My doubts about Jack Cashill’s judgment and reliability on the Obama authorship question

Steve R. writes:

I know you have covered the issue about Obama not writing his autobiography but are you aware of the very recent news showing it to be virtually certain that Ayers was the author?

To a friend who downplayed it I wrote:

Imagine George Bush said “I hardly know Timothy McVeigh. He was just somebody in the neighborhood—our kids have played together”. But in reality it turned out that George Bush enlisted Timothy McVeigh—an admitted anti-American terrorist—to write much of his auto-biography.

I wrote back to Steve R.:

I did start writing something about Cashill’s latest article in which I explained why I have problems with his judgment and reliability, which was why I stopped reading his article. I drafted it but didn’t finish it.

Here is the unfinished, unposted draft.

Below it is another unposted draft on Cashill from last October where I expressed other doubts about Cashill.

My unfinished draft on Cashill written June 28, 2009, revised July 6, 2009

As I’ve said before, I have found Jack Cashill’s argument that Dreams from my Father was written with substantial imput by William Ayers plausible, based on parallels with Ayers’s book Fugitive Days. But I also am put off by Cashill’s overblown claims to have proved definitively that Ayers was the real author and by Cashill’s numerous errors that make me doubt his judgment and his reliability as a reporter of fact

In Cashill’s latest article on the subject, in American Thinker, he starts off by describing, as a “B-level” match between the two books, the fact that both Ayers and Obama quote the first line of Carl Sandburg’s famous poem, “Chicago”: “Hog butcher to the world,” Then he continues:

What raises it up a notch to an A-level match is the fact that both misquote “Chicago,” and they do so in exactly the same way. The poem actually opens, “Hog butcher for the world.”

This is ridiculous. “Hog butcher to the world” is the single most famous line of Sandburg’s. If someone asked me to recite a line of Sandburg’s poetry, I would have instantly said, “Hog butcher to the world,” And I would have had it wrong. I would have said, “to the world,” not “for the world.” Just as Ayers and Obama got it wrong. And the reason I would have said “to the world” is that to my mind “to the world” makes more sense. And evidently other people have the same reaction.

To call that an A-level match—meaning that Obama’s book and Ayer’s book both saying “Hog butcher to the world” is virtual proof that one man wrote both books—makes me severely doubt Jack Cashill’s judgment. Or perhaps Cashill would argue that the fact that I said “Hog butcher to the world” proves that the real author of View from the Right is William Ayers.

Also, let’s remember that Obama and Ayers are both long-time residents of Chicago. Naturally that line from Sandburg’s poem about Chicago (even with the mistake) will come naturally to them, which is further reason to look askance at Cashill for saying that both men’s quoting that line is “A-level” proof that Ayers wrote Obama’s book.

I still think that Cashill’s thesis is plausible. But I don’t trust his judgment, and therefore I’m not interested in following his argument in detail.

My unfinished draft on Cashill written October 14, 2008 and revised July 6, 2009

Last week Jack Cashill, writing at American Thinker, made what I considered a plausible and even persuasive case that William Ayers was the ghostwriter of parts of Barack Obama’s Dreams from my Father. In an article today at WorldNetDaily, Cashill sadly weakens his own case. The article for the most part is a copy of his piece at American Thinker except that it begins with a new piece of evidence that Cashill thinks seals the case that Ayers was Obama’s ghostwriter, but that to me proves no such thing. Also, as with his previous article, there are sloppy mistakes that make me question Cashill’s intellectual competence and thus his judgment.

Cashill writes:

A newly discovered anecdote from Bill Ayers’ 1993 book “To Teach” solidifies the case that he is indeed the muse behind Barack Obama’s “Dreams From My Father.”

In the book, Ayers tells the story of an adventurous teacher who would take her students out to the streets of New York to learn interesting life lessons about the culture and history of the city.

As Ayers tells it, the students were fascinated by the Hudson River nearby and asked to see it. When they got to the river’s edge, one student said, “Look, the river is flowing up.” A second student said, “No, it has to flow south—down.”

Not knowing which was right, the teacher and the students did their research. What they discovered, writes Ayers, was “that the Hudson River is a tidal river, that it flows both north and south, and they had visited the exact spot where the tide stops its northward push.”

In his 1995 book, “Dreams From My Father,” Barack Obama shares an intriguing story from his own brief New York sojourn.

He tells of meeting with “Marty Kauffman” at a Lexington Avenue diner, the man from Chicago who was trying to recruit him as a community organizer.

After the meeting, Obama “took the long way home, along the East River promenade.” As “a long brown barge rolled through the gray waters toward the sea,” Obama sat down on a bench to consider his options.

While sitting, he noticed a black woman and her young son against the railing. Overly fond of the too well remembered detail, Obama observes, “They stood side by side, his arm wrapped around her leg, a single silhouette against the twilight.”

The boy appeared to ask his mother a question that she could not answer and then approached Obama:

“Excuse me, mister,” he shouted. “You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?”

The woman smiled and shook her head, and I said it probably had to do with the tides.

Obama uses the seeming indecisiveness of this tidal river as a metaphor for his own. Immediately afterwards, he shakes the indecision and heads for Chicago.

This one anecdote holds a host of problems for Obama. For one, the East River would be hugely out of his way no matter where he lived in New York and especially if he lived anywhere near the Columbia campus on the upper West Side.

More troubling, his serendipitous journey to the river enables him to tell a story that is transparently fabricated and almost assuredly hatched in the weathered brain of Bill Ayers.

Even were there no other clues, Obama’s frequent and sophisticated use of nautical metaphors makes a powerful case for Ayers’ involvement in the writing of “Dreams.”

Despite growing up in Hawaii, Obama gives no indication than he has had any real experience with the sea or ships. His answer to the boy that the backflow “probably had to do with the tides,” if anything, confirms his inexperience.

[end of Cashill quote.]

There are several glaring problems with Cashill’s own argument here.

First, simply a reference to a river that flows upstream does not indicate the same authorship.

Second, Cashill makes a big deal over the fact that Obama went from Lexington Avenue (on Manhattan’s East Side) to the East River (at the east edge of Manhattan’s East Side) before returning to Morningside Heights (on the West Side). But he was in a restaurant on the East Side when the anecdote begins. Is there some law that he wouldn’t have been interested in seeing the East River before heading back to Columbia?

Third, Cashill makes a glaring contradiction, saying that Obama’s vague answer to the boy at the East River shows Obama didn’t know anything about nautical matters. But Obama’s confession of a lack of nautical expertise would indicate that Obama DID write that scene. Cashill has just undercut his own argument, and doesn’t realize it.

Fourth, the fact is, Obama gets it right. The East River is indeed a tidal river, or rather a tidal strait, that reverses direction every six hours. But Obama in this scene doesn’t say, in authoritative manner, “The East River is a tidal river.” He says, somewhat uncertainly, that the answer “probably had to do with the tides.” If Ayers were the real author, unconsciously revealing his nautical knowledge, wouldn’t Ayers’s Obama have shown more definite knowledge than that expressed in Obama’s vague answer? Especially since, as Cashill tells us, Ayers in his own book frequently displays nautical knowledge?

I haven’t read Dreams, I haven’t read Fugitive Days. I’m completely dependent on Cashill’s account of the contents of those books. But why should I believe that the books say what he says they say (which I have no direct knowledge of), when he gets so many things wrong himself that I can see with my own eyes?

I agree with Cashill that the anecdote of the black boy and his mother sounds fake. But that would just show that Obama made up a fake story.

[END of October 14, 2008 draft.]

Previously posted discussions at VFR referencing Cashill’s theory of Ayers/Obama authorship question:

Evidence that Obama wrote Dreams from My Father [brief mention of Cashill, 9/22/08]

Obama’s terrorist political patron was also probably his ghostwriter [October 10, 2008; also includes an e-mail I wrote to Cashill pointing out minor sloppy mistakes he made that he must avoid if his own abilities as a literary investigator are to be trusted.]]

Article on Obama’s motivations [A critique of Joan Swirsky’s article on Obama, which mentions Cashill, posted February 17, 2009.]

July 14

LA to Steve R.:

Notwithstanding my view that Jack Cashill has poor intellectual judgment, particularly about what constitutes persuasive evidence that two different passages in two different books were written by the same author, the issue here is not Cashill’s flawed judgment of the facts, but the facts themselves. And reading the rest of his article, which I had put aside at the time of our previous exchange, I see that there are significant parallels between the books—for example, similarly fake-sounding anecdotes that have the same leftish message—that are much more suggestive of Ayers’s authorship of Dreams than the two authors’ use of the phrase “hog butcher to the world.”

So, I continue to believe that there’s a fair chance that William Ayers had substantial input in Dreams from my Father.

At the same time, a reading of the rest of Cashill’s article also provides further evidence that Cashill sees strong indications of Ayers’s authorship where there is none. He emits howlers like this:

To this point, I have just skimmed the 759 items in the bill of particulars in my case against Obama’s literary genius. Not familiar with the term “bill of particulars?” Uncertain myself, I looked that one up too. It means a list of written statements made by a party to a court proceeding. Ayers and Obama each refer knowingly to a “bill of particulars.” Doesn’t everyone?

“Bill of particulars” is of course a common legal term. Obama is a lawyer, and Ayers has had significant experience as a criminal defendant. But Cashill, because he didn’t know the meaning of “bill of particulars,” assumes that it’s a rarely used term, and so he reasons that if the term appears in two different books, the books must be written by the same person. This is a very poor argument.

July 15

Leonard D. writes:

My assessment is exactly the same as yours. Cashill makes several boneheaded assertions about particular parallels being very convincing when they are not. But the case does not rest on any specific parallel, but rather a great many of them taken together, as well as their absence in The Audacity of Hope.

It is unfortunately true that for a conservative to be taken seriously in the modern intellectual climate, he must always be right. The slightest intellectual slip is taken as grounds for total dismissal. I suppose this is always the fate of any dissident.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at July 06, 2009 08:24 AM | Send

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