You’ve probably heard at some point about the fractious world of literary criticism. Deep differences divide the various schools of thought: Is the historical context of a work relevant, or should scholars stick to the inherent features and form of the text? Is there a political function intrinsic to literature? Did Barack Obama actually write his first book, Dreams From My Father?
Yes, there's someone out there considering that last one. Jack Cashill, a conservative journalist, has spent the last year or so puzzling over texts and performing various analyses in an attempt to prove that Bill Ayers is the real author of the president's autobiography. On Sunday, he announced a “breakthrough.”
Here’s Cashill’s proof: In his own book, Bill Ayers misspelled Frantz Fanon’s (quite unusually spelled) first name, using the more common “Franz.” Obama’s book contains the same error. Ayers and Obama both quote the opening lines of Carl Sandburg’s poem “Chicago” in the same way, mistakenly turning the phrase “hog butcher for the world” into “hog butcher to the world.” Both books have characters named Malik, Freddy, Tim, Coretta, Marcus and "the old man.”
There are a few more points like this -- for example, Ayers “fetishistically” refers to eyebrows six times, and Obama “stunningly” tops that with seven, Cashill says. But the argument seems to boil down to a lot of, “One book says this, and that sounds just like what the other book says.”
Both authors link Indonesia with Vietnam. In each case, clueless officials -- plural -- with the "State Department" try to explain how the march of communism through "Indochina" will specifically imperil "Indonesia." The Ayers account, however, at least sounds vaguely real. The Obama account sounds like an Ayers' memory imposed on Obama's mother. She allegedly discussed these geo-political strategy sessions in Indonesia with her pre-teen son.
Also, Obama and Ayers both seem to know the terms “baleful” and “bill of particulars,” both of which went over Cashill's head -- and in the writer's mind, the use of a word he doesn't know is clear proof of shenanigans.
For a nice, clean, line-by-line shredding of Cashill, see here. Or here. (One example -- by Cashill's standards, Dreams From My Father was also ghost-written by Paul Krugman, Ezra Pound, Allen Ginsberg and the 1967 Illinois Commission on Automation and Technological Progress, among many others.)
Cashill found some support among mainstream conservatives last year, but they'll probably steer clear this time, and they'll be right to do so. Still, it's the sort of crazy that tends to get purchase in the fever swamps. So it's puzzling that Cashill would forgo his most obvious piece of evidence against Obama: That botched “Chicago” quotation -- that’s from Carl Sandburg. A well-known socialist.