Two anecdotes about the same spot in the Hudson and East Rivers

One of the most fascinating minor stories of this political season (discussed previously here) is the possibility that it was the very gifted Bill Ayers who authored or extensively edited parts of Senator Obama’s elegantly written first book, characterized by TIME as “the best-written memoir ever produced by an American politician.” Jack Cashill returned to this subject in the American Thinker with more evidence for his assertion:

A newly discovered anecdote from Bill Ayers’ 1993 book, To Teach, solidifies the case that he is indeed the muse behind Barack Obama’s Dreams From My Father. In the book, Ayers tells the story of an adventurous teacher who would take her students out to the streets of New York to learn interesting life lessons about the culture and history of the city. As Ayers tells it, the students were fascinated by the Hudson River nearby and asked to see it. When they got to the river’s edge, one student said, ” Look, the river is flowing up.” A second student said, “No, it has to flow south-down.” Not knowing which was right, the teacher and the students did their research. What they discovered, writes Ayers, was “that the Hudson River is a tidal river, that it flows both north and south, and they had visited the exact spot where the tide stops its northward push.”

In his 1995 book, Dreams From My Father, Barack Obama shares a stunningly comparable anecdote about tidal rivers from his own brief New York sojourn. He tells of meeting with “Marty Kauffman” at a Lexington Avenue diner, the man from Chicago who was trying to recruit him as a community organizer. After the meeting, Obama “took the long way home, along the East River promenade.” As “a long brown barge rolled through the gray waters toward the sea,” Obama sat down on a bench to consider his options. While sitting, he noticed a black woman and her young son against the railing. Overly fond of the too well remembered detail, Obama observes that “they stood side by side, his arm wrapped around her leg, a single silhouette against the twilight.” The boy appeared to ask his mother a question that she could not answer and then approached Obama: “Excuse me, mister,” he shouted. “You know why sometimes the river runs that way and then sometimes it goes this way?” “The woman smiled and shook her head, and I said it probably had to do with the tides.” Obama uses the seeming indecisiveness of this tidal river as a metaphor for his own. Immediately afterwards, he shakes the indecision and heads for Chicago.

It is indeed a curious parallelism in the work of Ayers and Obama that each should tell essentially the same story, one about the Hudson, the other about the East River. And here’s another oddity. Just before and after Obama recounts meetings with Marty Kauffman in Dreams (pp. 77, 89 of this version) he curiously waxes nostalgic about the Washington DC of the 1960’s, even though he never visited Washington until 1982:

I wandered down Broadway, imagining myself standing at the edge of the Lincoln Memorial and looking out over an empty pavilion, debris scattering in the wind. The movement had died years ago, shattered into a thousand fragments. Every path to change was well trodden, every strategy exhausted. And with each defeat, even those with the best of intentions could end up further and further removed from the struggles of those they purported to serve…there were many churches, many faiths. There were times, perhaps, when those faiths seemed to converge — the crowd in front of the Lincoln Memorial, the Freedom Riders at the lunch counter. But such moments were partial, fragmentary. With our eyes closed, we uttered the same words, but in our hearts we each prayed to our own masters; we each remained locked in our own memories; we all clung to our own foolish magic.

These gorgeous sentences, overflowing with sentiment, are the only references to the Lincoln Memorial in Dreams, and they seem suffused with nostalgia for the sixties, the early days of the struggle, and a movement that “died years ago.” Are these the thoughts of a 29 year old man who had never been to Washington DC before the early 1980’s, or of a fellow who spent very meaningful time in Washington in 1971 and 1972? When the Freedom Riders were riding, Bill Ayers was an impressionable 16 year old; Obama hadn’t even been born.

Doesn’t it seem more likely that these are the wistful reminiscences of an older man about the romantic youth of his radical days? Could they be the words of a man capable too of this sentence: ”Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon.” Now there’s a man with some nostalgia for the good old days in Washington, dreaming dreams about the Lincoln Memorial.

3 Responses to “Two anecdotes about the same spot in the Hudson and East Rivers”

  1. gs Says:

    Is there pattern-recognition software that could help to reach a determination? I seem to recall hearing about programs that test for plagiarism by professional authors or copying/plagiarism by students.

    (It might be too late in the game for something like this, even if shown to be true, to turn the race around. It could have been a difference-maker if McCain had been running a coherent campaign instead of indulging in a series of stunts: some brilliant and others erratic, discomfiting, arguably self-disqualifying. Still, ‘a week is an eternity in politics’.

    I want Obama to lose, but McCain’s temperament worries me and I question whether he has campaigned well enough to deserve to win. And a society that appoints a Bill Ayers to be a Distinguished Professor of Education at a state university…what does it deserve?)

  2. gs Says:

    Addendum to previous comment. This looks like a job for a forensic linguist (H/T: Althouse commenter Pogo) or a stylometer: a courageous one, given how Joe the Plumber is being pilloried. In fact, since free software is available, I wonder if Rathergate debunker Charles Johnson is cranking away.

  3. Paul from Florida Says:

    What is Obama, but a plagiarists? Where, once in his weird, sad, lefty life has he, as they say, ‘fought the power’ and been an original, real, man? (Odd that he picked the fellow delusionist, and fake, Biden)

    In some ways, Obama might be the most conservative President ever. I don’t mean politically, I mean behaviourally and with in the lefty universe he was raised and flourished in. He has never ever tippy toed, stepped once out of the liberal plantation.

    In a behaviourally way, it is McCain that has been outside, out in the real world. Whether it is the unique world of a Navy family, in the camps, or divorcing his wife and going on a drinking binge for a few years, marrying yet again and then politics.

    It is McCain that has has had real adventures in his travels. Obama was carried, or shipped about. Much like later in his life he would be passed from Occidental, to Columbia( were Ayers was at the time too) to Harvard and then lefty law firms.

    Oddly, it is Obama that says that McCain is erratic. I wonder if that isn’t an attempt to cover for Obama being the liberal equivalent of the Gray Suited Man, a la in lefty corporations? Obama gives us an admitted untrue Dream book, as insight to him. McCain gives us events, action, decisions under stress.

    It’s fitting that Obama the drifter, and the lefty Dream candidate, gives us a book entitled Dreams.

    What a good, handsome house negro he has been for the lefty plantations. What lefty couldn’t be proud of their New Man they have created? Go forth my son, Obama, and levitate amongst the unwashed plumbers!

    Obama was passive to sitting in Wrights church, he’s been passive to Chicago corruption, so smooth of a operation that Putin would be jealous. So, why shouldn’t Obama let Ayers, another rich, white liberal, pave the way forward by writing the book? That is only what rich, white, trust fund liberals have been doing all along. What’s one more.

    Now, the question is, what does this do to a person? To have their whole life laid out for them, and to flow along with it. What does this do to ones psyche? I don’t know, but it’s got to show up, and it might well when he is President.

Leave a Reply