February 25, 2011
Jack Cashill's Deconstructing Obama
"Sometimes the truth just isn't good enough." At the climax of Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight, this is the justification that The Batman offers audiences for deceiving the public into believing that it was he who authored the villainy for which, in truth, Gotham City's beloved District Attorney was responsible. Harvey Dent had come to represent "hope" for the future. Believing that its residents needed this hope, even after Dent had reduced it to an illusion, Batman concealed the latter's fall from grace.
"Sometimes the truth just isn't good enough."
In Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of the First Postmodern President, Jack Cashill echoes this sentiment of "the Caped Crusader's," yet, lamentably, the characters to which he speaks are not the stuff of fantasy. And, unlike Nolan's Batman, Cashill invokes it as a justification, not for any deception in which he plans on engaging, but, rather, for that of which Barack Obama and his cohorts are guilty.
The real Obama, you see, just isn't good enough, for he bears few if any similarities to "the Obama myth," as Cashill describes the fiction that an exceedingly Obama-friendly media has labored inexhaustibly to perpetuate. The author has no doubts -- or, if he does, he doesn't express them -- that the real Obama is "a reasonably bright guy"; he is certain, however, that the mythical Obama is "not nearly as 'brilliant' as white liberals thought him to be."
According to Cashill, it is our president's first memoir, Dreams from my Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance, from which this fiction of Obama's unrivaled precociousness springs and which put him on the path to the presidency. The only problem, though, is that Obama played, at best, a subordinate role in its authorship.
This is Cashill's main thesis. Unfortunately for Obama and his followers, he makes a compelling case for it.
As one who has been in the publishing and advertising businesses for over 25 years, Cashill has "reviewed the portfolios of at least a thousand professional writers." He noticed upon his first reading of Dreams that no more than "a half dozen among them wrote as well as the author of the book's best written passages...." The significance of this insight must not pass unnoticed, for not only was Obama not a professional writer, he wasn't much of a writer at all.
That is to say, he wrote remarkably little during his college and graduate school years, and the quality of what he did write pales in comparison to what lies between the covers of Dreams.
Cashill examines two essays that Obama penned, "Breaking the War Mentality" and "Why Organize?" The first was written while Obama was a senior at Columbia University, the second five years later while he was about to attend law school. While the second displays an admittedly "modest improvement" on the first, Cashill spares no ink to demonstrate that, not unlike its predecessor, "Why Organize?" suffers from "many of the same problems -- awkward sentence structure, inappropriate word choice, a weakness for clichés," and "the continued failure to get verbs and nouns to agree." As if things weren't bad enough for "the Obama faithful," this essay -- composed but two short years before he would be elected president of the Harvard Law Review and only five years before the completion of the book that would put him on the map -- has "not a hint of the grace and sophistication of Dreams."
Indeed, considering that in addition to marrying, Obama undertook a variety of other tasks that held up the completion of Dreams for roughly three years, the official account of Obama the gifted author is beyond a little difficult to accept. Alluding to Obama's biographer, David Remnick, Cashill writes:
"Remnick expects the public to take an awful lot on faith: specifically, that a slow writer and sluggish student who had nothing in print save for a couple of ‘muddled' essays, who blew a huge contract after nearly three futile years, who turned in bloated drafts when he did start writing, who had gotten married, and who had taken on an absurdly busy schedule somehow suddenly found his mojo and turned in a minor masterpiece."
He adds: "Obama fans believe this to a person. No one else could."
If Obama didn't write Dreams, then who did? Cashill's answer: Bill Ayers.
This isn't as remotely a far-fetched hypothesis as first glance would suggest. It isn't only Cashill who observes the structural, thematic, and imagistic similarities between Dreams and Ayers' work. As Cashill notes in his introduction, no less a sympathetic Obama biographer than Chris Andersen has also remarked that "literary devices and themes [in Dreams] bear a jarring similarity to Ayers's own writings." And lest one wonders as to who was "borrowing" from whom, Andersen admitted on Hannity that Ayers certainly did "help" Obama with his first memoir.
Of course, Andersen spends not more than six pages on this; the bulk of Cashill's page-turner, however, is a sustained, even riveting, argument that Ayers didn't innocuously "help" Obama with Dreams but, rather, essentially created it.
My enthusiasm for Deconstructing Obama, though, is, regrettably, qualified by some criticisms.
First, the book is misnamed and, thus, its title is not a bit misleading. It isn't that Cashill fails to make all headway in "deconstructing" his subject; but what "deconstruction" occurs doesn't begin until well into the second half of his work. The first half is interesting enough, but it does nothing more than recount why Cashill has his suspicions concerning the authorship of Dreams and how he sought to confirm them. Moreover, the "deconstruction" that transpires in the second half, pertaining largely as it does to Obama's true paternity, insightful as it is, hasn't much at all to do with the argument for Ayers's authorship of Dreams that he makes in the first.
My second criticism of Deconstructing Obama is no less oriented toward its organization than the first, but it contains also a personal component. Cashill is clearly an accomplished writer, and his steely resolve to supply answers to questions that neither Obama's ideological brethren nor, as he himself discloses, those in the "'respectable' conservative media" would so much as remotely approximate, casts beyond doubt that he is as well a man of considerable courage and integrity. It is precisely because of my admiration for his character in both its intellectual and moral dimensions, though, that accounts for my disappointment, however mild, over his decision to include in Deconstructing Obama a chapter titled "Crystal Chaos."
Cashill admits to knowing why "the major media" gave his thesis a "collective shrug." What he couldn't figure out, however, "was why the 'respectable' conservative media (RCM), those with a serious and sober presence in New York and/or Washington, were mimicking the turtle-like defenses of their mainstream peers." Cashill writes that "for whatever reason, they had become cautious to the point of cowardly."
There is no way that someone as astute and savvy as Jack Cashill could be as incredulous as he here sounds. For all of their railing against it, those in the "RCM" are as constrained by "Politically Correct Orthodoxy" as their peers in the so-called "mainstream media." Cashill must know this.
But it isn't primarily what strikes me as a feigned naivete on Cashill's part that detracts from the momentum of his argument. That, perhaps from a desire to prove that he isn't the internet lunatic as the leftist and "conservative" media have depicted him, Cashill seems eager to play to the peanut gallery of just those "'respectable' conservatives" whose "politically correct" prejudices prevented him a hearing at the start. Of course, to do this, he must accommodate those prejudices.
The chapter "Crystal Chaos" begins with reference to a speech that Obama delivered in 2002 at a rally against the war in Iraq, a speech that Cashill characterizes as "sneakily anti-Semitic." The basis for his charge is a single reference that Obama made to "the cynical attempt by Richard Perle and Paul Wolfowitz to shove their own ideological agendas down our throats." Cashill concedes that Obama mentions Karl Rove right along with them, but his identification of the names of "two obscure Jews from within the bureaucracy" that were "in common parlance only on the hard left" rendered it "quietly anti-Semitic...."
Now, the author inserts this episode in his work ostensibly for purposes of strengthening his case for Obama's ineloquence and, more specifically, his reliance upon Bill Ayers and/or some others on "the hard left." Yet the chapter stands out like the proverbial sore thumb, at once gratuitous and futile: gratuitous because its contribution to Cashill's argument is at best negligible; futile because, however often or loudly either he or anyone else on the right accuses their opponents on the left of "anti-Semitism," at the end of the day the effort to prove oneself less "anti-Semitic," "racist," "sexist," or "homophobic" than the leftist is bound to fail.
How could it not? Three out of every four American Jews vote Democrat, and on "the hard left" to which Cashill refers, Jews are legion. Indeed, Ayers's beloved Weather Underground consisted overwhelmingly of Jews, including his wife.
Thankfully, Deconstructing Obama is short on "politically correct" tripe like this and long on substance. My objections aside, Jack Cashill is a patriot deserving of no small degree of praise for the invaluable service he provides to his fellow Americans. Anyone interested in unraveling the myth that is Barack Obama should begin with Cashill's work.