David Remnick Revisits Obama and Bill Ayers. But What has he Left Out?

The connection between Bill Ayers, once a founder and leader of the Weather Underground, and President Barack Obama is old and to some irrelevant news. Or so, most have assumed. But now, thanks to the careful sleuthing of a maverick labor activist and attorney, Stephen Diamond, who writes a blog he calls King Harvest, the relationship between Ayers and Obama has come under new scrutiny.

When writing about this when I began my blog two years back, I somehow missed Diamond’s previous contributions to the effort. They are important for two reasons. The first is that Diamond is no supporter of the simplistic theory that Obama was a friend of the unrepentant terrorist Bill Ayers and therefore a secret communist. Rather Diamond concentrated on their joint activity on behalf of a radical educational curriculum that often led to conflict with the traditional teachers’ unions.

When the Ayers/Obama connection became a major issue, The New York Times ran what became an influential investigative report on their relationship. Bloggers, including Diamond, had written that the appointment of Obama to the Board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge had been engineered for Obama by Bill  Ayers. The Times reporters concluded, however, that “Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment.” (my emphasis)

Stephen Diamond, who had been interviewed by different Times reporters more than once, responded with a long reply that the paper’s editors did not print. It is worth revisiting his answer now. Published on his blog on Oct. 8, 2009, Diamond notes that the real story is not “the narrow minded approach of the Republican party to attack Obama by attempting to link him to Ayers history as a terrorist.”  Rather, it was that “the fundamental political world view of Ayers, not his tactical foray into bombings for a few years, is influencing the Obama candidacy.” Diamond bases his case on Ayers and Obama’s shared belief in a so-called “ ‘social justice’ approach to education.”

Like Sol Stern, whose writings for City Journal emphasized these same points, Diamond itemized the program, and then concluded that “the purpose of these entities is to create a political base for Ayers and his band of fellow traveling authoritarians to push their wider political agenda.” The four basic ideas Ayers and Obama believed in, he wrote, are these:

  • the creation of “local school councils” (LSCs) like those that Ayers has promoted in Chicago for the last 20 years;
  • “small schools” which Ayers has also promoted since the early 1990s in Chicago and elsewhere;
  • the advocacy of what Ayers and others call “social justice” teaching; and
  • the payment of reparations through education spending to correct what he has seen for 40 years as the fundamentally racist nature of American society.

While Obama did not offer any support for “the foray into violence by Ayers from 1969-1980,” Diamond wrote, while he was a community organizer from 1985 to 1988 he led the Developing Communities Project, and was “was a leading player in the lobbying campaign for ‘local school councils’  in Chicago in the wake of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.” In that lobbying effort, Obama worked alongside Ayers. Obama faced opposition from both the union and mainstream black organizations. Yet he did not step aside from his lobbying, and as Diamond wrote, The New York Times “did not explain that among the most important projects of the [Annenberg] Challenge were the very same four policies so critical to Ayers political strategy.”