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Airing the Ayers-Obama Connection

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of

Before we comment on the significance of Barack Obama's connection to William Ayers, the domestic terrorist from the '60s Weatherman Underground, let's get the facts of the connection out.


On February, 22 Ben Smith of wrote this introduction to his story on the Obama-Ayers relationship:

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.

While Ayers and Dohrn may be thought of in Hyde Park as local activists, they’re better known nationally as two of the most notorious — and unrepentant — figures from the violent fringe of the 1960s anti-war movement.

Now, as Obama runs for president, what two guests recall as an unremarkable gathering on the road to a minor elected office stands as a symbol of how swiftly he has risen from a man in the Hyde Park left to one closing in fast on the Democratic nomination for president.

“I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers’ house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress,” said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. “[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor.”

Obama and Palmer “were both there,” he said.

Three days earlier, the New York Sun had reported some additional details:

As an Illinois state senator in 2001, Mr. Obama accepted a $200 contribution from William Ayers, a founding member of the group that bombed the U.S. Capitol and the Pentagon during the 1970s.

Mr. Ayers wrote a memoir, "Fugitive Days," published in 2001, and on the day of the September 11 terrorist attacks, he was quoted by the New York Times as saying: "I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough."

He and Mr. Obama served together on the nine-member board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago nonprofit, for three years beginning in 1999, and they have also appeared jointly on two academic panels, one in 1997 and another in 2001. Mr. Ayers, who was never convicted in the Weather Underground bombings, is now a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago.


So we have at least a political friendship that began in 1995, and they became professional colleagues in 1999.

More details will certainly emerge if the MSM decides that the Democratic front-runner's association with a terrorist matters to voters.

And that is how the issue should be framed. William Ayers was a terrorist, and as of a few years ago, --if we believe the New York Times-- an unrepentant terrorist.

Does it matter? On Wednesday night, Obama made the case that it didn't in this exchange with George Stephanopoulos:

MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, if you get the nomination, you'll have to -- (applause) -- (inaudible).

I want to give Senator Clinton a chance to respond, but first a follow-up on this issue, the general theme of patriotism in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."

An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?

SEN. OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.

And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George.

The fact is, is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those either.

So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.


Hillary Clinton wasn't buying Obama's attempt to dodge the implications of Obama's freindship with a terrorist. Here's what she added:

SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position.

And if I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York, and I would hope to every American, because they were published on 9/11 and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more. And what they did was set bombs and in some instances people died. So it is -- you know, I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about. And I have no doubt -- I know Senator Obama's a good man and I respect him greatly but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising.

That's where the issue sits as we head into the last lap in the Keystone State full of bitter, gun-toting, illegal-immigrant hating Jesus freaks. But it is too bad that neither Stephanopoulos or Charles Gibson followed up on the subject of the significance of Ayers.

One of the key questions for a president is where do you draw your team from? Who are your friends? What and who influenced you?

We know that indicted and in-the-dock now Tony Rezko influenced Barack Obama --Rezko is Obama's mentor and financier, enabling the not-yet-wealthy Obamas to buy a house.


We know Jeremiah Wright was Obama's mentor and pastor influenced Obama, and despite the many attempts by Obama to rewrite his own history, the friendship between Obama and Wright is deep and significant.

So now we come to Ayers. Here's the opening of the wikipedia entry on Ayers as of this writing:

William C. ("Bill") Ayers (born 1944) is a Distinguished Professor of Education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He was a 1960s-era political activist and former member of the Weather Underground.

Ayers is the son of Thomas Ayers, former Chairman and CEO of Commonwealth Edison. He grew up in Glen Ellyn, a suburb of Chicago, and attended Lake Forest Academy. According to his memoir, he became radicalized at the University of Michigan where he became involved in the New Left and the SDS. He briefly worked as a schoolteacher.

Ayers joined the Weather Underground in 1969, but went underground with several associates after the Greenwich Village townhouse explosion in 1970 which killed three members (Ted Gold, Terry Robbins, and Diana Oughton, who was Ayers' girlfriend at the time). While underground, he and fellow member Bernardine Dohrn had two children, Zayd and Malik. They were purged from the group in the mid-1970s, and turned themselves in to the authorities in 1981. All charges against him were dropped because of prosecutorial misconduct during the long search for the fugitives. They married, and later became legal guardians of Chesa Boudin, the biological son of former Weathermen David Gilbert and Kathy Boudin, after his parents were arrested for their part in the Brinks robbery (1981). In the 1980s Ayers undertook graduate training in education and earned his doctorate in 1987. He has served on the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, a anti-poverty philanthropic foundation, since 1999. He has edited and written many books and articles on education theory, policy and practice.


So, what does Obama think of this past and its significance for the present? More critically, what do mainstream American voters think?

When will the MSM get around to a sustained examination of Obama's ideological history? Thus far the farthest left major party candidate in American political history has received the least scrutiny of any modern near nominee of a major party.

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