04 October 2008

Rumor Central: Obama & William Ayers (Updated)

(originally posted 9/30/08)

Folks, people keep trying to define William Ayers, the former member of the Weather Underground, as a "friend" of Barack Obama's. Many members of the news media have researched this matter, and all agree: there is no personal relationship between the two men.

1. The men worked together on a community board, The Woods Fund, "between 1999 and 2002."

2. They served on a board of an educational organization, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

3. Ayers donated $200 dollars to Obama's campaign for the Illinois state senate in 2001.

4. They lived in the same Chicago neighborhood.

5. They knew the same people.

6. “In 1995, State Senator Alice Palmer introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district’s influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn” (Politico). This is the only known “social” meeting between the two, and, consequently, has been the most emphasized.

When all the facts are compiled, it looks like the two men knew each other superficially. As Politico asserts, “there’s no evidence their relationship is more than the casual friendship of two men who occupy overlapping Chicago political circles and who served together on the board of a Chicago foundation.” Additionally, a story at Fox News, reports that a “flub by Obama in the debate [with Hillary Clinton] suggested he does not know him that well: He called Ayers an English professor. Ayers teaches education at the University of Illinois at Chicago and has been an education adviser to Mayor Richard Daley.”

And yes, Senator Obama has denounced Ayers's crimes.

Update 10/4: Governor Sarah Palin has today accused Senator Obama of "palling around with terrorists" (e.g., Ayers). Apparently, she referenced a New York Times article, written by Scott Shane, in her condemnation of Obama, but she neglected to point out the article's conclusion:

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.”

Thus begins a barrage of negativity long-predicted of the McCain camp. Ultimately, it will aim wider than Ayers, but for now the focus rests on the 60s radical, and will "include a new McCain ad highlighting the relationship that is up on television. And both the McCain campaign and the Republican National Committee have pumped out releases today listing articles, including Mr. Shane’s, about Mr. Ayers" (Times).

To counter such messages, the Obama camp responded almost immediately to Palin's comments (a trick that Dukakis and Kerry never managed to learn):

“Governor Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swiftboat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills. In fact, the very newspaper story Governor Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Senator Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was eight. What’s clear is that John McCain and Sarah Palin would rather spend their time tearing down Barack Obama than laying out a plan to build up our economy” (Times).
Buckle on up folks: it can only get uglier from here. Looking at the polls (RCP currently has Obama at a 5.9 national average), they really have no alternative: McCain-Palin have to avoid the policies and go straight for the ad hominem. The problem is they're taking quite a risk--either people view this tactic as a desperate measure and it backfires on them, or it succeeds in the short term but maintains the hyper-partisanship that has marked the USA for the past ten years or so--and such a divide can only work against all of us in the long term (look how well it's done for us since 1998).

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