“Dreams from My Father was not a memoir or an autobiography;” writes Pulitzer Prize-winner David Garrow, “it was instead, in multitudinous ways, without any question a work of historical fiction.”
Garrow makes this claim, italics included, in his massive new biography about Obama’s pre-presidential years, Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama. For myself and other citizen journalists who have followed Obama, this is hardly a revelation.
We concluded many years ago that Dreams was in large part fiction. We came to this conclusion during the same period when our betters were writing paeans such as, “Whatever else people expect from a politician, it’s not usually a beautifully written personal memoir steeped in honesty” (Oona King, LondonTimes).
The book, we realized, was steeped in something, but it certainly wasn’t honesty. Before the election in 2008, no one in the major media would admit this, and afterwards mainstream critics did so only partially and reluctantly. Garrow continues the tradition.
The New York Times has dismissed Rising Star as “a dreary slog of a read.” I have seen nothing in what I have read of the book to dispute the Times on the tedium part. (My ebook version runs 2,000 pages, and it has just crashed.) I have read enough, however, to feel insulted, not only on my own behalf but also on behalf of those other citizen journalists who dared to report the truth before the major media grudgingly did the same. Rising Star: The Makin... Best Price: $7.90 Buy New $6.61 (as of 11:20 EST - Details)
Garrow adds a little more to the accepted record — oh yeah, there was no Obama family — but the book serves in certain ways to cauterize Obama’s wounded reputation. It is hard to imagine another author going deeper. Garrow spent ten years on the project. He interviewed more than a thousand people. There is much not to like about Garrow’s Obama, but the faithful need never fear learning anything worse than that their man was shallow and self-centered. What politician isn’t?
Like other mainstream biographers, Garrow has the unfortunate habit of insulting those who challenge the orthodoxy, myself included. In July 2008, I first raised the issue of the authorship of Dreams. Beginning in September 2008, I traced the muse behind Dreams, speculatively at first, to the notoriously unrepentant terrorist, Bill Ayers.
Obama biographer David Remnick admitted just how problematic this revelation could have been. “This was a charge,” he wrote in his 2010 biography, “that if ever proved true, or believed to be true among enough voters, could have been the end of the candidacy.”
The way for Remnick, the New Yorker editor, to deal with the charge was to attack its provenance — “the Web’s farthest lunatic orbit.” To assure the charge was not repeated, he accused anyone who repeated it, Rush Limbaugh most notably, with racism.
Garrow has his own way of slighting the assertion that Ayers had a hand inDreams. He ignores it. He makes no mention of my name in the text of the book. Nor does he mention Christopher Andersen. Andersen presented more of a problem than I did. A bestselling biographer with solid mainstream credentials, Andersen gave biographical detail to what I had inferred from textual analysis.
In his 2009 book, Barack and Michele: Portrait of an American Marriage, Andersen spent six pages on Ayers’ role in helping craft Dreams. As Andersen related, Obama found himself deeply in debt and “hopelessly blocked.” At “Michelle’s urging,” Obama “sought advice from his friend and Hyde Park neighbor Bill Ayers.” What attracted the Obamas were “Ayers’s proven abilities as a writer” as evident in his 1993 book, To Teach.
Noting that Obama had already taped interviews with many of his relatives, both African and American, Andersen elaborated, “These oral histories, along with his partial manuscript and a trunkload of notes were given to Ayers.” Although I had not talked to Andersen, his observations, based on two unnamed sources, made perfect sense given Obama’s repeated failures to complete the book on schedule.
One of Obama’s radical friends in Hyde Park did not shy from giving Ayers his due. “First, chronologically and in other ways,” wrote Rashid Khalidi in his 2004 book, Resurrecting Empire, “comes Bill Ayers.” Khalidi elaborated, “Bill was particularly generous in letting me use his family’s dining room table to do some writing for the project.” Khalidi did not need the table. He had one of his own. He needed help from the one neighbor who obviously could and would provide it.
Garrow has not a word to say about Andersen’s claim, not even to rebut it. In fact, the reader of Garrow’s book would have no reason to believe anyone ever questioned Obama’s authorship. As for me, Garrow adds a comically gratuitous slap.
The reference is a telling one. It involves a poem Obama submitted to his college literary magazine as a sophomore called “Pop.” Garrow writes that most critics presumed the poem was about Obama’s grandfather, but “hostile critics,” namely me, claimed the poem was about Obama’s Communist mentor, Frank Marshall Davis.
In his footnotes, Garrow cites an article published in American Thinker in 2011. In it, I quoted Remnick’s claim that “’Pop’ clearly reflects Obama’s relationship with his grandfather Stanley Dunham.” I disagreed. “The poem does no such thing, “ I wrote. “For starters, if the poem really were about ‘Gramps,’ Stanley Dunham, why didn’t Obama simply call it ‘Gramps.’”
There is a variety of evidence arguing for Davis as “Pop.” This includes a 1987 interview with Davis recorded by the University of Hawaii for a documentary on his life. Watching it, one can visualize “Pop”: the drinking, the smoking, the glasses, the twitches, the roaming eyes, the thick neck and broad back. “I could see Frank sitting in his overstuffed chair,” Obama remembers in Dreams, “a book of poetry in his lap, his reading glasses slipping down his nose.”
Among the details in the poem that disqualified Dunham as the poem’s subject was this one: “he switches channels, recites an old poem/ He wrote before his mother died.” As I explained, Dunham’s mother died when he was eight years old. Frank Marshall Davis’s mother died when he was twenty and had already established himself as a poet of promise. “When an insider like Remnick gets something this obviously wrong,” I concluded, “I begin to suspect disinformation, not mere misinformation.”