It surprised me to learn that David Remnick had dedicated three pages of his comprehensive new Obama biography, The Bridge
, to my thesis
that Bill Ayers helped Barack Obama write Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father.
It will surprise Remnick even more to learn that he has unwittingly reinforced a thesis that he set out to discredit.
I stumbled on the reference to yours truly rather by accident. I was searching the index to see what Remnick had to say about Bill Ayers and found the first mention on page 253 in this intriguing context, “The true author of Obama’s book, Jack Cashill suggested, was likely Bill Ayers.”
The reference to me, I quickly discovered, is not a kind one. In the way of credentials, Remnick allows me no discernible Ph.D. in American studies, no Fulbright, no articles in Fortune or the Wall Street Journal, no well-received book on intellectual fraud, no books at all.
Instead, Remnick describes me a “little-known conservative writer, magazine editor, and a former talk-radio-show host.” The “little-known” stands in obvious contrast to the well-known, Princeton-educated, Washington Post-groomed New Yorker editor Remnick. The “talk-radio” I did as a sideline more than ten years ago. Remnick intends the reference as a slight.
More damning still, I have done my writing for “right-wing Web sites, including American Thinker and World Net Daily,” obscure dwarf stars in the “Web’s farthest lunatic orbit.” (FYI, the American Thinker editors have better credentials than Remnick or I.) Having reassured his cocoon-mates that I am not to be taken seriously, Remnick reduces the 20,000 or so words I have spent on textual comparisons to three patronizing sentences and dismisses all of it.
Remnick likewise spares his cocoon the research Christopher Andersen had done on Dreams. In his bestseller, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage, Andersen spends six pages confirming my thesis through boots-on-the-ground reporting. “Thanks to help from the veteran writer Ayers,” writes Andersen in summary, “Barack would be able to submit a manuscript to his editors at Times Books.”
Remnick ignores Andersen completely. He is in good company. Of the scores of Andersen’s mainstream reviewers, not a single one addressed Andersen’s most newsworthy revelation, not even to challenge it. To his credit, Remnick understands just how newsworthy that revelation should have been. “This was a charge,” he writes of the fraud accusation, “that if ever proved true, or believed to be true among enough voters, could have been the end of the candidacy.”
This “libel,” Remnick tells us, had a “diabolic potency,” and the devil himself — Rush Limbaugh — was spreading it. Remnick quotes Limbaugh’s October 10, 2008 discussion of my book at length. The Limbaugh quote reads in part:
There is no evidence that [Obama] has any kind of writing talent. We haven’t seen anything he wrote at Harvard Law, or when he was at Columbia, or any tests that he’s written. But if you read his books, if you listen to the audio reading of the book here, you don’t hear this when Obama goes out and speaks.
Remnick cannot resist the progressive urge to race-bait. True to form, he reminds his audience of “the ugly pedigree” of my and Limbaugh’s “racist insinuation.” Given the nastiness of the charge, one would have expected him to supply some supportive evidence. He doesn’t. Ironically, all the new information that Remnick does provide serves only to strengthen my argument.
In his 600-plus pages of surprisingly lifeless prose — Ayers is the better writer — Remnick does, at least, find his way into certain corners of Obama’s life that the media had not previously penetrated. Among these are the New York years, about which Obama had declined even the New York Times’ “repeated requests” for information. Post-election, Remnick makes a little more headway.
At Columbia, Remnick tells us, Obama was an “unspectacular” student. Northwestern University communications professor John McKnight reinforces the point, telling Remnick, “I don’t think [Obama] did too well in college.”
McKnight, a Chicago friend, wrote a letter of reference for Obama to attend Harvard Law School. Remnick assures us that Obama was a “serious” student at Columbia, just not a particularly good one. Still, Obama finessed his way into a law school that chooses its 500 new students each year from 7,000 applicants whose LSAT scores generally chart in the 98th to 99th percentile range and whose GPAs average between 3.80 and 3.95. How this “unspectacular” student got in is a mystery that Remnick chooses not to explore. As to Obama’s LSAT scores, Jimmy Hoffa’s body may well be discovered before those are.
Obama certainly did not write well when he was at Columbia. Remnick charitably describes the one article Obama wrote for Columbia’s weekly news magazine, Sundial, as “muddled,” and he is referring only to the content. The grammar is worse. As I have previously noted
, in his 1800-word, article Obama manages an appalling five noun-verb mismatches, and the punctuation is equally capricious.
Still, like millions of other Americans, Obama saw himself as a would-be novelist. Unfortunately, as Jerry Kellman, the organizer who recruited Obama to Chicago, informed Remnick, “[Obama] told me that he had trouble writing, he had to force himself to write.”
After leaving for Harvard Law in 1988, Obama returned to Chicago in 1991, where he signed on at the law firm of Davis Miner. There he worked as a full-time associate until he launched his state senate campaign in 1995. During those same years, Obama also taught classes at Chicago University Law School — not as a professor, as Obama claimed during the campaign, but as a lecturer. Despite the fudge, Remnick makes a point of detailing how thorough and meticulous Obama was as both lawyer and teacher. Still, for all of Obama’s presumed literary talents, it strikes even Remnick a bit strange that “he never published a single academic article.”
In 1991, Obama also began to work in earnest on the book that he had contracted to write for Poseidon, an imprint of Simon & Schuster. “The advance was reportedly over a $100,000,” Remnick writes. “Obama received half of that amount on signing the contract.”
By 1991, Obama had met Michelle, and the two indulged in a social life that would have left Scarlett O’Hara dizzy. Writes Remnick, “He and Michelle accepted countless invitations to lunches, dinners, cocktail parties, barbecues, and receptions for right minded charities.” Obama also joined the East Bank Club, a combined gym and urban country club, and served on at least a few charitable boards.
Obama’s obligations were taking their toll. “Obama had missed deadlines and handed in bloated, yet incomplete drafts,” Remnick tells us. Simon & Schuster lost patience. In late 1992, weeks after the Obamas’ marriage, the firm canceled the contract.
Not surprisingly, Remnick skips some of the details that Andersen included, like how Obama had spent $75,000 of the advance and could not pay it back. According to Andersen, the publisher let Obama keep the money only after he pled poverty due to “massive student loan debt.”
At the time, the Obamas, still childless, were making well into six figures between them as they partied their way through progressive Chicago’s frenzied social life. According to Remnick, Bill Ayers and weatherwoman bride Bernadine Dohrn played a highly visible role in that life. Remnick calls them collectively the “Elsa Maxwell of Hyde Park.”
After his agent secured Obama a smaller contract with the Times Books division of Random House, Barack decamped to Bali — Bali? — in early 1993 in the hope that he would be able to finish the book without interruption. The sojourn proved fruitless. He still could not produce.
Remnick papers over the two years between Bali and the book’s 1995 publication. He quotes Henry Ferris, the Times Book editor, to bolster Obama’s claim to authorship. Ferris “worked directly with Obama,” Remnick tells us, but Ferris edited in New York while Obama wrote in Chicago. Ferris would have had no way of knowing just how much of the editing or writing Obama was doing himself.
In late 1994, Obama finally submitted his manuscript for publication. Remnick expects the faithful to believe that a mediocre student who had nothing in print save for the occasional “muddled” essay, who blew a huge contract after more than two futile years, who wrote no legal articles, and who turned in bloated drafts when he did start writing, somehow found the time and inspiration during an absurdly busy period of his life to write what Time Magazine would call “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”
In his New York Times review of The Bridge,
Gary Wills argues, “The art with which the book is constructed to serve his deepest personal needs shows how ludicrous is the charge of Rush Limbaugh and others that he did not write it.” No, Gary, the “art” betrays the fraud. Obama’s muse whispered in his own voice
, not in Obama’s.
The defense of Obama by Wills and Remnick should not surprise. As I discovered five years ago in the research for my book, Hoodwinked, America’s intellectual elite has been crafting and enabling intellectual fraud for nearly a century. “Not unnaturally,” I wrote, “people of influence in the cultural establishment are inclined to promote, praise, and protect those creative individuals who think as they do.” The protected, by the way, include people of all colors, genders, and orientations. The protectors usually vote, sound, and condescend just like Wills and Remnick.
By any standard, Andersen’s account of Dreams‘ publication rings truer than Remnick’s. As Andersen tells it, Obama found himself deeply in debt and “hopelessly blocked.” At “Michelle’s urging,” Obama “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.” What attracted the Obamas were “Ayers’s proven abilities as a writer.” Obama had already taped interviews with many of his relatives, both African and American. A tellingly specific sentence in Andersen’s account is the one that follows: “These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.”
Jack Cashill’s latest book is Popes and Bankers.