Ayers’ Role in Obama’s “Dreams”
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© Jack Cashill

October 23, 2008

In July 2008 I stumbled on a story that won’t let me go. Someone had sent me excerpts from Barack Obama’s memoir, Dreams From My Father, and asked me whether they were as radical as they sounded.

After a little research I concluded that these excerpts were not particularly troubling in context. What I also noticed, however, was that they were much too well written.

After a speculative article in late July, I let the story drop. A month or so later—for unrelated reasons--I picked up a copy of Bill Ayers’ memoir, Fugitive Days. It has been a roller coaster ever since.

Until late last week I despaired of breaking this story beyond the Internet and talk radio. Then a seriously can-do congressman intervened. As I speak, we are running sophisticated data-driven tests at two separate sites. Early results are positive. If they are strong enough, and if we can somehow penetrate the battlements the mainstream media have built around Obama, we just might break this story out.

Thanks to WorldNetDaily and Rusty Humphries, among others, for getting it this far. A status report follows:

  • The evidence strongly suggests that Barack Obama had significant help with the writing of Dreams From My Father.
  • The preponderance of that evidence argues that the struggling Obama brought his unfinished manuscript to Bill Ayers in the 1993-1994 time window and asked for help. Ayers seems to have edited the entire book, in some parts with a light polish and in others with fully created situations and original analyses.
  • This evidence includes university-based authorship analysis, the suspicious history of Dreams’ genesis, an examination of Obama’s skills, as well as assessments of incredibly parallel themes, metaphors, word choices, and even anecdotes in Ayers and Obama.
  • As shall be seen, it is no more likely that Obama could have transformed himself from an uninspired hack into a literary superstar than he could have transformed himself from a high 90’s golfer into a touring pro—with no known practice rounds.
  • Although inconclusive, and difficult to track because of the fluctuations in style, preliminary university-based authorship analysis supports this assessment.
  • Writes one professor: “The fact that the Q values for Dreams-Dreams matched those of Dreams-Fugitive in 45 separate experiments is important. There was a significant upward shift in the Dreams-Air comparisons in 105 experiments. The repeatability of the result in experiment after experiment on the subtexts starts to build support for the argument that Ayers either wrote or strongly influenced the writing of Dreams.”
  • Ayers’ involvement is problematic on several levels, not the least of which is that it puts a lie to Obama’s claim that the semi-retired terrorist was just another “guy in the neighborhood.” Indeed, the relentless America-hating Ayers may have influenced Obama’s philosophy as much as he did his style.
  • In 1990, Obama contributed an essay entitled “Why Organize” to a book called “After Alinsky.” This workmanlike and wonkish piece showed no hint of the promise of Dreams, a book that Time Magazine has called "the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician."
  • That same year, Obama contributed an unsigned case note to the Harvard Law Review, his only contribution to any law review ever. Politico reporters Ben Smith and Jeffrey Resner observe that “the temperate legal language doesn't display the rhetorical heights that run through his memoir, published a few years later.”
  • Other than some regrettable undergraduate poetry, this is the extent of what Politico calls a “scant paper trail.” The Obama camp has refused all efforts to secure grades, SAT scores, LSAT scores, student theses, or any other documents that would strengthen Obama’s case.
  • Sometime between 1992 and 1994 Simon & Schuster cancelled the advance that it had offered Obama to write Dreams.
  • Ayers provided an informal editing service for like-minded friends in the neighborhood. Rashid Khalidi attests to this in the very first sentence of the acknowledgements in his 2004 book, Resurrecting Empire. “There are many people without whose support and assistance I could not have written this book, or written it in the way that it was written,” he writes. “First, chronologically, and in other ways, comes Bill Ayers.”
  • There was a good deal of literary back-scratching going on in Chicago’s Hyde Park. Obama, for instance, wrote a short and glowing review of Ayers’ 1997 book, A Kind and Just Parent, for the Chicago Tribune. In that same book, perhaps with a self-congratulatory wink, Ayers cites the “writer” Barack Obama as one among the celebrities in his neighborhood.
  • Obama’s memoir was published in June 1995. Earlier that year, Ayers helped Obama get appointed chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge grant. In the fall of that same year, 1995, helped blaze Obama’s path to political power with a fundraiser in his Chicago home. In short, Ayers had the means, the motive, and the ability to jump start Obama’s literary career.
  • Ayers also had the time. He published his book To Teach in 1993.  Between 1993 and 1996, he had no other formal authorial assignment than to co-edit a collection of essays.  This was an unusual hole in his very busy publishing career.
  • Some stunningly parallel themes, metaphors and even stories appear in Dreams and in Ayers’ various books.
  • Bill Ayers' 2001 memoir Fugitive Days and Obama's Dreams From My Father follow oddly similar rules.  Both are suffused with repeated reference to lies, lying and what Ayers calls "our constructed reality." The evidence strongly suggests that Ayers transformed the stumbling literalist of "Why Organize" into the sophisticated postmodernist of Dreams.
  • Obama's frequent and sophisticated use of nautical metaphors like makes a powerful case for Ayers' involvement in the writing of Dreams.  Ayers knew a great deal about the sea. After dropping out of college, he took up the life of a merchant seaman.
  • Certain stories are told with only slight variance in Ayers’ work and in Dreams. In To Teach, Ayers tells the story of a teacher in NYC whose students are struck by the fact that the Hudson River seems to flow North and South simultaneously. In Dreams, Obama shares a amazingly comparable anecdote about tidal rivers from his own brief New York sojourn.  "Excuse me, mister," a boy asks him, "You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?" This is one of many such incidents.
  • Ayers imposes his 60’s consciousness on an Obama too young to know or remember. In Dreams, Obama relates an experience at Columbia in which "two Marxists" scream insults at each other over minor sectarian differences. "It was like a bad dream," thinks Obama. "The movement had died years ago, shattered into a thousand fragments." These sentiments seem much too knowing and weighty for a 20 year-old just in from Hawaii. They make perfect sense, however, for a radical of nearly 40 emerging from a futile decade in hiding.
  • In an interview for the book "Sixties Radicals," Ayers makes this clear. "When the war ended, our differences surfaced," he regrets. "We ended up in typical left-wing fashion: We ate each other … cannibalism." Similarly, when the young Obama pontificates about "angry young men in Soweto or Detroit or the Mekong Delta," one hears the voice of someone much edgier and more aware than Obama.
  • Classics professor Bruce Heiden of Ohio State has analyzed the Obama/Ayers introduction and preface and found it a marvel of evasive postmodernism: “As Obama tells it, his authorship of Dreams was miraculous, because although he lacked the writing skill to be the author of anything, and he didn't want to be the author of a memoir . . nevertheless Dreams from My Father somehow ‘found its way’ onto the page with Barack Obama's name under the title as the author.”


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