Despite the claims made in the 1991 sales brochure produced by literary agent Jane Dystel, I do not believe Barack Obama was born in Kenya.
But I do believe that Obama said he was. The agency’s alleged fact-checking error is pure bull. I have written eight books myself, and I got to review every piece of promotional literature sent out about me or about my books. All authors get to do this.
The question that must be asked is why would Obama say he was born in Kenya if he was not. Well, from early on no doubt, Barack Obama learned that it paid to be exotic. Foreign birth gave him a romantic allure and also allowed him to distance himself from the bitter clingers of the country he barely deigned to inhabit.
“I chose my friends carefully,” he writes in “Dreams,” “The more politically active black students. The foreign students. The Chicanos. The Marxist professors and structural feminists and punk-rock performance poets.” These were the people with whom he felt comfortable.
Of course, a Kenyan birth would preclude his becoming president, but in 1991, Obama was not thinking that far ahead.
“I met [Obama] sometime in the mid-1990s.” Bill Ayers would later tell Salon. “And everyone who knew him thought that he was politically ambitious. For the first two years, I thought, his ambition is so huge that he wants to be mayor of Chicago.”
Friend Cassandra Butts traced that ambition back at least to Harvard. “He wanted to be mayor of Chicago, and that was all he ever talked about as far as holding office,” she would tell early Obama biographer David Mendell.
The mayor of Chicago could have been born anywhere. Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak, for instance, who was assassinated in 1933 while still in office, had been born in Bohemia.
Three years after Dystel promoted her client’s forthcoming book, called “Journeys in Black and White,” said book still had not been written. Obama had missed a June 15, 1992, deadline and a further extension of that deadline.
Simon & Schuster lost patience. In the summer of 1993, the publishing house canceled the contract. According to biographer Christopher Andersen, Obama had spent $75,000 of the advance and could not pay it back.
According to Andersen, the publisher let Obama keep the money only after he pled poverty due to “massive student loan debt,” this despite a combined salary for the still childless Obamas well into six-figures.
Agent Jane Dystel did not give up. She solicited Times Book, a division of Random House, and secured a new advance of $40,000.
Andersen’s Hyde Park sources told him how Obama had found himself “hopelessly blocked.” At “Michelle’s urging,” he “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.” What attracted the Obamas were “Ayers’ proven abilities as a writer” as evident in his 1993 book, “To Teach.”
What Ayers saw was the potential of a black protégé who could stand up to Chicago’s largely black educational bureaucracy in ways he could not.
Ayers knew, too, that Obama would have a much better shot at a political career with a successful book under his belt than an unfinished manuscript hanging over his head, and he took on the job of fixing it.
By this time, Ayers would have known just how comfortable Obama was in fictionalizing his own life story. So he and Obama just made things up as they went along – racial injustices, girlfriends, jobs, origins, even dreams.
The story they crafted was one designed to elect a mayor. So now Obama was born in Hawaii, but he, too, like so many impoverished young black men, was abandoned by his father.
The co-authors worked to ground Obama in the black Chicago experience. Like so many brothers, Obama did drugs. That admission played so much better among the base than Bill Clinton’s classic “did not inhale” evasion a few years earlier.
They talked about Obama’s mentor, Chicago icon Frank Marshall Davis, and used his real name “Frank.” They manufactured at least a half-dozen racial melodramas. They rolled all Obama’s white girlfriends into one. They invented “several black ladies out there” who broke his heart.
They took Ayers out of the story. He was still potentially poison. They took New York roommate Phil Boerner out of the story. He was too white and metrosexual. They scrubbed the 1981 Pakistani trip – that one could come back to bite, even in Chicago.
In late 1994, Obama finally submitted his manuscript for publication. His followers still believe that a slow writer and sluggish student who had nothing in print save for a couple of “muddled” essays, who blew a huge contract after nearly three futile years, who turned in bloated drafts when he did start writing, who had gotten married, and who had taken on an absurdly busy schedule, somehow suddenly found his mojo and turned in a minor masterpiece.
As to Dystel, Obama dumped her after “Dreams,” took off in 2004, and he signed a seven-figure deal with Crown, using only a by-the-hour attorney.
To avoid congressional disclosure and reporting requirements, Obama inked the deal after his election but before being sworn in as senator.
To his credit, despite being an un-closeted liberal, publisher Peter Osnos publicly scolded Obama for his “ruthlessness” and “his questionable judgment about using public service as a personal payday.”
And a major payday it proved to be. 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; in 2006, $570,000; in 2005, $1.4 million.
In sum, Dystel’s 15 percent would have netted her at least another $500,000 in royalties had Obama not forsaken her. Dystel did not return my email or my subsequent phone call. Nor has she spoken publicly on this subject with anyone else.
Hell, I am told, hath no fury like an agent scorned, but Dystel, to Obama’s good fortune, has held her tongue.