Last week at Montclair State University, after twice claiming authorship of Barack Obama’s acclaimed 1995 memoir “Dreams from My Father,” Bill Ayers temporarily eased the fears of the literary left by ending his boast with a seeming joke.
“Yeah, yeah,” said Ayers when asked for confirmation of his authorship, “and if you help me prove it, I’ll split the royalties with you. Thank you very much.”
“Bill Ayers Started a Joke, That Started the Whole Word Hyperventilating,” ran an all-too-typical headline, this one in Slate. The implication, of course, was that Ayers was taunting the gullible right.
A recent email exchange between a correspondent of mine and Ayers, however, suggests that Ayers may not have been joking at all.
On the morning of March 24, “Jim” emailed Ayers at his University of Illinois at Chicago address: “Jack Cashill’s new book makes an overwhelming case that you wrote ‘Dreams from My Father.’ In addition it recounts an encounter with a blogger, Anne Leary, in October 2009 at Reagan airport where you acknowledged to her that you wrote the book.”
Jim continued, “Why don’t you just go public with a straightforward statement about your role?”
As it happens, this was the same day Ayers was to speak at Montclair State. Jim was not connected to the group videotaping Ayers at Montclair and knew nothing of its strategy. His email may well have prompted Ayers’ videotaped claim of authorship.
Ayers responded politely to Jim an hour later, “As you note in you letter, I did indeed acknowledge that I wrote the book to Anne at Reagan, and over and over since then. So what more do you want me to do?”
Ayers continued, “OK, I’ll try again, loudly: I wrote ‘Dreams from My Father,’ Jim!!! Please, please help me prove it – you seem like a smart guy, and maybe you could find a smart lawyer – and I’ll split the royalties with you! xxx Bill.”
“It sounds like I hit a nerve, which was not my intention; my apologies,” wrote Jim back on Friday, the day after the Montclair State talk and the day before the video hit the Internet.
Added Jim, “I spent some time with Google, and found any number of blogs in the days following your encounter with Anne Leary at Reagan airport. But all those were reports of what she said you said. I could find nothing where a reporter directly interviewed you, and you indicated you were the author.
“If it’s your objective to get that word out, I would think it would be reasonably easy to meet with a reputable reporter, make the admission and produce some research notes to back it up. I would think Fox News, perhaps Hannity or O’Reilly, would be interested in doing such an interview.”
“No nerve hit, and no apology needed,” Ayers responded that same Friday. “I did talk to a reporter directly – Anne Leary. She asked, I answered. She quoted me accurately. And she was cited for weeks by folks like Hannity and O’Reilly, so they acted as if she were reputable. Don’t hate on Anne.”
Ayers continued, “As for my ‘objective’ in this – you brought it up, not me, so perhaps it’s your objective. Sadly, I don’t have any notes, but you read an account that was persuasive to you, so maybe that person has notes. In any case, I repeat: if you or the person who persuaded you or Anne or anyone can PROVE I wrote it, I would be so grateful that I would split the royalties. Please and thank you, Bill.”
On the following day, Saturday, the Montclair State video hit the Internet. Three days later, I talked about the video on “Fox & Friends.” The following day, Donald Trump went on Laura Ingraham’s show and repeated the argument I make in “Deconstructing Obama.”
“They say ‘Dreams of My Father’ was genius, and they give [Obama] full credit, and now it’s coming out that Bill Ayers wrote it,” said Trump, getting everything right but the preposition in the book’s title. “That’s what started him on this road where he became president.”
Trump also repeated a point that Ayers had surprisingly made in the video and that I had reiterated on “Fox & Friends,” namely that Obama’s second book, “Audacity of Hope,” was clearly a lesser effort.
Ayers, in fact, called it “a political hack book.” Trump noted that it “was written by a guy that’s like a sophomore in high school.”
I suspect that after Trump went public the people behind Obama “Dreams” franchise must have been getting nervous. Obama’s books, “Audacity” included, have made a ton of money.
In 2008, Obama pocketed $1,512,933 for “Audacity of Hope” and another $949,910 from “Dreams.” In 2007, his book royalties had been $3.9 million total; in 2006, $570,000; in 2005, $1.4 million. His publishers have made multiples of this.
Ayers, however, has likely made close to nothing. Without his help, however, there would have been no royalties, likely no presidency.
“There is no underestimating the importance of ‘Dreams from My Father’ in the political rise of Barack Obama,” David Remnick would confirm in his exhaustive look at Obama’s life and career, “The Bridge.”
In his book, “Barack and Michelle,” Christopher Andersen describes in some detail how the Obamas recruited Ayers to write “Dreams.”
Noting that Obama had already taped interviews with many of his relatives, both African and American, Andersen elaborates, “These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.”
Given the detail of this account, I have always suspected Ayers of being Andersen’s source. I think he has wanted to get this story out for some time.
Is it possible that Ayers now lacks the notes to prove his authorship? Yes, easily. In 1996, I was commissioned to rescue a book by a person prominent in his field, much as Ayers rescued “Dreams” a year earlier.
I have no notes from that exercise and not a trace of of the book in any of my computers. A couple of crashes in the intervening 15 years wiped out whatever memory there was.
A few weeks ago, I stumbled on a celebration of this author’s newest book. I thought my rescue was a one-off. In fact, I helped launch a counterfeit career. It chafed me to see it.
Obama’s success must chafe Ayers even more. He hoped to mold a mayor of Chicago, and instead he ended up with a president whose ambitions would always corrupt his ideology.
The fact that Ayers went public in the first week of our war on Libya, a use of force almost indistinguishable from the Bush administration’s, had to irritate Ayers deeply.
As Ayers suggested at Montclair, one could build a school for the cost of a Tomahawk missile. As he implied, one could build a whole lot of schools with the royalties just from “Dreams.”