It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
At least, that is, when it comes to the latest developments in the burgeoning Barack Obama book-publishing industry. The good news came first, with Roland Martin of Essence magazine knocking down a widespread report Tuesday that Obama's former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Jr., would publish a new memoir and hit the road to promote it in October. Communicating through Wright's daughter Jeri, Martin managed to contact the controversial minister-- who's currently teaching and ministering in Ghana--to ask whether the rumors were true. "Nope, I'm not publishing anything," he said. "I'm not going on any book tours.'" Inevitably, Wright's reemergence would've shaped up as a rather unpleasant October Surprise for Team Obama, given that it had the potential, as New York's John Heilemann wrote Monday, to "place the topic of Obama’s blackness (along with his patriotism and his candor about what he heard in the pews in all those years at Trinity Church) squarely at the center of the national debate." So you could almost hear them high-fiving in Chicago when the Reverend himself denied the reports.
Sadly, the celebration was short-lived. This morning, the New York Times revealed that a tome called "The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality" is set to make its first appearance on Times bestseller list for nonfiction hardcovers this Sunday--at No. 1. The reason Axelrod and Co. are no longer rejoicing (in case it wasn't clear from the subtitle) is that "The Obama Nation" is the work of Jerome R. Corsi, the "conservative gadfly" behind 2004's "Unfit for Command." Like his previous volume, which contained a raft of widely discredited attacks on John Kerry's Vietnam service that nonetheless received significant media coverage and damaged Kerry's presidential campaign, Corsi's latest publication is apparently filled with dubious accusations as well.
Among the most glaringly inaccurate is Corsi's claim that Obama has “yet to answer” whether he “stopped using marijuana and cocaine completely in college, or whether his drug usage extended to his law school days or beyond. (The author even wonders if Obama has used drugs "in the U.S. Senate.") Unfortunately, Obama wrote in his memoir that he had “stopped getting high” when he moved to New York in the early 1980s, and in 2003 told The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill. that he hasn't "done any [drugs] since [he] was 20 years old." Corsi goes on to cite a report on the conservative website NewsMax.com that Obama had attended a sermon on July 22, 2007, in which Rev. Wright blamed “the ‘white arrogance’ of America’s Caucasian majority for the world’s suffering, especially the oppression of blacks"--even though it's been proven (and acknowledged by Republicans) that Obama was delivering a speech in Florida that afternoon. As for Corsi's claim that the Illinois senator refused to dedicate “Dreams from My Father” to his family? Apparently, his copy is missing page xvii, where Obama writes, "It is to my family, though--my mother, my grandparents, my siblings, stretched across oceans and continents--that I owe the deepest gratitude and to whom I dedicate this book." Oops.
Because many voters have already shown a willingness to believe the worst about the unfamiliar Obama--he's on drugs, he's a black radical, he hates his own family, whatever--the arrival in stories nationwide of 475,000 copies of a book (by a Ph.D!) that purports to prove each of these easily disprovable claims is something of an inconvenience for the Illinois senator. Not only does it provide grist for conservative shock jocks and amateur email smear artists--as the Times notes, "fact-checking the books can require extensive labor and time from independent journalists, whose work often trails behind the media echo chamber"--but it forces the Obama campaign to "risk publicizing the book’s claims by addressing them," lest they "sink into the public debate with no response." It's the classic Catch-22 of presidential campaigning. All in all, though Corsi is less interested in peppering the public with unrelated barbs than selling a cohesive counternarrative that contradicts Obama's self-created brand (Kenya-Kansas-change). According to the Washington Post, Corsi's Obama is "the son of an 'alcoholic polygamist' [who] deals with his abandonment issues and 'black rage' by experimenting with drugs and radical thought" and "makes a calculated entrance into politics despite having accomplished little and having developed some 'anti-American' sentiments." In politics, a misleading story, if it catches on, is much harder to disprove that a single misleading claim--and therefore much more powerful. “The goal is to defeat Obama,” Corsi told the Times. “I don’t want Obama to be in office.”
Meanwhile, Team Obama is hoping that a pair of more favorable books catch the public's eye. The first, out Sept. 7, is campaign-penned volume called--predictably--"Change We Can Believe In"; it currently ranks 167 spots below Corsi's release on Amazon.com's bestseller list, proving that the American people's appetite for policy essays and recycled speeches is indeed finite. The second is a new battleground ad ("Book," above), which features a less-than-friendly interpretation of a faux economics "textbook" allegedly "authored" by John McCain. "Support George Bush 95 percent of the time," reads the announcer. "Keep spending ten billion dollars a month for the war in Iraq." Harsh stuff. But the nastiest aspect of the ad isn't in the book's copy. It's on the cover. There, Obama depicts McCain in a garish brown sport coat and red, black and yellow tie that makes the Arizona senator look, in the priceless words of Politico's Jonathan Martin, "like either a cliched used-car salesman or some sort of '70s-era conventioneer in Vegas."
Talk about throwing the book at him.
UPDATE, August 14: Via Politico's Ken Vogel, a useful summary of Corsi's C.V.:
“The folks behind ‘The Obama Nation'... are casting it as a scholarly, thoroughly researched work. But its author has left a trail of wild theories, vitriol and dogma that have called into question his credibility. Jerome Corsi … penned another tome asserting oil is a nearly infinite resource that continues to generate naturally, and posted a series of online comments through 2004, including suggestions that Hillary Rodham Clinton is a lesbian and Muslims worship Satan... [H]is outrageous assertions and fringe theories — which include allegations that President Bush worked to eliminate the borders with Mexico and Canada and the assertion that Kerry is a Communist — have hurt his credibility on the right, as well. … On the blog FreeRepublic.com, Corsi wrote that pedophilia ‘is OK with the Pope as long as it isn't reported by the liberal press,’ that ‘RAGHEADS are Boy-Bumpers as clearly as they are Women-Haters.’”Delightful fellow.