Bill Ayers Started a Joke, That Started the Whole Word Hyperventilating

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
March 28 2011 9:14 AM

Bill Ayers Started a Joke, That Started the Whole Word Hyperventilating

The conservative YouTube user Haggz51 posts a short clip of Bill Ayers at Montclair State University, after he gets a question about Barack Obama's literary skill and uses it to joke about a popular conspiracy theory.

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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"You know that I wrote it?" he says, of Obama's first book. "I wrote that, Dreams From My Father ."

"You wrote it?" asks the questioner.

"Yeah," says Ayers. "If you can help me prove it, I'll split the royalties."

It sounds like sarcasm to me. The one time I met Ayers, in 2001, he was bracing from attacks on his memoir, Fugitive Days , which gained unwanted attention because an interview promoting the book -- and musing that the Weather Underground should have set off more bombs -- ran in the New York Times on September 11. He was absolutely one of the most self-satisfied and sarcastic men I've ever seen behind a podium. So this sounds like a joke, but Jack Cashill, who has devoted many columns and part of a book to his theory that Ayers wrote Dreams From My Father, wants to believe .

A colleague, who contributed to my literary detective work on "Dreams" and has seen the video in question, makes a knowing observation on the exchange to this point.

"The at-first deadpan delivery is [Ayers'] emotional catharsis, his relief valve and his prisoner's shank between Obama's ribs," he writes. "But it's delivered with resignation, knowing [Ayers] can never do anything but lightly sneer while Bambi walks off with the reputation and the big bucks."

...

"He is brilliant, deft," my colleague says of Ayers. "I think he has found a near perfect, near impregnable defense: Tell the truth and sneer. How can this ever possibly be defeated?"

That must be it! What a pickle for Ayers. His old friend denounced him multiple times in the 2008 campaign, and went on to expand a war in Afghanistan (which Ayers opposed) and start a kinetic military something-or-other in Libya. But every time someone suggests that he ghosted Obama's memoirs, he just jokes about it. He reacts almost as if he really hates conservatives and belittles their intellects, not as if he's sitting on evidence that could damage Barack Obama. It's quite strange.

 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter.