28 October 2008

Idiots of the Week? Jack Cashill and Bruce Heiden

Our two nominees are, respectively, an accomplished writer and editor and a respected Classics professor. They appear to be the main sources for the reactionary rumor of the week: that Barack Obama's autobiography Dreams From My Father was either ghostwritten or substantially edited into shape by none other than the greatest criminal mind of our age, Bill Ayers. Their efforts have brought forth something I would never have imagined until it stood in front of me: a postmodern McCarthyism that employs obscure textual analysis and sweepingly circumstantial evidence to the traditional end of guilt-by-association.

Our researchers have latched onto an introductory passage in which Obama admitted that his project morphed from some dry policy tome into an autobiography. They're fascinated by the fact that Obama assumes the passive voice when describing the emergence of the memoir, as if his failure to state explicitly "I wrote it" is an implicit confession that he didn't. Cashill relies on the well-known fact that Obama, Ayers and who knows how many other people (hundreds?) shared the same Chicago milieu, and cites evidence that Ayers sometimes polished or edited writings by friends. He also plays with a textual-analysis program that supposedly demonstrates suspicious similarities in style between Obama's memoir and Ayers' own. Heiden plays the textual detective with such enthusiasm that I wonder whether he's even serious, or just satirizing the postmodern critical style.

Their motives are so self-evidently partisan and their evidence so desperately presented that I doubt whether either man can qualify for the Idiot honor. I don't deny that the Ayers theory is a stunningly stupid notion, but there seems to be more calculated malice than mere stupidity behind it. Perhaps I should hold the award in reserve for the people who decide to believe the story. It's still early in the week, however, and I suspect that there's a lot of stupidity to come.


Post-Liberal said...

Dear Mr. Wilson: You may call me an idiot all you like. Anyone who reads my posted essay and the Introduction and Preface to "Dreams" will be well informed about the texts the essay addresses. They are more than welcome to indicate any errors of logic or fact, or make additional relevant observations. I don't notice that you have.
You dropped a comment on my blogsite inquiring whether I would be (so stupid) as to apply universally the (alleged) principle of my analysis and accuse an indefinite number of authors of dishonesty because they do not explicitly state that they wrote their books. My answer is, if there is a principle involved, you have misstated it. Here is a summary of my analysis. Pay attention.
Obama has supplied "Dreams" with an Introduction and a Preface, each of which narrates the book's genesis. The two narratives disagree in a number of details, some significant. They do agree in one omission: neither states that Obama actually wrote "Dreams". This omission is curious because in both narrative Obama stresses how unlikely it was that he should have become the author of such a book--he was trying to write a different book, he did not want to write a memoir, and he never considered himself an author at all. Therefore Obama's own narratives invite the reader to wonder how he wrote "Dreams". So far that's a suspense story. But when he finally gets to whatever he was doing becoming the book in hand, all he can say is it "found its way onto these pages". That's not just an omission; it's an omission that fails to answer the question that Obama's whole narrative has been inviting the reader to ask.
You seem to think that when Obama fails to answer the question you should answer it for him. Can I sell you a bridge in lower Manhattan? You seem pretty naive for a New Yorker. Watch out that you don't get taken. You're ripe for the plucking.
Let "Obama" tell you something about himself. Check out pages 94-95 of "Dreams". You'll find these sentences:
"It was usually an effective tactic, another one of those tricks I had learned: People were satisfied so long as you were courteous and smiled and made no sudden moves. They were more than satisfied; they were relieved--such a pleasant surprise to find a well-mannered young black man who didn't seem angry all the time."
In the quoted passage "Obama" is describing "Obama" in high school. Maybe later he decided it was wrong to con people. I haven't gotten to that part yet. Have you?
By the way, in the passage, the person Obama's conning is his mother.
Sorry to disappoint you.

Samuel Wilson said...

For a published author you seem clueless about the writing process. Does it seem so impossible to you that one project can transform into another? That a new inspiration can "find its way" onto pages planned for another project? When I read the Introduction, or at least the excerpt you cite, my first thought is not, "So did Obama really write the book?" I'm not that literal minded, and I'm surprised to find such literal-mindedness in someone with your level of education. I suspect that you read more into the passage because you also read into it your ad hominem obsession with Bill Ayers. The internal logic of your argument is irrelevant to the fundamental illogic of your premise. On the strength of your citation I see no good reason to question Obama's authorship, while your political motivation for doing so is all too obvious.

I have nothing against you being a "post-liberal" but it's sad to see that, like too many other Americans, you apparently see no other alternative except to become a "conservative" or a Republican. It's even sadder if you've turned that way out of your frankly irrational fear of Barack Obama. It's not my business to defend Obama, and I probably won't vote for him. But there are plenty of alternatives besides McCain for anyone with intelligence, imagination or integrity.

hobbyfan said...

I haven't read "Dreams From My Father", but I get the feeling that your two nominees, and the anonymous "Post-Liberal" all suffer from a form of paranoia because for the first time, an African-American is running for President on a "major" party ticket. For these losers to even insinuate that Senator Obama didn't write his book all by himself, well, they need help. Not just from Dr. Phil, either.

Samuel Wilson said...

To clafiry, "Post-Liberal" is Bruce Heiden, as anyone who followed the link in the original post would know. I'm not going to hint at racism in either case, but they do seem convinced that Obama is further to the left than any previous Democratic candidate. I don't know if that's solely because of how large Ayers looms in their minds, but it seems to be a major factor, which reflects more on them than it does on Obama.

hobbyfan said...

Shouldn't Heiden then get nominated twice? His arrogance reeks of elitism, based on what I could glean from his comments. Going back to your original comments, Sammy, I think it's that same elitist mentality, coupled with malice, ignorance of known facts, and outright stupidity, that prompted Heiden & Cashill to write their bundle of yellow journalism.