Barack Obama has said repeatedly that his association with ’60s radical Bill Ayers, a “radical, leftist, small-‘c’ communist,” as he recently described himself, and one of the founders of the Weather Underground, an anti-war group during the Vietnam period, was entirely in passing. Ayers was just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” said Obama, and “not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis.”
But recently, Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, spent a few days at the Richard J. Daley Library at the University of Illinois at Chicago, going through the papers of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which Ayers and Obama were involved in. He says that the Ayers/Obama relation runs more deeply than previously reported. The documents in the CAC archives make clear that Ayers and Obama were partners at the CAC, he writes in The Wall Street Journal.
Barack Obama’s first run for the Illinois state Senate was launched at a famous fundraiser and kickoff for the campaign at a 1995 gathering at the house of Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, says Kurtz.
Have I been missing something here? What with all the excitement about UFOs hovering over Crawford, Texas, squirrels getting into the Hadron collider and Ruskie warships just off Miami Beach, is there something here that the press has overlooked? It says here that Obama launched his political career at the home of the most famous of ’60s radicals, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn.
I tend to consider who was there at the beginning of things; like who was there at my wedding and who I was in the room with in Concord, N.H., when Wesley Clark signed the book to enter the primary race? And I mention them whenever it comes up. Beginnings mean something; beginnings mean that you have a primary affection and a symbolic relationship with a person or situation. Is this important? If John McCain and Sarah Palin kicked off their campaign at Ruby Ridge or Waco would it tell us something about them and their intentions?
Guess I just passed that over, as I tend not so much to listen to the outdoor voices of candidates yelling at one another and listen instead to the indoor voices in the papers the next day.
And the telling I heard of the friendship between Ayers and Obama came from a Stanley Fish column in The New York Times, written in the high dudgeon that only the academician can muster.
“ ‘McCarthyism’ and ‘Swiftboating’ have come together in a particularly lethal and despicable form,” wrote Fish. “I refer to the startling revelation — proclaimed from the housetops by both the Clinton and McCain campaigns — that Barack Obama ate dinner at William Ayers’s house, served with him on a board and was the honored guest at a reception he organized.”
Yes but . . . this account, in which Dr. Fish describes salon gatherings of Chicago’s Beautiful People, does not mention that this salon gathering in particular was the kickoff of a political career which would lead, potentially, in little over a decade, from the house of the most notorious of the violent Amerika-hating revolutionaries from the ’60s still alive, Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, to the White House.
Ayers and Dohrn are well-known to people my age. As Kurtz relays it in a recent interview: In 1970, Ayers, along with wife Dohrn, were indicted for inciting a riot and conspiracy to bomb government buildings. Dohrn was convicted; Ayers was not. However, Ayers remains unrepentant, telling The New York Times in 2001, “I don’t regret setting bombs. I feel we didn’t do enough.” As Kurtz reports, Ayers and his cohorts bombed the Pentagon as part of his anti-war activities.
Today we would consider these to be acts of domestic terrorism when coming from the opposite end of the political spectrum with someone like the Oklahoma bomber, Timothy McVeigh. Maybe we should begin to ask ourselves where we are going in our world today when a right-wing terrorist, resolute in his conviction to the very last, like Ayers, gets a quick and short ride to the death chamber and a shallow and forgotten grave, while bombers from the ’60s get tantalizing offers from Harvard, $100 million grants from Ambassador Walter Annenberg and dinner with Professor Fish?
Between 1995 and 1999, Obama led the CAC, which was founded by Ayers, and remained on the board until 2001.
“One unsettled question is how Mr. Obama, a former community organizer fresh out of law school, could vault to the top of a new foundation?” Kurtz writes. “In response to my questions, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that Mr. Ayers had nothing to do with Obama’s ‘recruitment’ to the board. The statement says Deborah Leff and Patricia Albjerg Graham (presidents of other foundations) recruited him. Yet the archives show that, along with Ms. Leff and Ms. Graham, Mr. Ayers was one of a working group of five who assembled the initial board in 1994. Mr. Ayers founded CAC and was its guiding spirit. No one would have been appointed the CAC chairman without his approval.”
The CAC’s agenda flowed from Ayers’s educational philosophy, says Kurtz, which called for infusing students and their parents with a radical political commitment, and which downplayed achievement tests in favor of activism.
“CAC translated Mr. Ayers’s radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with ‘external partners,’ which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).”
According to Kurtz, Obama once conducted “leadership training” seminars with Acorn, and Acorn members also served as volunteers in Obama’s early campaigns. External partners like the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange focused more on political consciousness, Afrocentricity and bilingualism than traditional education. CAC’s in-house evaluators comprehensively studied the effects of its grants on the test scores of Chicago public-school students. They found no evidence of educational improvement.
In his book The Audacity of Hope, Obama paints some of his Democratic contenders — quite obviously suggesting the Clintons — as leftovers from the ’60s, still brooding about old enemies in the college cafeteria. He has moved on, he claims. But Obama’s friendship with Ayers indicates that he has not. Indeed, the Clintons were just naïve coat carriers and fellow travelers, like the millions of others of their generation, smoking dope and chanting and shouting at Grant Park in August 1968 and surging ahead with the horde when Abbie Hoffman held up the sign to demand, “Chicks up front!” as the Chicago police came on them with tear gas and rosewood night sticks, to insure that the blood in the morning newscast would be on the sympathetic faces of women.
Obama’s friends Ayers and Dohrn were the original items.
Kurtz was scheduled to appear on WGN, the Chicago Tribune‘s radio station, recently to discuss his findings. WGN invited the Obama campaign to come on too, and explain its side of the story.
So what did the Obama campaign do? “It launched an all-out offensive against WGN,” writes Herb Denenberg of Philadelphia’s Evening Bulletin. “In an e-mail to supporters, the Obama campaign called Mr. Kurtz a ‘slimy character assassin’ whose ‘divisive, destructive ranting’ should be confronted.” John Fund of The Wall Street Journal reported an “unprecedented” barrage of e-mails and calls came to WGN protesting Kurtz’s appearance. The Obama campaign did not accept an invitation to present its side of the case on WGN.
It wasn’t enough to stonewall. Obama’s lawyers demanded that the U.S. Department of Justice prosecute an organization called the American Issues Project, for its running of an advertisement about ties between Obama and Ayers.
Federal riot and bombing conspiracy charges against Ayers were dropped in 1974 because of illegal wiretaps and other prosecutorial misconduct,