On Super Bowl Sunday, conservative provocateur Andrew Breitbart joined the Tucker Carlson crew for a fabulous weather-dinner with retired terrorists Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn.
It was a memorable evening. In his CPAC speech last weekend, Breitbart called Ayers “The best damn cook I ever experienced.” He added, “There is zero chance that this incredible chef did not cook many a meal for Barack Obama.”
It seems likely that Ayers shared not only his culinary talents with Obama, but also his literary ones. As I have argued on these pages, Ayers appears to have imposed his own experiences on Obama’s alleged bio, “Dreams From My Father,” a book Obama claims to have written himself.
As a case in point, the former merchant seaman Ayers turned landlubber Obama into a literary Fletcher Christian. A statistically improbable boatload of nautical words and phrases, 50 or so in all, appear in both “Dreams” and in Ayers’ books, among them sinking ships, calms, captains, charts, first mates, anchors, barges, horizons, harbor, bays, ports, panoramas, moorings, tides, narrower courses, uncertain courses, and many more.
After listening to Brietbart, I wondered if Ayers spiced “Dreams” with the language of the kitchen as he did with the language of the sea. A little research confirmed my suspicions. Obama seems to know his way around food almost as well as Ayers does.
Ayers’ affection seems genuine. In his in 2001 memoir, “Fugitive Days,” he talks about cooking almost as lovingly as he does bombing.
“We made tortillas from scratch on Sundays in our little sloping kitchen on Felch Street,” Ayers writes of life with his beloved Diana Oughton, a fellow terrorist who would self-destruct in a 1970 bomb blast.
“A week’s worth of homemade tomato sauce simmered hot and happy on the stove, a mountain of chopped onions and garlic sizzled in the skillet, fragrant black beans and saffron rice bubbled and seethed in big black pots and set the kitchen steaming.”
The opening scene of “Dreams” unfolds in Obama’s New York City kitchen with its “slanting floors” where Obama is making breakfast “with coffee on the stove and two eggs in the skillet.”
Obama’s floors slant. Ayers’ floors slope. Both use skillets. According to the American Heritage Dictionary, the word “skillet” seems “to have been confined to the Midland section of the country.” Elsewhere, “frying pan” or “fry pan” is more common. Ayers grew up in Illinois.
In “Dreams,” which is about 130,000 words in length, the word kitchen appears 29 times. In “Fugitive Days,” it appears 11 times in about 100,000 words.
As a control, I used my 2000 novel, “2006: The Chautauqua Rising.” I have very little interest in cooking. It shows. Although the novel has a 26 year-old male protagonist and any number of domestic settings, the word “kitchen” appears once in about 100,000 words.
I use the word “cook” or its derivatives twice. Ayers uses it nine times, Obama 22. Ayers uses the word “bake” or its derivatives 11 times, Obama four. I do not use it at all.
Obama makes 38 references to “coffee.” Ayers makes 25. I make four. I make no reference to “cookies.” Ayers makes seven references, Obama four. Each makes multiple references to “ice cream.” I make none.
Obama makes 11 references to “chicken” as a food. Ayers makes eight. I make none. Obama makes 12 references to “meat.” Ayers makes six. I make none.
In the 16 culinary categories I surveyed, Obama makes 197 references. Ayers makes 117. I make 19. Many of Obama’s allusions to food are very specific.
On visiting Africa, Obama observes, “The women were cleaning collards and yams, chopping chicken and stirring ugali.” He makes six separate references to “ugali” alone, another four to “yams.”
This might make sense if Obama had shown an interest in cooking in any other context, but that does not appear to be the case. Michelle is clearly the food maven in the Obama household.
One particular passage in “Dreams” suggests why Ayers’ affection for cooking runs as deep as it does. On this occasion, Obama is living in Chicago. His half-sister Auma is visiting. She asks him about interracial relationships.
Before answering, Obama went “to the refrigerator and pulled out two green peppers, setting them on the cutting board.” He then describes a year-long affair back in New York with a woman who happens to look just like Diana Oughton.
Oughton and Obama’s mystery woman seemed to have grown up in the very same house, a multi-generational estate in the country ringed by trees with a lake in the middle.
Obama describes how he and his girlfriend fell into their “own private world … Just two people, hidden and warm.” Ayers and Oughton also shared a literal “hidden world,” one that functioned, in Ayers’ words, as “a parallel universe somewhere side by side with the open world.”
In reality, Obama was no more a lover than he was a cook. Obama biographer Christopher Andersen made a serious effort to identify the woman, but he failed. “No one,” he writes, “including [Obama's] roommate and closest friend at the time, Siddiqi, knew of this mysterious lover’s existence.”
No sense triggers memory like smell. For Ayers, cooking surely evokes memories of his cozy kitchen days with Diana. In “Dreams,” his protégé gets to do the cooking and the remembering. Ayers provides the words and the girl.
Food imagery is just one measure out of many that make the case for Ayers’ involvement. In fact, all measures make that case – the nautical imagery, the shared postmodern language, the identical educational philosophies, the three parallel stories, the four matching mistakes, the eye imagery, the remarkably similar Homeric openings and themes, the Andersen confirmation, the failure of Obama to write well in any other context.
In researching the food imagery, I was reminded how thoroughly Ayers took over this book project and how much work it required on his part.
At CPAC Breitbart noted that Obama “met a bunch of silver pony tails” in the 1980s, like Ayers and Dohrn, and they started grooming him then for the presidency. “Dreams” was clearly part of the launch.
“This election we are going to vet [Obama],” Breitbart promised. A good place to start is with “Dreams.” We know that Ayers largely wrote it. Now we need to know why.