As Barack Obama’s recently released tax return reveals, the president made $1,512,933 in book royalties in 2010, and that was a relatively slow year.
A children’s book Obama produced, “Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters,” appears to account for $131,075 of this amount with the rest divided between his 1995 memoir “Dreams From My Father,” and his 2006 policy book, “The Audacity of Hope.”
As I argue in my book “Deconstructing Obama,” Weather Underground veteran Bill Ayers had little, if anything, to do with “Audacity” – indeed, he recently dismissed it as a “political hack book” – but he had everything to do with “Dreams.”
The evidence strongly suggests that Ayers took over Obama’s unfinished, un-publishable manuscript in 1994 and turned it into what Time magazine would call “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.”
The reader need not take my word for this. Christopher Andersen, in his 2009 book, “Barack and Michele: Portrait of an American Marriage,” makes the same case based on interviews with Obama’s friends in Chicago, quite possibly with Ayers himself.
A celebrity biographer with impeccable mainstream credentials, Andersen argues that, at “Michelle’s urging,” a “hopelessly blocked” Obama “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.”
What attracted the Obamas were “Ayers’ proven abilities as a writer.” Noting that Obama had already taped interviews with many of his relatives, Andersen elaborates, “These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.”
Given that Obama had next to no name recognition at the time, it would have been normal practice for a skilled book doctor like Ayers to ask for 50 percent of the royalties.
In 1995, however, it is highly unlikely that Obama received any royalty payments beyond the reported $40,000 advance. How this was split I have no idea.
For the next nine years, “Dreams” attracted more dust than readers. In 2004, however, Obama’s keynote speech at the Democratic Convention made him a superstar overnight.
When the folks at Crown Publishing pulled “Dreams” from the vaults and put it back in circulation, they unknowingly set in motion a series of fabrications, beginning with the foundational myth that Obama wrote “Dreams” by himself.
Obama encouraged this myth. “As some of you know,” he told a crowd of cheering school teachers in Virginia in July 2008, “I’ve written two books. I actually wrote them myself.”
To acknowledge any help would have damaged the career of this presumed literary genius. To acknowledge Ayers’ help, especially in this post 9/11 environment, would have killed it.
This is a point Donald Trump has done well to emphasize. “[Obama’s] whole aura was caused by the genius of the first book,” Trump told a tea-party group in Florida last Saturday, “which was written by Bill Ayers.”
Eager for a hero, Democrats bought into the myth and bought the book along with it. In 2005, “Dreams” earned Obama an estimated $1.4 million. In 2006, “Dreams” made him another $570,000.
In the fall of 2006, “Audacity” was published, and the royalties for both books made Obama rich. In 2007, combined royalties soared to $3.9 million and in 2008 $2.6 million, roughly 40 percent of that total for “Dreams.”
Obama’s book sales in 2009 netted him $3.3 million for “Dreams” alone. Based on past percentages, about $900,000 of Obama’s 2010 income would have derived from “Dreams.”
In sum, “Dreams From My Father” has earned Obama close to $9 million. Given the scrutiny of a politician’s finances, especially an ascendant one like Obama, it would have been exceedingly difficult to transfer any of this revenue to his deserving ghost.
Although Ayers lives modestly, as befits his ideology, a $4-plus million payday could buy an awful lot of school supplies for an earnest educational reformer.
A month ago, a correspondent shared with me a congenial email exchange he had with Ayers. In it, Ayers made the case that he would make on video that same evening at Montclair State University.
“Sadly, I don’t have any notes,” Ayers wrote, “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 [Leary] or anyone can PROVE I wrote [“Dreams”], I would be so grateful that I would split the royalties. Please and thank you, Bill.”
I don’t exactly have notes, but I think together Ayers and I can make the case that he deserves at least $4 million.
And I would be happy with just a 10 percent cut.