Crossed paths

The New York Times looks at the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. It concludes that Obama may have downplayed his relationship with Ayers, but believes the relationship between the two was not close.


A review of records of the schools project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.”

Stanley Kurtz, a National Review writer who has extensively researched Barack Obama’s working relationship with Ayers in connection with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an educational foundation based in Chicago, vehemently disagrees.

There is nothing “sporadic” about Barack Obama delivering hundreds of thousands of dollars over a period of many years to fund Bill Ayers’ radical education projects, not to mention many millions more to benefit Ayers’ radical education allies. We are talking about a substantial and lengthy working relationship here, one that does not depend on the quality of personal friendship or number of hours spent in the same room together (although the article greatly underestimates that as well).

Shane’s article buys the spin on Ayers’ supposed rehabilitation offered by the Obama campaign and Ayers’ supporters in Chicago. In this view, whatever Ayers did in the 1960’s has somehow been redeemed by Ayers’ later turn to education work. As the Times quotes Mayor Daley saying, “People make mistakes. You judge a person by his whole life.” The trouble with this is that Ayers doesn’t view his terrorism as a mistake. How can he be forgiven when he’s not repentant? Nor does Ayers see his education work as a repudiation of his early radicalism. On the contrary, Ayers sees his education work as carrying on his radicalism in a new guise.


Glenn Reynolds argues that whatever befall, the Obama-Ayers issue has now crept onstage. But where exactly might this issue lead? One of Glenn’s readers has flipped the question and argues that the real question isn’t what drew Obama to Ayers, but what drew Ayers to Obama. “Here is the thing that eats at me. What did Ayers see in him? …  Dorhn, Ayers, Wright all saw something in Obama that made them want to be with him and promote him? These are not people who like promoting pro-America candidates.”

Of course Obama’s defenders can argue that people are in the unfortunate habit of projecting their aspirations onto politicians, especially one who famously described himself as a ‘blank screen’ on which different groups could project their dreams. Maybe what you see in Obama is whatever you want to see in Obama.  Such as for example, these madrassa kids. Glenn Reynolds realizes that this argument applies both to the critics and believers in Obama.  David Brooks caustically remarked that “Barack Obama loves the future because that’s where all his accomplishments are.” His supporters might argue that’s also where his defects lie. Which brings us back to Ayers.

Although Obama’s accomplishments may all lie in his glittering tomorrow,  Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are inconveniently part of his existing record.  Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are a substantial component of his political political career. It is one point upon which Obama actually has “history”. Unlike the prospective, which is infinitely malleable, Ayers is the one of those things about BHO by which he can actually be measured. Therein lies the danger.


Bernardine Dohrn speaks in November, 2007. This would have been the post-Obama Dohrn.


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