congressional disclosure and reporting requirements, Obama inked the deal after his election but before being sworn in as senator. To his credit, liberal publisher Peter Osnos publicly scolded Obama for his "ruthlessness" and "his questionable judgment about using public service as a personal payday."
The New York Times' Michiko Kakutani described the second book, Audacity of Hope, "as much more of a political document. Portions of the volume read like outtakes from a stump speech." They sound like "outtakes from a stump speech" precisely because they were, in fact, outtakes from a stump speech. My colleagues and I found 38 passages from Obama speeches delivered in 2005 or 2006 that appear virtually word for word as ordinary text in Audacity.
Of the 38 speech passages, the Obama faithful are forced to believe that Obama wrote all of them. It seems much more likely, however, that young speechwriter Jon Favreau wrote these speeches. Yes, Obama may have dictated his thoughts or written down notes in longhand, but why would he not have given those notes to his gifted, government-issue speechwriter to put into prose?
Then there is the question of time. Despite the onerous workload of a freshman senator, Obama was able to write a 431-page book without any acknowledged writing help in a very narrow window. "He procrastinated for a long time," conceded Remnick.
"His best writing time comes late at night when he's all alone, scribbling on yellow legal pads," wrote the embarrassingly credulous Jay Newton-Small in Time two months before the November 2008 election. "This is how he wrote both of his two best selling books -- Dreams from My Father and The Audacity of Hope -- staying up after Michelle and his two young daughters had long gone to bed, reveling in the late night quiet."
Time Magazine was apparently short-handed on fact checkers. As to Dreams, Obama's oldest daughter was born in 1998, three years after the book was published. As to Audacity, his family may have gone to bed early, but that was in Chicago. Obama was in DC. He came home most weekends, but I cannot imagine the Obamas abandoning their Twelve Oaks social life for book writing.
"He was punching the clock during the day and then coming alive at night to write the book," an unnamed "aide" told an easily satisfied Remnick. He added that facing his deadline, Obama wrote "nearly a chapter a week." The chapters are on average nearly 50 pages long, an extremely difficult assignment even for a good writer with an open schedule, an impossibility for Senator Obama.
The charade of author Obama seems to be unraveling as surely as that of Obama as president. A much-discussed Investors.com editorial last week suggests that the publishers of Bill Ayers's new book, Public Enemy, may be pressuring him to come clean on the authorship question, perhaps to help flagging sales. The always coy Ayers is running out of excuses not to.