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A Magnificent Bastard?


Senator McCain has begun attacking Senator Obama’s judgment in choosing friends and associates. McCain is echoing the rhetoric employed by running-mate Sarah Palin. A primary component of this tactic is attempting links between Obama and William Ayers.

Left-leaning pundits seem to think this is a pointless exercise for one reason or another. Right-leaning pundits applaud McCain’s move, but feel it is now perhaps too little, too late. And a less-easily labeled element of the typing class writes, “the Ayers connection is too tenuous to be interesting.”

Or is it?

Shy of a confession by those involved, I will not be able to prove conclusively that Obama did not write [Dreams From My Father]. As shall be seen, however, there are only two real possibilities: one is that Obama experienced a near miraculous turnaround in his literary abilities; the second is that he had major editorial help, up to and including a ghostwriter.

The weight of the evidence overwhelming favors the latter conclusion and strongly suggests who that ghostwriter is.

The basis of doubt is that Obama had written essentially zero before his first memoir. And what little Barry had scribed, it sucked. He then managed, without any evidence of intervening practice and skill development, to turn out an acclaimed work of literature.

Once elected president of the Harvard Law Review…Obama contributed not one signed word to the HLR or any other law journal. As Matthew Franck has pointed out in National Review Online, "A search of the HeinOnline database of law journals turns up exactly nothing credited to Obama in any law review anywhere at any time."

A 1990 New York Times profile on Obama's election as Harvard's first black president caught the eye of [literary] agent Jane Dystel. She persuaded Poseidon, a small imprint of Simon & Schuster, to authorize a roughly $125,000 advance for Obama's proposed memoir.

With advance in hand, Obama repaired to Chicago where he dithered. At one point, in order to finish without interruption, he and wife Michelle decamped to Bali. Obama was supposed to have finished the book within a year. Bali or not, advance or no, he could not. He was surely in way over his head.

Did god reach down and pass inspiration through Obama’s fingertip? Perhaps. Somewhat more plausibly, the literary boost was provided by a guy from Barry’s Chicago neighborhood.

I bought Bill Ayers' 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, for reasons unrelated to this project. As I discovered, he writes surprisingly well and very much like "Obama." In fact, my first thought was that the two may have shared the same ghostwriter. Unlike Dreams From My Father, however, where the high style is intermittent, Fugitive Days is infused with the authorial voice in every sentence. What is more, when Ayers speaks, even off the cuff, he uses a cadence and vocabulary consistent with his memoir. One does not hear any of Dreams in Obama's casual speech.

Obama's memoir was published in June 1995. Earlier that year, Ayers helped Obama, then a junior lawyer at a minor law firm, get appointed chairman of the multi-million dollar Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant. In the fall of that same year, 1995, Ayers and his wife, Weatherwoman Bernardine Dohrn, helped blaze Obama's path to political power with a fundraiser in their Chicago home.

In short, Ayers had the means, the motive, the time, the place and the literary ability to jumpstart Obama's career. And, as Ayers had to know, a lovely memoir under Obama's belt made for a much better resume than an unfulfilled contract over his head.

After an examination, the two texts are found to be more similar than one expects by chance. The analyst proposes that Obama provided the substance and Ayers crafted Barry’s reflections into literature. But the evidence is subjective and circumstantial.

None of this, of course, proves Ayers' authorship conclusively, but the evidence makes him a much more likely candidate than Obama to have written the best parts of Dreams.

The Obama camp could put all such speculation to rest by producing some intermediary sign of impending greatness—a school paper, an article, a notebook, his Columbia thesis, his LSAT scores—but Obama guards these more zealously than Saddam did his nuclear secrets.

Thus, we have only a conspiracy theory. Or, a theory to be further tested. Such testing, even if it disproves the Ayers ghostwriting theory, might help pry open the seal on Obama’s political formation. Is Barry his own agent, or is he as much of a political bastard as he is one by condition of birth.