Ohio State Prof: Obama Denies Writing Dreams From My Father

Bruce Heiden, professor of Greek and Latin at The Ohio State University, makes the fascinating claim in his website "The Postliberal" that Barack Obama agrees with my assertion that he did not actually write his own memoir, Dreams From My Father.  Heiden finds his evidence in the 1995 Introduction to the book..  Says Heiden:

According to Obama, he did some writing on another book, not a memoir but "an essay on the limits of civil rights litigation in bringing about racial equality" (xiii; all citations refer to the 2004 paperback edition). This book was never finished, and it doesn't exist. Obama says that his work on the "civil rights litigation" project was aborted by personal memories that forced themselves upon him: "I found my mind pulled..." (xiv). But he doesn't say how these memories turned into the book Dreams from My Father. In particular, he doesn't say he wrote the book. He says that Dreams "found its way onto these pages" (xvi).

As shall be seen, Heiden's analysis is cute but not too cute.  Although he does not address the issue of Bill Ayers' likely involvement, Ayers deserves a critic like Heiden, one who is willing to finesse his way gleefully through Ayers' fun house mirrors.  Ayers is nothing if not spooky, and he never hesitates to boast about it. "Memory is a delicate dance of desire and faith, " he tells us in Fugitive Days, "a shadow of a shadow, an echo of a sigh. We cheat. We steal. We remember in our favor."  The Obama of Dreams has learned evasiveness at the side of a master.

Although Obama devotes his 1995 Introduction to relating where Dreams came from, he says not a word about actually writing it. According to Heiden, Obama accepted the role of writer only after publishers insisted he was one.  Heiden describes the process:

"[Obama] did not exactly agree to write a book, but rather to do some writer-like things, that is, to clear his agenda for time to write, and ‘put thoughts to paper'. Would the transition of thoughts to paper involve words?"

Not surprisingly, Obama can never bring himself to say any more about the actual writing process than the curiously passive, "What has found its way onto these pages is a record of a personal, interior journey."

Heiden finds the Preface to the 2004 reissue even stranger than the 1995 introduction, especially since the two run back to back in the 2004 edition   In the 2004 Preface, Obama says he "went to work" on Dreams, but he still does not say that he wrote it.  "Obama's narrative then skips straight from ‘went to work,'" says Heiden, "to the completed book's publication."  This review cannot do just justice to Heiden's sophisticated and often amusing deconstruction of Obama's work, here summarized in one dazzling sentence:

As Obama tells it, his authorship of Dreams was miraculous, because although he lacked the writing skill to be the author of anything, and he didn't want to be the author of a memoir, and he resisted becoming the author of a memoir, and he tried in vain to become the author of a different kind of book, and he never had an idea of being the author of anything until one or several publishers had the idea first and he agreed to accept the opportunity they offered to be an author, and even then he only considered himself an author as long as his publisher was selling his book, after which he reverted back to a complete non-author, reverted so completely that he wasn't even moved to reread his book when political opponents were using it against him--because, in short, despite all the reasons Obama gives why he couldn't have written a book like Dreams from My Father, and despite the fact that, according to Obama's account, he didn't write Dreams from My Father, nevertheless Dreams from My Father somehow "found its way" onto the page with Barack Obama's name under the title as the author. That's a miracle. It couldn't have happened.

Heiden describes this chain of events as "a miracle."  He adds, "It couldn't have happened. So I infer that what Obama's fantastically unbelievable story probably means is that Obama did not write Dreams from My Father. He obfuscates the truth, but he does not completely bury it with an outright lie like, ‘I wrote Dreams from My Father.'"

As President Clinton proved, so much in progressive America ultimately depends on what the definition of "is" is.