When George Stephanopoulos so rudely queried Sen. Barack Obama about his long-standing connections to unrepentant domestic terrorist William Ayers during a recent Democratic debate, many conservative newshounds cheered. At long last, Americans had been introduced to a name that only a handful of right-leaning news sources had previously explored. Obama challenged the question's relevancy, carefully avoided details, and pivoted to another topic of discussion. The damage was done, though, and his campaign was forced to issue a "fact" sheet to debunk any nasty implications the "distraction" of a question may have raised. Team Obama informed readers that a) Obama himself is far too young to have been a member of the Weather Underground, b) The mainstream media consensus is that Obama's ties to Ayers are irrelevant, c) All charges against Ayers were dropped, and d) Ayers and his wife, Bernadine Dohrn, are actually pretty "mainstream" these days. Three of these four defenses ring hollow.
First, let's stipulate the obvious: Barack Obama was a young boy when Ayers and Dohrn were blowing up federal buildings, running from authorities, and warning Americans to "guard your children." Obama is not a terrorist, and he should not be held responsible for the Weather Underground's criminal acts.
Next, let's examine Obama's claim that his connection to Ayers and Dohrn is "tenuous" and "phony." Is it phony that Obama's political coming-out party in the mid-1990s was hosted by Ayers and Dohrn? What about the panel discussions in which Ayers and Obama both took part—that were organized by Michelle Obama? Tenuous? I suppose the goodbye party for prominent Israel basher and Arafat apologist Rashid Khalidi, attended by Obama, Ayers and Dohrn, is also unworthy of discussion. That Khalidi himself hosted a fundraiser for Obama's first Congressional campaign must be completely irrelevant, too.
Then there's the pesky fact that Obama and Ayers served together on the board of the Woods Fund for three years—and continued to do so even after Ayers was quoted in the New York Times fondly recalling his days as a bomber, and despairing that he hadn't "done more." (This quote, the Obama fact sheet reminds us, comes from an interview that just happened to be published on 9/11—Ayers had made the incendiary remarks earlier. I don't know about you, but that makes me feel a lot better). The funds Obama and Ayers helped control at the Woods Foundation funneled thousands of dollars into both Khalidi's organization and the now-infamous Trinity United Church of Christ. Irrelevant, phony distractions? So what if the Obama campaign's top strategist concedes that the Senator's relationship with the terrorist is "friendly"? I apologize for even devoting this much attention to such tenuous and unimportant information.
Obama's "fact" sheet then brings us the crucial bulletin that all charges against Ayers were dropped, and that he spent no time in jail. Absolutely true. Except a minor detail was omitted: Ayers openly admits he is "guilty as sin" but "free as a bird." Charges were dropped because federal authorities overstepped their legal bounds in pursuing the Weathermen, not because the charges were unfounded. Perhaps this distinction was too nuanced for a man who found it appropriate to compare his racist pastor to his own grandmother, and an unrepentant terrorist to a respected United States Senator. The Obama campaign also curiously chose not to "fact check" Bernadine Dohrn's criminal record, which includes a seven-month stint in jail for refusing to cooperate with a murder investigation.
Finally, and maybe most preposterously, the document pronounces Ayers and Dohrn to be "respectable" members of the "mainstream" community. After all, it has been seven years or so since Ayers said he didn't regret setting bombs. That's ancient history. Today, these folks are pillars of the level-headed, mainstream Chicago community. Enter the audio.
I happened upon this content as I conducted some basic research into Ayers and Dohrn for a special report my boss, Sandy Rios, was planning to run on her daily radio program in Chicago. The former terrorists both gave speeches at a reunion of aging radicals in November of 2007, and the audio is available on the web for anyone with a computer to hear. Considering that The Sandy Rios Show is a relatively small operation without a small army of researchers at our disposal, I initially assumed that the intrepid journalists that populate our mainstream media had beaten us to the punch on this story. They hadn't. The audio linked above clearly demonstrates that the terrorist tandem is neither respectable nor mainstream by any reasonable definition.
Dohrn refers to America as "the beast" and "the monster" while rambling on about the United States' obsession with empire and our white supremacist way of life. She says she believes the US government to be the greatest purveyor of violence in the world. Ayers, not to be outdone, cheers an ongoing "spirit of rebellion…and resistance." He favorably quotes Mao Zedong's premier, Zhou Enlai. He calls contemporary America a place of "great stress, and oppression, and authoritarianism," and bemoans "a kind of rising incipient American form of fascism." (Jonah Goldberg, call your office). Does Barack Obama expect Americans to believe these deranged rantings represent anything close to mainstream commentary?
As more and more facts about Obama's relationship with Ayers and Dohrn emerge, expect the Obamites to intensify their insistence that such matters are "distractions," "old politics," or—as Andrew Sullivan has already labeled this issue—part of the right wing "freakshow." With all due respect, I'm not sure "freakshow" is the most effective pejorative to hurl at those being critical of two unrepentant anti-American terrorists. As the Obama campaign continues in its efforts to kill this story, they'd be well served to avoid issuing any more "fact" sheets riddled with half-truths, lies of omission, and falsifiable claims.
Might I suggest a high-profile speech from Obama to open up a "national dialogue" on the roots of domestic terrorism?