Hugh Hewitt

When George Stephanopoulos asked Barack Obama about the presidential candidate’s friendship with William Ayers, the Clinton staffer-turned-ABC-talking-head touched off a storm of protest on the left.  While no one could deny that Ayers and his wife had been part of the terrorist group The Weathermen, many rushed forward to assert that both were now well-respected members of the Chicago mainstream.

The controversy looked likely to die out at least within the MSM after a few days of focus because of the general theory that even hard core and violent revolutionaries like Ayers and Dohrn can atone and make amends, and that their friends of today ought not to be tarred with their sins of 30 years ago.  This was Obama’s defense –“when I was 8 years old!—and it was working.

Then Guy Benson, a young journalist friend of mine who works for Chicago’s Sandy Rios Show in my network and hosts his own weekend radio show, went digging, and what he found was the tape from a 2007 reunion of the SDS, on which both Ayers and Dohrn talk at length about how they view America today –or at least six months ago when they gathered to celebrate the good old days of revolutionary sparkle.

Rios and I both played excerpts from the tap earlier this week, and Powerline posted the audio to make listening and distribution easy.  The MSM hadn’t looked very hard into the background of Ayers and Dohrn, and hadn’t looked at all at their current political opinions, but the new media, led by a recent product of journalism school, scooped them again.

Reactions to the tapes cross the spectrum, from the usual pointed observations by Mark Steyn –“This is the pool that Obama swims in.”  to the usual incoherent denunciations by Andrew Sullivan of the critics of Obama's friends as a "Freak Show" that will eventually accuse Obama of being a terrorist.

HughHewitt.com alum and all-around brilliant essayist Dean Barnett has put out a thoughtful essay on what Obama’s interesting list of friends might mean, and I want to confirm what he says: Everone that I know who knows Obama –including Townhall.com blogger and columnist Carol Platt Liebau who knew Obama fairly well while on the Harvard Law Review—are quick to declare that he is a wonderful person, smart, charming, and, crucially, a good man.

All of which is wholly beside the point.  Some of my best friends are very liberal.  Some are hard left.  My closest friend is a former senior Clinton White House aide.  Their liberalism doesn’t affect my friendship with them at all, other than to provoke endless, good-natured arguments.

But none of them have ever been terrorists.  All of them have always been patriots.  None have ever hated America.  All would agree that this is best government that has ever been on the earth, and our Constitution the best ever crafted.

They have, of course, completely rejected many excellent candidates and policies I have favored over the years.

And they have been incredibly wrong on occasion, and from positions of power and influence in which their errors had significant and in my judgment very negative consequences.

But their intentions were and remain good.

There’s a difference between rotten and wrong, I like to say.

The Ayers-Dohrn rhetoric of late last year was rotten.  Some of the Jeremiah Wright sermon excerpts have been rotten.  Dohrn referred to America as a “monster” last year.  Ayes accuses the country as it exists today of a litany of terrible sins.  Pastor Wright said G-D America.

Barack Obama seems like a very nice guy with a good heart and a wonderful family.  He is obviously bright and extremely well spoken.  He's a down-the-line leftist with the most left-leaning voting record in the Senate from 2005-2006. 

But of even more concern than his ideas is the fact that his judgment about people and ideas is terribly flawed.  It had to have been not to have been able to see the quite obvious anti-American extremism of Ayers and Dohrn or to have objected not just to a handful of Pastor Wright’s sermons but to much of the material published in his church’s bulletin.

Courage matters most in a president, for as Thucydides wrote, “The secret to happiness is freedom, and the secret to freedom is courage.”

But immediately after courage comes judgment, and after that the ideological agenda that will inform that judgment.

If Barack Obama did not see the problem in befriending and accepting the support of  Ayers and Dohrn  --and he didn’t—and if Obama really thinks Senator Tom Coburn can fairly be compared with Ayers and Dohrn –and he did make that comparison-- then Senator Obama lacks the judgment necessary to be president.

If he understood what this rhetoric meant, then he lacked the courage to separate himself from the extremism from which it emanated.

Whom will Obama believe and trust if he is the president?  How will he judge an ally and an enemy?  How will he staff a vast Executive Branch?  Whom will he appoint to the Supreme Court and how will he judge their characters and their personal histories?  Those are judgment questions.

If he even figures out who the radicals are, will he have the courage to refuse them office or influence?

The Democratic voters of Pennsylvania, like those of Ohio, are the core of the old Democratic Party, the party of Roosevelt, Truman and JFK.  I am from Warren, Ohio, seven miles from the PA border, and spent a dozen years in parochial schools surrounded by Dems with a lifelong union man for a beloved grandfather, and two W.W. 2 combat vet uncles who were also Dems.  I know the Democrats of the Midwest and industrial east.

They aren’t going to buy the Obama package, no matter how wonderfully wrapped.  These folks went with Reagan in 1980, and they will go with McCain in 2008.

It has nothing to do with race, and it isn’t because they question Obama’s patriotism.

But they don't and won’t trust his judgment.  And they will never be friends with his friends.


Hugh Hewitt

Hugh Hewitt is host of a nationally syndicated radio talk show. Hugh Hewitt's new book is The War On The West.