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 Father.
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 hard.
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.
As Obama 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 suburban Chicago.
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."
This 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.
Ayers, however, 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.
The revelation that ordinary Americans were "being turned into monsters" by Vietnam made Ayers' head spin. He writes:
The confrontation in the Fishbowl flowed like a swollen river into the teach-in, carrying me along the cascading waters from room to room, hall to hall, bouncing off boulders.
In Dreams, Obama had a remarkably similar information overload when inquiring about his family to his African relatives:
I heard all our voices begin to run together, the sound of three generations tumbling over each other like the currents of a slow-moving stream, my questions like rocks roiling the water, the breaks in memory separating the currents. . . .
If the same person did not write these last two examples, I will eat my keyboard. As I have written before, the former merchant seaman Ayers has a fondness for water imagery and nautical metaphors. It should not surprise then when Obama arrives in Chicago "fourteen years later" as an adult (145) the first image that strikes him is that of the boats "out of their moorings, their distant sails like the wings of dove across Lake Michigan."
My citation of these nautical metaphors maddens critics of this research. Writes blogger "Acephalous":
Just because Ayers and Obama both use words that relate to the sea ("fog, mist, ships, seas, boats, oceans, calms, captains, charts, first mates, storms, streams, wind, waves, anchors, barges, horizons, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, currents, and things howling, fluttering, knotted, ragged, tangled, and murky") doesn't mean that Ayers ghostwrote for Obama or that either are directly indebted to Homer.
In fact, no detail by itself proves Ayers' involvement, but the cumulative details overwhelm the open-minded. By the way, Obama first arrived in Chicago thirteen years after his presumed 1972 visit, not fourteen. This seems like little more than a careless data transmission between co-authors.
While driving around town after first arriving, Obama found himself sharing magically in the black oversoul:
I remembered the whistle of the Illinois Central, bearing the weight of the thousands who had come up from the South so many years before; the black men and women and children, dirty from the soot of the railcars, clutching their makeshift luggage, all making their way to Canaan Land.
In 1988, Obama had tried to voice a similar cultural memory in a clunky, pedestrian essay called "Why Organize." This excerpt likely does capture the real voice of Obama:
Through the songs of the church and the talk on the stoops, through the hundreds of individual stories of coming up from the South and finding any job that would pay, of raising families on threadbare budgets, of losing some children to drugs and watching others earn degrees and land jobs their parents could never aspire to . . . .
"Threadbare budgets?" It is remarkable how much better a writer Obama would become in the next few years.
The two pages in question end with a sentence that I will leave for others to interpret: "I imagined Frank in a baggy suit and wide lapels, standing in front of the old Regal Theater."
Ah yes, "Frank."