Ayers Doth Protest Too Much
Friday last, Bill Ayers wrote an op-ed for the New York Times protesting the “unrepentant terrorist” role into which he had been cast in the Republican’s “profoundly dishonest drama.”
This op-ed prompted an email to me from Rich Davis, the producer of the excellent Rusty Humphries’ show. “They know,” Davis wrote. “They know that you know. And, they know that many people are finding out that Ayer's co-wrote ‘Dreams.’”
Davis sees the op-ed as part of an ongoing PR campaign “to minimize the damage” should the knowledge that Ayers assisted Obama in the writing of his 1995 memoir, Dreams From My Father, escape the Internet/AM radio ghetto.
Davis , however, underestimates the power of the ABETTO factor, that is the ability of America’s media elite to turn A Blind Eye To The Obvious, a tidy example of which I came across in researching the sermon called “Audacity of Hope.”
This is the one that Barack Obama claims to have heard on his first visit to Reverend Jeremiah Wright’s Trinity United Church in 1988, the one that moved him to embrace Christianity.
Obama writes about the sermon in some detail in Dreams and used it as the inspiration for his 2006 book, Audacity of Hope.
The sermon that Obama recounts in Dreams contains some provocative tropes, none more so than this: “It is this world, a world where cruise ships throw away more food in a day than most residents of Port-au-Prince see in a year, where white folks’ greed runs a world in need.”
This very passage became a problem for Obama when, in March 2008, Wright’s videotaped comments about “the U.S. of KKA” somehow managed to breach the media firewall.
Obama claimed that the Reverend Wright on display in 2008 “ was not the person that I met 20 years ago.” Skeptics countered that the 2008 model sounded a whole lot like the “white folks’ greed” Wright that Obama had blithely discussed in Dreams.
For a lesser mortal, this Pinocchio moment could have been fatal, but no candidate has ever had the ability to evoke the ABETTO factor the way Obama has. He counted on liberal pundits to fill the breach, and fill it they did.
Prominent among them was Anglo-American commentator Andrew Sullivan. Like many others, Sullivan suggested that Wright’s transparently appalling comments had been taken out of context. To show Wright as he really was, Sullivan posted on his blog the “full text” of the “Audacity of Hope” sermon.
Sullivan’s readers had to be reassured. They no longer had to believe their own lying eyes. The posted version of Wright’s hopeful, Bible-based sermon would not have overly troubled a Topeka evangelical.
There was, however, one major problem: The sermon that Sullivan posted deviates from the one that Obama writes about in Dreams. Those deviations include some important details, like, for instance, all talk of cruise ships and white folks’ greed.
There is a lesser problem as well. Sullivan’s blog cites a 1990 date for the sermon. In Dreams, Obama strongly suggests that he heard it in 1988.
It is possible, of course, that Wright or Sullivan sanitized the original, but a more likely explanation is that Obama and/or Ayers chose “Audacity of Hope” as Obama’s inaugural sermon because it best fit the “narrative” Ayers had crafted for Obama.
The sermon excerpted in Dreams matches the Sullivan version in enough particulars to confirm Obama and/or Ayers were working from the actual text of the sermon, not from Obama’s memory. They likely had other texts to choose among.
Still, one has to ask why, in a book as politically calculated as Dreams, would Ayers borrow or improvise new riffs to make the sermon more provocative than it had be,
Ayers implied the answer a few weeks ago in a Salon interview: he was hoping to create a platform not for a president, but for a future mayor. In Chicago, Wright’s radicalism would not be an issue.
The evidence that Ayers wrote most of Obama’s narrative in this section and even bits of Wright’s sermon is compelling.
Ayers’ signature rhetorical flourish is the parallel sequence, usually a triple parallel, often coming at the end of a sentence. What makes it distinctive is the absence of a joining conjunction—an “and,” “or,” or “but.”
There are scores of such examples throughout Ayers’ 2001 memoir, Fugitive Days, perhaps hundreds:
There is no clearer sign of Ayers’ hand in Dreams than the conjunction-free parallel structure. In the three-page “Audacity of Hope” section there are half a dozen of these distinctive constructions, some examples:
There is nothing unusual about parallel sequences. Preachers rely on them. In Sullivan’s version Wright uses them readily but, like most writers and speakers, he uses a conjunction to join the linked items, for example:
Only in the Dream’s version of the sermon, however, does Wright drop the conjunction from a parallel sequence:
The sentence above seems fully concocted. Nowhere in Sullivan’s version of the sermon are literary words like “deprivation,” “strife,” “groan” or “drumbeat.” Ayers here was likely putting his words in Wright’s mouth.
In the Obama version, Wright alludes to specific injustices that were well known on the hard left but that would have gone right over the head of Wright’s congregation, any congregation for that matter.
“Reverend Wright spoke of Sharpsville and Hiroshima,” reads Dreams, “the callousness of policy makers in the White House and in the State House.”
Note the equation of Hiroshima with Sharpsville, a 1960 massacre in South Africa. Both incidents, the text implies, show white imperialists behaving badly towards their darker brethren.
In Sullivan’s version, there is no mention of the State House, the White House, or Sharpsville. The reference to Hiroshima is not accusatory.
Now, here is where it gets weird. In the post-September 11 sermons, the ones that emerged during the campaign, the hopeful Reverend Wright of the Sullivan version is nowhere to be seen.
Wright has seemingly become radicalized over the years. Much as Ayers has long viewed America as a “colonialist racist power,” Wright now sees it as “an arrogant, racist, military, superpower” and does not hesitate to say so.
“Yes, 9-11-01 happened to us, but so did slavery happen to us,” Wright carries on during one sermon. “Yes, Shanklin (sic), Pennsylvania happened to us. So did the Sharpsville Massacre happen to us.”
Future historians of radical politics may just want to ask themselves one historically relevant question: Who taught who about Sharpsville?
Don’t expect an immediate answer. The media are so blind to the obvious that Sullivan could post this sermon without verifying that it was the right sermon or the right date, let alone the right author.
Editor's note: For a more complete account of this phenomenon, read Jack Cashill's amazing new book, "Hoodwinked: How Intellectual Hucksters Have Hijacked American Culture.
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