As King Harvest noted several days ago, there is growing evidence that, indeed, Bill Ayers was a close collaborator if not actual ghost writer of Barack Obama’s memoir Dreams from My Father.
In light of the significant role of the book in promoting Obama’s image to American voters the role of Ayers will come as a shock to the Obama movement. The Obama campaign went out of its way, almost like St. Peter’s three denials of Jesus, to disclaim any serious relationship between the two men. When evidence of their close collaboration in the Chicago School Wars surfaced here on Global Labor (prior name for King Harvest) through the Chicago Annenberg Challenge formed by Ayers and chaired by Obama, the campaign retreated into various stories about when they first met or how many times they actually were in the same room.
But as was pointed out, Ayers would never have approved of Obama as chairman of the Challenge unless he was dead certain of Obama’s willingness to back up the project’s intended goal which was to reinforce Ayers’ side in the School Wars against Mayor Daley.
That meant that Ayers had to have had a close and probably long standing relationship with Obama. Indeed, King Harvest learned that a senior Democratic party activist in the Campaign with regular contact with the candidate confirmed that the relationship went back 20 years or more.
This conclusion has now been reinforced by the statement of the mail man who delivered mail to the home of Tom Ayers, father of Bill, who told King Harvest he met a young Obama outside the home of Tom Ayers in suburban Chicago in the mid-1980s.
Now we have the apparent confirmation by celebrity biographer Christopher Andersen in his new book Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage of Jack Cashill’s provocative analysis of Dreams that suggested that the rhetorical similarities between Ayers’ prolific writings over many years and Dreams, Obama’s only significant written work to that point, are too close to ignore. Cashill interviewed Andersen recently on the The Mancow Show and Andersen confirmed that he had two separate sources, both living in Hyde Park, for the Ayers role in the writing of Dreams.
But Andersen told CNN’s Reliable Sources recently that in spite of what his book seems to say he did not conclude in the book that Ayers actually wrote Dreams.
How can the available evidence be reconciled?
Andersen begins his account with a description of the financial pressure Obama was under to complete the memoir.
Obama had been give a $150,000 advance upon becoming the first black president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review to write his autobiography. He was supposed to finish the ms. in 1991 as he was getting out of law school. But two years after he had spent $75,000 of that money and still had no manuscript.
He and Michelle even decamped to Bali at one point, presumably on the publisher’s dime, to try to loosen Obama’s literary juices.
This may surprise some since there is an impression that Obama is a prolific writer – a reputation burnished by the popularity of Dreams. But Obama appears to have always been a pretty bad writer – at least based on the college era writing that is available.
When one becomes a member of a law review it is often because one intends to submit an article for publication with the hope of helping one’s career as a possible law professor. But Obama wrote only a very short case note and never produced a serious law journal article despite the opportunity to publish with the HLR. And this was in spite of his obvious interest in teaching law, which he did as a non tenure track Senior Lecturer at the University of Chicago Law School for a decade or so.
The original contract was cancelled and his agent secured a second contract for far less money ($40,000) but as of 1994 there was nothing but a pile of notes, some taped interviews and a “partial manuscript,” according to Andersen. Then, Andersen says, at the suggestion of his wife Michelle, Obama turned the whole mess over to his “friend and neighbor” Bill Ayers.
Within a few months a book emerged that was submitted to the publisher and with a few minor changes published as Dreams.
It certainly appears that Ayers wrote the book that Obama was hopelessly unable to thus adding another building block in Obama’s rise to the US Presidency despite the potentially embarrassing relationship with the former terrorist and still stalinist Bill Ayers.
But then Andersen issued his careful denial on CNN in an interview with Howard Kurtz. Kurtz pressed him on the sourcing of the story and Andersen insists that 1) he has sources for everything he did write including the description of Ayers’ role in the Dreams episode; and 2) he did not state in the book that Ayers wrote Dreams.
A careful read of Andersen’s description of what happened indicates that Andersen does, indeed, not say that. Here is a summary of what Andersen did, in fact, write:
1) Obama could not finish the book on his own;
2) Obama handed over to Ayers “a trunkload of notes,” the tapes and a “partial manuscript”;
3) Ayers provided “advice,” “input” and made a “contribution” to the book
4) Ayers “contribution” would be so “significant” that Dreams would bear a “jarring similarity” to Ayers’ own work (a conclusion reinforced in part by reference to the analysis of Cashill)
5) And, finally, thanks to Ayers’ “help” with the effort a manuscript was submitted to the publisher and kept “on track” for publication in early 1995 – just as Ayers was appointing Obama Chairman of the prestigious Annenberg Challenge and just a few months before Obama would launch his first political campaign for Illinois State Senate and Ayers and his wife, fellow former terrorist turned professor, Bernardine Dohrn, would host a campaign event in their Hyde Park home for Obama.
What does this add up to? Well, Andersen is correct that he did not say that Ayers “wrote” Dreams. He has sources it is clear for the fact that the notes and tapes and partially written ms. were turned over to Ayers and that within a relatively short time a book was finished that Obama himself could not complete despite five years of generous financial support from two major publishing houses.
So Andersen says he has all the circumstantial evidence that the “crime” took place but he does not have an on the record source of anyone actually witnessing Ayers physically type out the manuscript. Notably in the CNN interview, Andersen insists that he has 40 years of experience in writing including 29 books and 4 presidential marriage books and that no one has ever “disputed” his sourcing.
He also says despite the effort of CNN interviewer Kurtz to suggest otherwise that the book is in fact a fairly positive portrayal of the Obamas. And, I concur in that. It is positive and it is also impressively sourced – he talked to dozens of major Chicago figures who clearly knew a good deal about Ayers and Obama.
So what is going on here?
I think there is a fairly simple explanation. Andersen knows either from the circumstantial evidence or off the record sources that without Ayers there would be no Dreams. But absent a source willing to state clearly on the record that they saw Ayers write the book – and who would that be other than Ayers, Dohrn or one of the Obamas – he, Andersen, is not going to draw the obvious conclusion himself. No doubt the several pages that he uses to describe this episode were very carefully vetted by the publisher’s lawyers if not by Andersen’s own lawyer. With 40 years of experience under his belt, Andersen knows the rules.
But what is important is that he has established clearly and unequivocally that the raw material for Dreams went to Ayers’ house in Hyde Park and in short order a nearly final manuscript was delivered to the publisher. He notes for example that other writers like Rashid Khalidi, the Palestinian academic, have publicly thanked Ayers for his assistance with their work. Khalidi’s book Resurrecting Empire refers to Ayers’ Hyde Park mansion’s dining room table as a place where he did much of his own writing nearly a decade later. As Cashill wrly notes, Khalidi did not need a table he needed the help, the same kind of help that Obama had needed.
UPDATE: Jack Cashill interviewed Andersen on the conservative radio site Mancow Show and Andersen confirmed that he had two sources for his account other than Cashill.
UPDATE: The blogosphere is alive with debate about the recent comments by Bill Ayers to both National Journal and the Backyard Conservative that he, indeed, did write Dreams. While many suggest that Ayers is just yanking the chain of his critics (hey, who could blame him), a possible explanation is that he is telling the truth. I have not ever seen a published statement by Ayers that he neither wrote nor had any role in Dreams. His comments have been sufficiently ambiguous as to leave some room for doubt.
But now, all of a sudden, in the wake of the publication of Andersen’s book he is stating unequivocally that he did write the book. It is entirely possible that the Obama camp thinks it best to let the actual details of the Ayers/Obama relationship drift out now so that they can, like all radioactivity, decay long before the 2012 campaign. In fact, Andersen may have talked to Ayers and Dohrn about his role. Those may in fact be the two sources Andersen cites in addition to those that are on the record. One can only speculate but Andersen talked on the record to so many people in and around the Obama camp (Newton Minow and Abner Mikva) who would likely not have talked to him without the nod from the Obamas that it may be they also gave Ayers and Dohrn the nod to talk as well, albeit off the record.
Of course Ayers always hedges ever so slightly with the throw away line about the royalties owed him. Perhaps he recalls the large royalty check cut to Ted Sorenson by the Kennedy’s for his work on Profiles in Courage?