JUNE 2012


Searching for Obama, Part 1:

Jack Cashill's Expose: Who wrote Obama's Dreams from My Father ?

By Ronald Bleier

In early 2011 on CSPAN's Book TV program I watched author Jack Cashill present his controversial and startling theory regarding Obama's memoir, Dreams from My Father (1995). Summarizing the findings he set out in his recently published Deconstructing Obama,1 Cashill contended that Obama's memoir was ghostwritten by Bill Ayers. I had heard of Ayers, the former 60's terrorist Weatherman leader whose connection to the candidate was briefly the subject of a potentially damaging campaign issue in Obama's 2008 presidential run. From Cashill I learned that the rehabilitated Ayers is a well-known author and education reformer in Chicago where he was a neighbor to the Obamas.

I had never heard of Jack Cashill who is the author of several books.2 In due course I learned that he is a right-wing activist, and an anti-abortion militant. He devotes a couple of chapters in his book to the efforts he made to publicize his expose hoping to throw Obama's campaign for president into disarray. While his passionate right-wing views were not especially evident in his adroit CSPAN book talk, he makes no bones about his extreme political positions in his book. Indeed, the snarky, self-assured tone of too much of his volume, made for difficult reading

Nevertheless Cashill's work seemed to me a welcome contribution to my search for the motivations and the operative ideology of President Obama. Previously I had no idea that there was any controversy about the authorship of Dreams. But the notion that Obama was concealing important information about his writing more than intrigued me since by 2011, like other former Obama supporters, I was already as disillusioned as I could be regarding the policies and the direction of his presidency. I thought George Soros was on target in June 2011 when he observed that the high point of Obama's presidency was his election and inauguration. I also agreed with a colleague who declared that Obama was a more virulent form of Bush. I reasoned that Obama was more virulent because he was managing to institutionalize some of the worst national security, economic, environmental and other domestic policies of the previous administration.

As I read Cashill's book, it was soon clear that I would have to take into account the author's right wing, anti-Obama proclivity and decide whether his theory would stand up to skeptical observers from the left. Since Cashill's findings are largely based on textual analysis, essentially comparing the writing in Dreams from My Father to writing known to be by Obama, Cashill's verdict must necessarily be subjective, as much an art as a science, and susceptible to his political/ideological bias. Aware of this difficulty, Cashill makes a point of establishing his bona fides as a literary critic. He explains that like those whose expertise enables them to distinguish between "the great from the good in art or music"

I can do just that when it comes to writing. I read a hundred or so nonfiction books a year. I have taught writing of all sorts at all levels. I have a Ph.D. in American studies with a literature emphasis... I write for a living. I have "doctored" books by people you have heard of. And I have recently written a book on literary and intellectual fraud, Hoodwinked by name... I can recognize a literary Eric Clapton often at a glance. Others can do the same, but they have to be willing to look. (pp. 12-13)

Also I found that Cashill's right-wing perspective could, to some extent, actually be useful since his politics would motivate him to explore potentially problematic issues that supporters of Obama would be unlikely to address. I also felt that Cashill's politics would be balanced with his interest in maintaining his credibility with a larger audience. As he puts it, despite his "openly partisan" motivation, he "had no interest in being wrong," and if his research were to reach beyond the "right half of the blogosphere" he would have to be "accurate." (p.78)

Cashill's expose gets a significant boost from best selling biographer Christopher Anderson, the author of, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage (2009). Based on his research and interviews, Anderson provides independent verification that Bill Ayers played a decisive role in shaping Obama's book for publication (see below).

Cashill makes clear that he understands that it is hardly unprecedented for politicians to employ ghostwriters. But in Obama's case, he argues, the issue rises to a more consequent level. For one thing, Obama has at least once publicly insisted that he alone wrote his books. He told a group of teachers in Virginia in July 2008: "I've written two books... I actually wrote them myself," he said, apparently attempting to distinguish himself from ordinary politicians. (p. 3)

The question of authorship in this case is important also because before becoming president, Obama's resume was unusually thin. Without taking anything away from his considerable political and rhetorical skills and the successful management of his campaigns, his opposition turned out to be less than formidable both when he ran and won for U.S. Senator from Illinois in 2004 and for president in 2008. Thus Obama's "presumed literary genius," as Cashill puts it, played a significant role in bolstering his stature in the minds of many of his supporters.

Such was my case, as I had to admit. When he was running for president, Obama's reputation as an exceptional writer led me to consider him as an unusual blend of politician and intellectual. I supported him not least because I thought that he was someone who might be superbly suited to effect the agenda of hope and change that he seemed to promise. I agreed with Cashill's contention that had the issue of the authorship of his memoir surfaced in the respectable media, the controversy might have played a damaging role in his electoral bid.

By the time I saw Cashill's CSPAN presentation, I suspected that my disillusion with the president's politics would only be bolstered by evidence that he required professional help to complete his book. If Obama could insist on pretending to be something he wasn't-in this case, an accomplished writer--I sensed that this deception would color my understanding of his policy choices.

Was Dreams Ghostwritten?

Cashill's belief that Dreams from My Father was ghostwritten is based largely on the discrepancy between the superior quality of its writing-he joins the chorus of those who have praised it highly-he believes it to be a "minor masterpiece,"(p. 14, 73)-- and his finding that nothing in Obama's remarkably thin writing portfolio comes close to that level. In Cashill's view, few "professional writers wrote as well as the author of [Dreams from My Father 's] best passages." (p.12) Yet the only examples of Obama's previous writing that he could find, he argues, don't reach the level of a competent college (or even high school) graduate. There was no evidence, Cashill avers, that Obama had spent the 10,000 hours--according to Maxwell Gladwell's famous rule--that it would take even talented individuals in any discipline to reach professional mastery. (pp. 10-13)

Christopher Anderson also confirms the lack of any significant writing by Obama before he published Dreams. "Beyond jotting down his thoughts and observations over the years, however, he had not really done much writing. At the Harvard Law Review he was only responsible for selecting the articles. His only Review article was an unsigned defense of legalized abortion." (p. 254)3

Cashill's investigation turned up only two pieces of Obama's writing that could be termed of any substance: his senior essay at Columbia and an essay written some five years later: "Why Organize?" (p. 87) both of which he argues are remarkably undistinguished, and so riddled with stylistic and grammatical miscues and blunders that they hardly merited a high school C minus.(See below for Cashill's examples.)4

Cashill believes that Obama's senior essay at Columbia in 1983 represents the "clearest example of Obama's literary DNA."5 Cashill writes that the article, entitled "Breaking the War Mentality," written in 1983 when Obama was 21, when he was completing his senior year at Columbia University, and after spending eight years at Hawaii's best prep school, represents the culmination of his "formal training as a writer." It "is unlikely to the point of impossible," Cashill writes, "that Obama would subsequently improve his skills to the level found in Dreams even if he had worked at it, which he did not." (pp. 161-162)

Cashill spends about five pages in his book detailing what he argues are Obama's errors of grammar, syntax and logic in "Breaking." Cashill lists such elemental grammatical misfires as "five sentences where the noun and verb do not agree," dangling participles, awkward metaphors leading to an "indecipherable mix." Cashill concludes "There is no conceivable way that the author of "Breaking the War Mentality" could have written unaided Dreams from My Father ten years or a hundred years later. (p.166)

Cashill cites fourteen examples from "Breaking the War Mentality" and briefly explains the mistakes he finds in each. I've copied two of his examples. (Cashill italicizes key words for emphasis.)

"Breaking the War Mentality" Selection #1


The more sensitive among us struggle to extrapolate experiences of war from our everyday experience, discussing the latest mortality statistics from Guatemala, sensitizing ourselves to our parents' wartime memories, or incorporating into our framework of reality as depicted by a Mailer or a Coppola5

Cashill: "This is your classic dangling participle: the words discussing, sensitizing and incorporating modify the subject, the more sensitive among us, but three other nouns stand between the participles and the subject. Also, note that incorporating should have an object. It makes no sense as is."

Selection #2


But the taste of war-the sounds and chill, the dead bodies-are remote and far removed.5

Cashill: "The subject here is taste. The predicate should be is, not are." (pp. 162-163)

Cashill follows with what he says is Obama's next serious literary effort, an essay written some five years later entitled "Why Organize?" where he finds that "many of the signature failings on display in 'Breaking'" are also apparent. Cashill spends about a page detailing some of the same kind of errors of grammar and logic as in the earlier essay. The later essay, he writes, shows some improvement and "covers many of the issues raised in Dreams [but] it does so without a trace of style, sophistication, or promise. Earnest to a fault… [I]t would pass unnoticed in a freshman comp class." (p. 87; pp. 166-168) "

Two of Cashill's five examples from Obama's "Why Organize," with emendations follow.

Cashill: "The subject here is taste. The predicate should be is, not are." (pp. 162-163)

Cashill follows with what he says is Obama's next serious literary effort, an essay written some five years later entitled "Why Organize?" where he finds that "many of the signature failings on display in 'Breaking'" are also apparent. Cashill spends about a page detailing some of the same kind of errors of grammar and logic as in the earlier essay. The later essay, he writes, shows some improvement and "covers many of the issues raised in Dreams [but] it does so without a trace of style, sophistication, or promise. Earnest to a fault… [I]t would pass unnoticed in a freshman comp class." (p. 87; pp. 166-168) "

Two of Cashill's five examples from Obama's "Why Organize," with emendations follow.

Selection #1


Facing these realities, at least three major strands of earlier movements are apparent.

Cashill: "Facing these realities modifies nothing. Strands do not "face reality.""

Selection #2


The election of Harold Washington in Chicago or of Richard Hatcher in Gary were not enough to bring jobs to inner-city neighborhoods.

But organizing the black community faces enormous problems as well... and the urban landscape is littered with the skeletons of previous efforts.

Cashill: Of course, it should read, "The election... was." (p. 166)

Cashill also includes a short chapter entitled, "Ballast" (pp. 76-81) where he argues that evidence for Ayers as the ghostwriter of Dreams from My Father is supported by the sea imagery that appears in Obama's memoir. According to Cashill, Bill Ayers in his youth took a job as a merchant seaman partly in order to write a novel about a young man at sea. No such novel was ever produced, but Cashill found Ayers's writing, in particular his memoir, Fugitive Days, suffused with sea imagery that came from his seafaring experience. For Cashill, it was "entirely curious" that much of this 'singular' language [also] flows through Obama's... memoir." (p. 78).

Cashill credits a helpful reader with discovering a pair of "matched" sentences from Ayers's Fugitive Days and Dreams from My Father , which display similar sea imagery. Cashill explains that his informant was spurred by blogs that Cashill had written on the subject for World Net Daily.

Cashill copies the matched sentences.

"The first [sentence] comes from Fugitive Days, when Ayers finds himself engulfed in an antiwar protest."

The confrontation in the Fishbowl flowed like a swollen river into the teach-in, carrying me along the cascading waters from room to room, hall to hall, bouncing off boulders.

"The second comes from Dreams. While talking to his African relatives about his family history, Obama experiences a remarkably similar information overload."

I heard all our voices begin to run together, the sound of three generations tumbling over each other like the currents of a slow-moving stream, my questions like rocks roiling the water, the breaks in memory separating the currents....

Cashill finds it "hard to ignore the parallels between these two sentences," not least in the imagery and also the structure. "Each sentence begins with a standard verb phrase, embellished by a series of participles: tumbling, roiling, separating in the one; carrying, bouncing in the other. (p.77)

Cashill had already discovered a pattern of use of sea imagery in Dreams that seemed "radical when taken out of context"-radical presumably because it would be unlikely for a writer to generate such imagery unless he or she had the appropriate seagoing background. As he got deeper into his research, Cashill found that similar sea imagery was common to both Ayers's work as well as Dreams from My Father . Cashill had been struck by a particular sentence in Dreams. "A steady attack on the white race…served as the ballast that could prevent the ideas of personal and communal responsibility from tipping into an ocean of despair." (my emphasis)

The word "ballast" used in this sentence seemed in particular to Cashill to be one that would fit Ayers's writing but not Obama's. In this chapter Cashill highlights words, phrases, and concepts relating to the sea that are common to Ayers's writing and are also found in Dreams. Both "speak often of waves and wind;" they both use ship as a metaphor; each uses "storms and horizons as both substance and as symbol," etc. etc. Cashill counted "at least thirty nautical metaphors" that Ayers used in his writing before 1995 that are "mimicked" in Dreams from My Father . (pp. 76-81; p. 155)

Cashill summarizes by arguing that the "frequent and sophisticated use of nautical terms in Dreams makes a powerful case for Ayers's involvement." Cashill says that he "never would have used a metaphor as specific as ballast unless I knew exactly what I was talking about." He doubts that Obama did.

How was Dreams written?

Cashill's theory that Dreams from My Father was ghostwritten is consistent with the story of how the book came to be written and published. Not surprisingly Obama's path to authorship stemmed from his talents as a politician and his ability to reach out to conservatives. Obama's political gifts were already sufficiently honed by the time he was at Harvard Law School in 1990, to the point where he became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. Conservative Harvard Law student members of the Review who believed that Obama "would basically play it straight" provided the winning margin in the closely fought election. "Whatever his politics we felt he would give us a fair shake" recalled one conservative Review member. (Anderson, p. 214)

The New York Times took note of Obama's remarkable achievement at Harvard and their follow up profile "caught the eye of hustling young literary agent Jane Dystel" who persuaded him to put together a book proposal which led to a $75,000 advance6 from Simon & Schuster in November 1990.7

The Simon & Shuster contract gave Obama eighteen months to write his book, but he was unable to produce a draft in time and he missed their June 15, 1992 deadline. Cashill believes there was no mystery. "The writing went slowly because Obama was not a writer." (p. 71) When Simon and Shuster closed its Poseidon imprint in the summer of 1993, they lost interest in the project but they allowed Obama to keep the advance when he pled poverty due to massive student loans. (pp. 72-73)

Jane Dystel didn't give up and she soon secured another offer and a new advance of $40,000 from the Times Book Division of Random House. But the change in publisher didn't result in a draft Obama could offer. Anderson writes that even Michelle was skeptical that Barack could write the book himself. He had filled "scores of legal pads with notes, in his overarching left-handed scrawl [but aside from] jotting down his thoughts and observations over the years... he had not really done much writing." (p. 254)

Getting away to Bali at the end of 1993, the Obamas hoped that they would be shielded from their busy routines to manage sufficient quality writing time. Unsuccessful, they returned home in early 1994 when Obama, in a last desperate effort, hoped that if he hunkered down he'd manage it. Two months later with a September 1994 deadline looming, he was still stymied. At that point, Anderson writes, at Michelle's urging, Obama "sought advice" from Bill Ayers, whose recent book, To Teach impressed the Obamas. (Anderson, pp. 256-257).

In his biography, Anderson does NOT use the term ghostwriter. Yet, he tacitly acknowledges that it was more than advice that Obama obtained from Ayers. He writes that Obama delivered to Ayers all the writing he had so far managed, including his partial manuscript, "a trunkload of notes," as well as taped interviews with his mother, his mother's parents…his half-sister Maya and his Kenyan relatives. (p. 258)

"In the end," Anderson writes, "Ayers's contribution to Barack's Dreams from My Father would be significant-so much so that the book's language, oddly specific references, literary devices, and themes would bear a jarring similarity to Ayers's own writings." (p. 258) Cashill writes that this sentence from Anderson's book was quoted on Sean Hannity's conservative TV talk show program on Fox News in September 2009 when Anderson was asked if Ayers helped Obama with his book. "Yes," replied Anderson, and then "anxiously changed topic" perhaps because if he played up the expose, his mainstream reputation could be damaged. Cashill writes that Hannity, "sensing that he had gotten all he could, let Anderson move on." But for Cashill, "the proverbial cat had crept rather publicly out of the bag." (pp. 1-2)

Cashill's best guess as to the exact nature of Ayers's assistance is consistent with Anderson's findings. Anyone reading Dreams from My Father will understand that, of necessity, it is essentially Obama's book. As for Ayers's contribution, Cashill believes that Ayers "served as Obama's muse, editing the book lightly in some parts, heavily in others, and taking over principal writing duties in others still." (p. 97)


Thanks to help from Ayers, Anderson writes, Obama was able to submit a manuscript to Times Books in late 1994 and Dreams From My Father was published in June 1995. (Anderson p. 259, Cashill, p. 73)

In the end, Cashill's arguments and his evidence persuaded me. I no longer believe that Obama is the author of his books;8 neither do I believe that he has a writer's temperament nor that he has spent significant time honing his writing skills.

The Ayers-Obama connection

According to Cashill, the Obama-Ayers connection was a good deal closer than what was admitted by the Obama election team during the 2008 campaign. Cashill found that in the 1990s, Ayers had appointed Obama to the chairmanship of the Chicago Annenberg Foundation Challenge, which Ayers co-founded. The Obama-Ayers political relationship was such that Ayers helped launch the Obama campaign for State Senate in September 1995 with a fund-raiser at his house that Stanley Kurtz of the National Review declares is "further evidence of a close and ongoing relationship." (p. 50)

Authorship of Dreams-- A Matter of Importance?

The question of whether Dreams from My Father was ghostwritten or not rose above the trivial for me because by early 2011 I had come to believe that President Obama had been relentlessly pursuing an extremist right-wing Republican agenda. In foreign policy he continued and escalated the destructive militarism of his predecessors revealing a lack of compassion and ruthlessness that rivaled his bloody predecessors. I felt that Oliver Stone was not exaggerating when he termed President Obama "a wolf in sheep's clothing" referencing his militarism and his efforts to scuttle Constitutional rights of due process. Domestically Obama has promoted and continues to favor a damaging program of austerity and tax cuts, including the more than a trillion in tax cuts that he has already pushed through in 2009 and 2010;9 with apparently more to come in 2012-2013.

The argument is that if President Obama has pursued these policies with the full awareness of the consequences for the economy and for his re-election (see below) it can be deduced that counterintuitively he prefers a hobbled economy, a weakened Democratic Party, an undermined and demoralized middle class--his putative base-- in order to pursue a Republican agenda of attacks on labor, the middle class, Social Security and Medicare.

Similarly his escalation and continuation of the drone strike program in Pakistan and Yemen is particularly egregious and telling. Critics of these attacks often point out that that a chief consequence of the strikes program which reportedly kill more civilians than "militants" by a factor or 2 or 3 or 4 or more, is to radicalize the local population and in the end, create more "terrorists." In other words, if the purpose of the drone program is counterterrorism, then the program is counterproductive-not to speak of its appalling destruction and the perilous precedent it sets for the future security of all nations.

Since these effects must be as plain to the White House as they are to critics, the implication is that Obama's "anti-terrorism" rhetoric masks a more sinister plan. The drone program seems designed to allow free rein to the most militaristic and aggressive elements of the U.S.'s national security state, embodied in Obama's hawkish national security advisor, John Brennan. The evident intention of the deadly drone attacks-not to mention other regular and special forces U.S. military operations-- is to wreak havoc and destabilize vulnerable areas of the world as part of an endless war agenda favored by extremist hawks, neoconservatives and others.

Does Obama really wish to be re-elected?

If President Obama is a faux Democrat, a serial traitor to his party and to his core supporters, then it would be understandable if he were not wholly comfortable in his high profile leadership role. A second term would, among other things, only widen his exposure as a fraud, as the great deceiver,10 as the more effective evil11 as some are beginning to see. Developments in a post 2013 Obama administration would continue to peel away at the veils of his deception. If he leaves office after only one term, he would be leaving, relatively speaking, at the top of his game

If he left the White House in January 2013 he need have no fear as to the continuation of his political program since he has already made giant strides in institutionalizing an extremist right wing and totalitarian agenda. Due to the terrible and groundbreaking precedents of the past decade and more, a real Republican like Mitt Romney should have little trouble persevering on the road to heightened national and international instability, global unsustainability and more rigorous control everywhere from the top.

One sign that Obama is not deeply committed to a second term would be if his re-election campaign machine turns out to be not as smoothly run as it was in 2008. Could his June 2012 political stumble, when he allowed that "the private sector is doing fine" be a sign of a lack of focus or interest? More such blunders, as well as a campaign lacking in direction, could be signs of Obama's inner intentions. ***

Even before I saw Jack Cashill's Book TV presentation I had already concluded that Obama was pretending to be something that he was not. Cashill's expose provided me with an important clue in my search for Barack Obama and how he came to be what he is. After reading Deconstructing Obama, I realized that my next step would be to see what I could learn about the president from his memoir, Dreams from My Father .

1Jack Cashill, Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Loves, and Letters of America's First Postmodern President (2011). (Numbers in parenthesis refer to page numbers in this volume unless otherwise indicated in the text.)

http://www.booktv.org/Program/12215/Deconstructing+Obama+The+Life+Loves+and+Letters+of+the+First+Postmodern+President.aspx CSPAN Book TV aired Jack Cashill's book talk regarding his newly published, Deconstructing Obama in March 2011. The Book TV website offers the following summary of the Cashill presentation.
Jack Cashill questions whether President Obama wrote his memoir, Dreams from My Father . Mr. Cashill argues that Barack Obama was assisted in the writing of his 1995 memoir by Bill Ayers and contends that the President's life story is different than the one presented in his biography. Jack Cashill presents his argument at the Kansas City Public Library in Kansas City, Missouri. arrow

2 Jack Cashill's page on Amazon.com lists seven of his titles including Deconstructing Obama. arrow

3Christopher Anderson, Barack and Michelle: Portrait of an American Marriage (2009).

4Cashill also found that Obama wrote a semi-regular column in a neighborhood Chicago newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald when he was a State Senator. Cashill wasn't very impressed with the column which says was undistinguished, when not "clumsy and ungrammatical."


5 The 1800 word essay, entitled "Breaking the War Mentality" was published in Columbia's weekly newsmagazine, Sundial. It was posted online by Ben Smith on Politico's website in January 2009 (p.161).


6Cashill's numbers don't agree with biographer Christopher Anderson's which I used. According to Cashill, Simon & Shuster authorized "a roughly $125,000 advance"(p.70) According to Anderson, Obama received $75,000 (presumably minus Dystel's share) from Simon & Shuster, the first half of a $150,000 advance, (p. 216, 253). Did Cashill get different numbers from Peter Osnos, a publisher who wrote an article on Obama (see note 7 below). Yet Cashill seems to have used Anderson for some of the details: i.e., that Obama pled poverty for his inability to repay the Simon & Shuster advance and that he and Michelle were "still chipping away at their massive student loan debt." (Anderson, p. 253)

7Cashill writes that he bases his account of the genesis of Dreams and its path to publication largely on a 2006 article by publisher Peter Osnos. (p. 70)

8Cashill also believes that Barack Obama's other notable book, The Audacity of Hope was written by his Senate staffer and speechwriter, Jon Favreau.

9Jack Rasmus, "Obama's Economy," Z Magazine, April 2012.

10Yves Smith, "Barack Obama, the Great Deceiver," May 14, 2012. (h/t Xymphora). http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2012/05/barack-obama-the-great-deceiver.html

11Glenn Ford: Why Barack Obama is the More Effective Evil, 3.21.12, http://blackagendareport.com/content/why-barack-obama-more-effective-evil


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