Middle East studies in the News
Obama Didn't Write 'Dreams from My Father' [incl. Rashid Khalidi]
The emergence of a previously unseen writing sample proves all but conclusively that Barack Obama did not in any meaningful way write "Dreams from My Father," the book Time Magazine has called "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."
The emergence of a second writing sample, this one by a legitimate author, provides convincing evidence as to who did.
In 1990, the University of Illinois at Springfield published a collection of essays called "After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois." Obama contributed a chapter, titled: "Why Organize? Problems and Promise in the Inner City."
The year 1990, by the way, was when Obama, the newly elected president of the Harvard Law Review, received a six-figure advance from Simon & Schuster to write what would become "Dreams from My Father."
The publishers must not have read "Why Organize?" Although the essay covers many of the issues raised in "Dreams" and uses some of the memoir's techniques, it does so without a hint of style, sophistication or promise.
Indeed, the essay is clunky, pedestrian and wonkish – a B- paper in a freshman comp class. The following two excerpts capture Obama's range, or lack thereof:
Moreover, such approaches can and have become thinly veiled excuses for cutting back on social programs, which are anathema to a conservative agenda.
But organizing the black community faces enormous problems as well … and the urban landscape is littered with the skeletons of previous efforts.
These cliché-choked sentences go beyond the merely unpromising to the fully ungrammatical. "Organizing" does not "face." "Efforts" do not leave "skeletons." "Agendas" do not have "anathemas."
In "Why Organize?" Obama makes use of the fully recreated conversation, a technique used to somewhat better effect in "Dreams." Here, his ungainly conjuring of black speech makes one cringe:
"I just cannot understand why a bright young man like you would go to college, get that degree and become a community organizer."
"'Cause the pay is low, the hours is long, and don't nobody appreciate you."
Obama asks us to believe that five years later, without any additional training, he was capable of writing passages like the following from "Dreams":
Winter came and the city turned monochrome-black trees against gray sky above white earth. Night now fell in midafternoon, especially when the snowstorms rolled in, boundless prairie storms that set the sky close to the ground, the city lights reflected against the clouds.
To read "Why Organize?" in its entirety is to understand the fraud that is Obama, the literary genius. As the reader will see, one does not need forensic software to sense the limits of Obama's skills.
Farrakhan suggested he would keep a low profile in the campaign, despite his enthusiasm for Obama.
Allow me to reconstruct how Obama transformed himself in a few short years from an awkward amateur into what the New York Times has called "that rare politician who can write … and write movingly and genuinely about himself."
There is an element of speculation in this reconstruction, but new evidence continues to narrow the gap between the speculative and the conclusive.
One clue comes from an unexpected source: Rashid Khalidi, the radical Arab-American friend of Obama's and reputed ally of the Palestinian Liberation Organization.
In the acknowledgment section of his 2004 book, "Resurrecting Empire," Khalidi pays tribute to his own literary muse, the man who has made "unrepentant" a household word, Bill Ayers.
Writes Khalidi, "Bill was particularly generous in letting me use his family's dining room table to do some writing for the project." Khalidi did not need the table. He had one of his own. He needed the help.
Khalidi had spent several years at Chicago University's Center for International Studies. At a 2003 farewell dinner on the occasion of his departure from Chicago, Obama toasted him, thanking him and his wife for the many dinners they had shared as well as for his "consistent reminders to me of my own blind spots and my own biases."
Chicago's Hyde Park was home to a tight, influential radical community at whose center was the charismatic Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn. In this world, the Ayers' terrorist rap sheet only heightened their reputation. Obama had to know.
The couple had given up revolution in 1980 for the long, slow march through the institutions. By 1994, if not earlier, Ayers saw a way to quicken that march.
(Column continues below)
I believe that after failing to finish his book on time, and after forfeiting his advance from Simon & Schuster, Obama brought his sprawling, messy, sophomoric manuscript to the famed dining room table of Bill Ayers and said, "Help."
With all due respect to Sarah Palin, Obama likely saw Ayers and Dohrn less as "pals" and more as parents. Dohrn and Obama's mother, Ann Dunham, were born the same year, 1942.
In fact, as young women, the two looked enough alike that I had to double check before disproving that a photo floating around the Internet of Dohrn with Ayers was not a photo of Dunham with Ayers.
As to Ayers, envision him as the seafaring Odysseus to Obama's father-hungry Telemachus. By Obama's own admission, "Dreams" would become "a record of a personal, interior journey – a boy's search for his father."
The question is often asked why Obama associated with Ayers. The more appropriate question is why the powerful Ayers would associate with the then-obscure Obama.
Before Obama's ascendancy, it was Ayers who had the connections, the clout and the street cred. Ayers could also write, and write very well. By the mid-1990s he had several books published.
My suspicion is that Ayers saw the potential in Obama, and he chose to mold it. The calculation in "Dreams" is palpable. Nothing about the book would deny a black Democrat the White House. And if "Dreams" were beautifully written, it could launch a career.
As I have documented earlier, one thread that ties Ayers to "Dreams" is the repeated use of maritime metaphors throughout both books, a testament to Ayers' anxious year as a merchant seaman.
There is, however, a deeper thread, namely a shared postmodernist perspective. A serious student of literature, Ayers has written thoughtfully on the role of the first person narrator in the construction of a memoir.
In true postmodernist fashion, Ayers rejects the possibility of an objective, universal truth. He argues instead that our lives are journeys with "narratives" we "construct" and, if we have the will and the power, impose on others.
Thus, "Fugitive Days" is laced with repeated reference to what Ayers calls "our constructed reality." So, curiously, is "Dreams."
"But another part of me knew that what I was telling them was a lie," writes Obama, "something I'd constructed from the scraps of information I'd picked up from my mother."
The evidence strongly suggests that Ayers transformed the stumbling literalist of "Why Organize?" into the sophisticated postmodernist of "Dreams," and he did so not by tutoring Obama, but by rewriting his text.
Ayers' quotes that follow come from an essay of his, "Narrative Push/Narrative Pull." The Obama quotes come from "Dreams":
"The hallmark of writing in the first person is intimacy. … But in narrative the universal is revealed through the specific, the general through the particular, the essence through the unique, and necessity is revealed through contingency."
"And so what was a more interior, intimate effort on my part, to understand this struggle and to find my place in it, has converged with a broader public debate, a debate in which I am professionally engaged … "
"Narrative begins with something to say – content precedes form."
"I understood that I had spent much of my life trying to rewrite these stories, plugging up holes in the narrative …"
"Narrative inquiry can be a useful corrective to all this."
"Truth is usually the best corrective."
"The mind works in contradiction, and honesty requires the writer to reveal disputes with herself on the page."
"Not because that past is particularly painful or perverse but because it speaks to those aspects of myself that resist conscious choice and that – on the surface, at least – contradict the world I now occupy."
The reader must actually see the struggle. It's a journey, not by a tourist, but by a pilgrim.
"But all in all it was an intellectual journey that I imagined for myself, complete with maps and restpoints and a strict itinerary."
"Narrative writers strive for a personal signature, but must be aware that the struggle for honesty is constant."
"I was engaged in a fitful interior struggle. I was trying to raise myself to be a black man in America."
"But that intimacy can trap a writer into a defensive crouch, into airing grievances or self-justification."
"At best, these things were a refuge; at worst, a trap."
Although I cite one example for each, "Dreams" offers many more. There are 10 "trap" references alone and nearly as many for "narrative," "struggle" and "journey."
To be sure, there are other postmodernists in Chicago, but few who write as stylishly and as intelligibly as Ayers. There are fewer who make their dining room tables available to would-be authors, and fewer still who write as poetically about the sea as Obama seems to do.
Of course, too, no one but Ayers got Obama named chair of the multi-million Chicago Annenberg Challenge months before his book was published, and no one else hosted his political debut months afterward, all in the magic year of 1995.
Two years later, in his 1997 book, "A Kind and Just Parent," Bill Ayers walks the reader through his Hyde Park neighborhood and identifies the celebrities therein.
These include Muhammad Ali, "Minister" Louis Farrakhan, the "poet" Gwendolyn Brooks and "writer" Barack Obama.
The "writer" identification seems as forced as the listing of Obama among the notables. It is almost as Ayers were constructing his own narrative, one designed to climax in the White House, one that he may have the will and power to impose on America, truth be damned.
Life is all "a lie" anyhow.Note: Articles listed under "Middle East studies in the News" provide information on current developments concerning Middle East studies on North American campuses. These reports do not necessarily reflect the views of Campus Watch and do not necessarily correspond to Campus Watch's critique.
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