Last week, two semi-serious, vaguely mainstream publications – the Washington Post and Newsweek/Daily Beast – weighed in with reviews of my new book, “Deconstructing Obama.”
Each publication assigned a left-leaning 20-something with scant credentials and got what they paid for. Both writers attacked the book so ineptly that an unbiased reader would judge the reviewer more harshly than the author.
Although their criticisms don’t merit parsing, what these reviewers say – or don’t say – about Obama’s second book, “Audacity of Hope,” does deserve a look, especially in light of Bill Ayers’ videotaped put down of “Audacity” last week at Montclair State University.
Tellingly, Craig Fehrman in the Washington Post reviewed a second book along with mine called “Reading Obama,” written by a Harvard professor named James Kloppenberg. This book, Fehrman assures the reader, “will teach you much about Obama.”
In his book, Kloppenberg analyzes Obama’s two books and the various influences upon their author. Curiously, he chooses to concentrate not on the celebrated 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” but on “Audacity,” published in 2006, two years into Obama’s career as a U. S. senator.
Writes Fehrman, “In Kloppenberg’s eyes, the book reveals Obama to be a philosopher-president, someone whose peers include Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson.”
Excerpts like the above make me weep for the future of the academy. In reality, “Audacity” was a strategic feint to the center produced by David Axelrod and written by committee.
Indeed, in the book’s acknowledgement section Obama lists an astonishing 24 people who provided “invaluable suggestions” in reading or fact checking the book prior to publication.
Knowing the genesis of “Audacity,” Ayers publicly dismissed it for what it is, a “political hack book.” He also distinguished the book from “Dreams,” which he described as “very good.”
The New York Times’ Michiko Kakutani had earlier observed that portions of “Audacity” sound like “outtakes from a stump speech,” and she was righter than she knew.
At least 38 passages from Obama speeches delivered in 2005 or 2006 appear virtually word for word as ordinary text in “Audacity.”
What follows is an altogether typical example. It comes from a speech Obama gave on Oct. 25, 2005:
“… those who work in the field know what reforms really work: a more challenging and rigorous curriculum with emphasis on math, science, and literacy skills. Longer hours and more days to give kids the time and attention they need to learn.”
This second excerpt comes from “Audacity.”
“And in fact we already have hard evidence of reforms that work: a more challenging and rigorous curriculum with emphasis on math, science, and literacy skills; longer hours and more days to give children the time and sustained attention they need to learn.”
Of course, all this proves is that whoever wrote Obama’s speeches wrote large sections of “Audacity,” perhaps all of it, and this is only an issue if someone other than Obama wrote his speeches.
That someone is almost assuredly Obama’s wunderkind speechwriter Jon Favreau. Favreau’s public flowering after Obama’s election to the presidency – the Washington Post first discovered him and his laptop in a D.C. Starbucks – stung the Obama faithful.
Noted British writer Jonathan Raban confessed to being “disconcerted” to learn that Obama used speechwriters at all.
Raban felt even more “let down” when he discovered that the celebrated “More Perfect Union” speech on race after the Jeremiah Wright flare-up was “a joint Obama/Favreau production.”
Given Favreau’s emergence, only the most fervent of the faithful could believe that Obama wrote all 38 of the 2005-2006 speech passages that found their way into the book.
And if Obama could deceive them about his unique authorship of “Audacity,” then he was also capable of deceiving them about “Dreams,” the essential book in the Obama canon.
Writing “Audacity” without help would have been particularly difficult. Obama biographer David Remnick acknowledges that Obama procrastinated and was forced to write “nearly a chapter a week” – on average, nearly 50-pages long – as the deadline loomed.
To make matters more difficult still, Obama wrote his first drafts long hand and did so, we are told, after his absurdly busy Senate days.
How busy? As Obama tells it, his schedule was chock-a-block with “committee markups, votes, caucus lunches, floor statements, speeches, photos with interns, evening fundraisers, returning phone calls, writing correspondence, reviewing legislation, drafting op-eds, recording podcasts, receiving policy briefings, hosting constituent coffees, and attending an endless series of meetings.”
Under circumstances like these, 50 pages a week would have undone a Teddy Roosevelt or a Winston Churchill, let alone a plodding amateur like Obama.
A much better case can be made that Favreau wrote all of the speeches copied whole into “Audacity” and likely the greater part of the book. And if so, it must be Favreau whose peers “include Adams, Jefferson, Lincoln and Wilson.”
Although I spend several chapters deconstructing “Audacity,” David Sessions of the Daily Beast has the good sense to avoid the topic altogether.
It would be hard to defend a book whose style is noticeably different from “Dreams” and whose timeline can be well established. Fehrman spends only a sentence on it.
Instead, both writers spend the better part of their reviews trying to convince their readers – and themselves – to ignore the awkward amateur writer behind the curtain.
“Oh, but I’m a very good man,” said the Great Oz when finally busted. “I’m just a very bad wizard.” Expect Obama to cop a similar plea.
Jack Cashill’s literary investigation uncovers revelations galore about Obama’s alleged life narrative. Order the new book “Deconstructing Obama: The Life, Love and Letters of America’s First Post-Modern President”