Sunday, October 19, 2008

Tommy adds more for thought to the possibility Obama had a ghostwriter

For those interested in whether Obama's Dreams was ghostwritten, "Tommy" takes a fairly thorough look at one of Obama's self-described favorite books, Moby Dick, as well as the texts of a few of the Senator's biggest speeches, in attempt to ascertain if either share an affinity for the nautical metaphors found in the autobiography:

"Murky" appears twice Moby Dick. In both instances, it is use to describe light rather than water.

The "Hudson" is mentioned twice in Moby Dick, though it doesn't mention anything about the tide modifying the flow of the river.

I couldn't find use of the phrases "currents of calm," "pockets of calm," or anything very similar in Moby Dick. The phrase "into the current(s)" is not used.

The word "tranquil" and its variants comes up often enough in Moby Dick. References to a "tranquil sea" are pretty cliche in any event. "Oceans of despair" does not occur, but again this is a fairly common phrase.

The word "knotted" occurs often enough, but isn't used analogically or metaphorically except in a reference to wrinkles in Moby Dick. "Tangled" also isn't used in this sense in the book. There is at least one such use of "entanglement," however. "Horizon" occurs frequently, though always in reference to an actual, not metaphorical, horizon. "Ragged" occurs four times in the book.

A quick glance through the old book reminds me of how infrequently simple metaphors or analogies are used in Melville's writings. The narrative of the story, not simple phraseology, bears the author's allusions.

For what it is worth (again, not much), none of the following terms occur in Obama's DNC speech in 2004.


He makes a reference to a "naval lieutenant," but, of course, he is referring to John Kerry on the Mekong. He makes use of the phrase "wind at our backs." That appears to be the only possible nautical metaphor in the speech.

Obama's speech on race contains mention of the word "ocean," but only in reference to the founders of the colonies crossing the ocean from the Old World. The word "storm" only occurs as part of the word "firestorm." The word "current" is only used in the sense of "contemporary." None of the other words listed above are used. The word "wind" is used here, but only in quoting Dreams. I didn't read this entire speech again, but browsing it did not reveal any evident nautical metaphors.

With the exception of a reference to immigrants crossing the ocean, none of the above words occur in Obama's acceptance speech. He makes a reference to a "hurricane," and to "floodwaters," but these are obvious references to Katrina and Ike. The only reference to "wind" is in the term "wind power." Once again, I didn't care to read this entire speech for a second time, but I could not find any obvious nautical allusions in browsing this speech either.

He doesn't seem too fond of inserting nautical metaphors into his significant speeches. But then I'm not sure how involved he is in writing or editing his own speeches.

All in all, I have to say that after reviewing Moby Dick and Obama's speeches, I'm less certain than before that Obama wrote his autobiographies without assistance. I do get the sense that someone with firsthand experience of the sea might have assisted in penning these books.

It may also be worth keeping in mind that Obama hasn't had any qualms in borrowing the rhetoric of other speakers. That is demonstrated in this video. Some of the shorter phrases he uses are so generic that he may not be swiping them from the sources the video implies, but it becomes obvious toward the end of this video that he has lifted material from former clients of David Axelrod like Deval Patrick and from Malcolm X.
Jack Cashill brings all of his circumstantial evidence together, believing it to be near conclusivity. Seems to me without a 'smoking gun', though, that's a hard sell.

If I had to bet, I'd wager Dreams had help from a ghostwriter(s). Two instances of his previous writings have been discovered. The first is a very rudimentary poem, and that's not being hyperbolic:
Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes
howl, bare
Their fangs, dance...
The other piece is an essay Obama contributed to a book entitled After Alinsky: Community Organizing in Illinois. It's competently written, but it doesn't flow (heh) well. Jack, excerpting from the essay, writes:
“Moreover, such approaches can and have become thinly veiled excuses for cutting back on social programs, which are anathema to a conservative agenda.”

“But organizing the black community faces enormous problems as well ... and the urban landscape is littered with the skeletons of previous efforts.”

These cliché-choked sentences go beyond the merely unpromising to the fully ungrammatical. “Organizing” does not “face.” “Efforts” do not leave “skeletons.” “Agendas” do not have “anathemas.” Indeed, the essay is clunky, pedestrian, and wonkish, a B- paper in a freshman comp class.
Even if that's the case, a celebrity utilizing a ghostwriter is hardly a unique story. It might ding Obama's image as a masterful weaver of words, but it's not a game changer. It has to be Ayers to really matter.

The McCain campaign, in tandem with Republican talk radio, has zeroed in on Obama's relationship with Ayers', something that might indicate they too feel there is something to Jack's suspicion.

It could also be desperation (although they're apparently not 'desperate' enough to go after the much firmer and evidential connection to Jeremiah Wright). The attack line was, in addition to 'weakness' and 'surrender' on foreign policy, that Obama was a tax-and-spend redistributionist, maybe even a communist. But then McCain voted for an unpopular $700 billion bailout with more than $100 billion in the "pork barrel spending" he had made opposition to a centerpiece of his campaign. McCain showed himself to be just what he'd been criticizing Obama for being, so that attack line had to be deemphasized.


Stopped Clock said...

I've inferred from reading other blogs that there have, in fact, been some ads with Jeremiah Wright in them, put out by 527's rather than the McCain campaign itself. Whether they've helped or not is undeterminable.

Anonymous said...

Wow, great catch by Tommy.

I'm surprised Steve Sailer didn't do the comparison himself since he's the one that touts the explanation that "Moby Dick" is one of Obama's favorite books.

Why isn't it much remarked upon that Dreams and Audacity do not seem written by the same person?Cashill has remarked on that once.

tommy said...

A good post on Obama's dodging and weaving when explaining his relationship with Ayers.

Anonymous said...

We all know what "Tommy" meant, but perhaps you can add a "[Melville]" where he says "Dickens?"

tommy said...

We all know what "Tommy" meant, but perhaps you can add a "[Melville]" where he says "Dickens?"

Yes, sorry, my bad. I started browsing some of Dickens' work at Project Gutenberg while browsing Melville's book. I guess I had Dickens on my mind.

Audacious Epigone said...


But bringing it up in the debates would expose 60 million people to it, a disproportionate number of whom are putatively still 'up for grabs'.


Probably because it's just not that big of a deal. The identity of the potential ghostwriter is what's interesting.


Re: Dickens vs Melville: I'm reminded of my younger brother asking me, "How many of each animal did Moses bring on the Ark?" I answered "two". Heh, anyway, it's fixed. Thanks.