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.