Hit & Run

Every Time the Poll Numbers Rise, a Kook Gets His Wings

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Five years ago blogger (and reason contributor) Megan McArdle formulated "Jane's Law."

The devotees of the party in power are smug and arrogant. The devotees of the party out of power are insane.

After spending plenty of time dumpster-diving in the Obama conspiracyverse, I'd like to propose my own law.

The multiplication of conspiracy theories about a presidential candidate is a function of his/her success in the polls.

When McCain was surging two months ago, theories swirled about the veracity of his "cross in the sand" story. During that fortnight when Sarah Palin was popular and credible, people questioned whether her youngest son was really hers. Now McCain is fading, so: Back to the Obamaswamp! And the latest Obama conspiracy is… well, I wouldn't say the best (not while a wanted con man is driving around the country bullhorning about a two-day Obama drug binge that never happened), but it's pretty hilarious. It's Jack Cashill's theory that Bill Ayers wrote Obama's first book, Dreams from my Father.

Like all the great pieces of Obama conspiraciana, Cashill's piece is half throat-clearing and half assertion. The evidence:

- Obama hasn't released much of his pre-Dreams ouvre, and what we have seen doesn't read like Dreams. Cashill refers to poems written when Obama was 20 and legal work written before he was 30.

- Obama met Bill Ayers a few months before Dreams was published. Thus, "Ayers had the means, the motive, the time, the place and the literary ability to jumpstart Obama's career."

- Ayers and Obama were both community organizers, both struggled with their identity, and both gave their kids African names.

- Ayers' 2001 memoir gets similar numbers to Dreams on the Flesch Reading Ease Score.

- Dreams from My Father includes a number of naval metaphors, and Ayers was a merchant marine.

Seriously, that's it. This was enough for National Review's Andy McCarthy to link Cashill and send a boatload (naval metaphor! Is Bill Ayers writing this blog?) of traffic his way.

I don't want to feed into what sounds, at first blush, like Vince Fosteresque paranoia.

You know… if that thought crosses your mind while posting, it's probably time to step away from the Movable Type.

Cashill's article is kookery: Ayers hadn't met Obama when the book went to the publisher, Obama's naval metaphors can be explained by his childhood in Hawai'i and his reading of Moby Dick, etc, etc. But there are two telling nuggets in this conspiracy theory.

First: Why does Cashill rule out the possibility that Ayers—whose own memoir was released six years after Obama's—was influenced by the state senator, and not the other way around? As Cashill points out, in a 1997 book Ayers refers to Obama as a "writer" who lives in his neighborhood. Ayers has an epic case of white guilt and an obsession with African culture (African art decorates his Hyde Park home). Isn't the most likely explanation for Obama-esque passages in Ayers' own book that Ayers read his neighbor's book? (After all, the education book Ayers wrote in 1997 reads nothing like Dreams.)

Second: Why, in 1995, would Chicago's left-wing assume that the best way to send their agent, Barack Obama, into power politics, was with a warts-and-all literary memoir that discussed his drug use and thoughts on Black liberation?

I don't know what it is about Obama that inspires this stuff. How hard is it just to run against the man with the most liberal voting record in the Senate in the year 2007?