Rich, I agree that the Ayers issue was never going to win the election, but there is a lot more there to exploit than McCain has. He has seized on the least important aspect of Ayers: the fact that Obama is lying about the extent and nature of the relationship. And in so doing, he highlights only the bracing but not enduring fact about Ayers — i.e., that he was a terrorist.
Of course it’s important that presidents be honest, but as we’ve seen, the public expects politicians to lie about their unsavory connections. And Ayers was a bomber 40 years ago — for many of us, that still makes him radioactive, but, unfortunately, that is not the case with perhaps 30 percent of the country, which regards his atrocities as youthful excesses in opposition to the Vietnam War, their coming-of-age experience.
The importance of Ayers, which McCain has failed to go near, is that he is and has always been a Leftist revolutionary. That is what fueled his terrorism and all his other projects. Obama repeatedly points out that he was only eight years old when Ayers committed his bombings. Fair enough. But when Obama, as an adult, joined with Ayers in “education reform,” Ayers was a self-described “small ‘c’ communist.” Nonetheless, they collaborated — and continued to collaborate as Ayers continued to take high profile radical, anti-American positions. This is not remotely about guilt-by-association, though the way McCain has gone about challenging Obama on Ayers is vulnerable to that charge. It is about what they did together and what that says about Obama’s politics.
This, I submit, is of substantive relevance (not guilt-by-association) on at least five different issues of immense importance to Americans: the economy, race relations, education, crime, and national security.
1. On the economy, Ayers is a socialist who was and is dedicated to an anti-capitalist agenda and a collectivist model. He regards Chavez’s Venezuela — a despotic, confiscatory state in which government power suppresses political enemies and individual initiative — as “a beacon to the world.” There is abundant reason to believe Obama shares Ayers’s fondness for anti-capitalism, collectivism, confiscatory policies, and the use of state power to snuff out individualism and punish enemies. What little we have in the way of written and spoken product from Obama is rife with these themes. As Stanley has detailed, moreover, Obama was for ruinous levels of public spending in Illinois even as the state was turning into ever more of a basket case. (See the last third or so of this lengthy article.) This is where socialism leads.
2. On race, Ayers believes the United States is an apartheid state. Obama’s writings and early public statements are singularly focused on black empowerment, they are anti-integration, and they are implicitly (and sometimes explicitly) hostile to what he regards as a dominant white culture in which African-Americans will always be second-class citizens (in that, he channels Ayers, Wright and Michelle Obama). Moreover, at the Woods Fund, Ayers and Obama together funded Wright’s church, a font of Black Liberation Theology.
3. On education, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was dedicated to using the classroom to inculcate in the young Ayers’s anti-American, anti-Western, anti-capitalist “revolution” (revolution is Ayers’s word, I’m not putting it in his mouth, and it informs what we should take Obama to mean when he talks about change). As Stanley has shown, the projects and recipients Ayers and Obama funded with their $160M piggy bank are very, very disturbing — there is no doubt that America’s parents would find them disturbing and be deeply turned off by the whole notion of politicizing the classroom … especially toward the goal of radically altering our society.
4. Regarding crime, Obama does not just know Ayers’s work; he has enthusiastically endorsed it. Ayers’s 1997 book, A Kind and Just Parent, a scathing indictment of the Chicago criminal justice system, makes the stereotypical soft-on-crime liberal look like a hanging judge. It’s all about “root causes” (no individual responsibility for the criminal whose crimes are the fault of society), it opposes appropriate punishment for violent offenses committed by juveniles (no matter how extensive their records, how atrocious the offense, and how close to adulthood the offender), and it blasts prisons as an evil to be phased out. These represent the sort of mindset and policy prescriptions that lead to entrenched crime — a fear that so powerfully moves the public that Clinton was moved to public toughness on crime having seen what a winning issue it was for Reagan in the Eighties. (Note: Illinois, and Chicago in particular, have very high crime rates — violent crime is more than twice the national average).
Obama’s assessment of Ayers’s book? “A searing and timely account.” And when she was an associate dean at the University of Chicago, Michelle Obama thought highly enough of Ayers book that she brought Ayers and Obama together for a panel on juvenile crime, observing in the advertising flier that, as a state senator, Obama was “working to block proposed legislation that would throw more juvenile offenders into the adult system” — a page right out of Ayers’s book.
5. On national security, let’s put aside for the moment that Ayers was a terrorist and that Obama was nevertheless comfortable associating with him. Ayers is a vociferous critic of all the Bush security policies that Obama has opposed. Like Ayers, Obama thinks that the U.S. needs to obsess over our standing in the Muslim world and what terrible things we must have done to make the radicals hate us so much. Though paying lipservice to detesting their acts of terror (as he does with Ayers’s past acts of terror), Obama has said he thinks Hezbollah and Hamas have “legitimate claims.” And Obama and Ayers befriended and funded Rashid Khalidi — a former PLO spokesman who has supported terrorist attacks (i.e., “resistance”) against Israeli military targets and whose Arab American Action Network regards the Jewish State as illegitimate (the AAAN also supports drivers licenses and public welfare benefits for illegal aliens). Even if Obama had not indicated a preference for the Clinton era approach of counterterrorism-by-indictment, this record should be of great concern to Americans who worry about our national commitment to the war against jihadism.
Bottom line, if the McCain campaign’s approach on Ayers continues to be pressing Obama to be more honest about the depth of their relationship and repeating “unrepentent terrorist” as if it were a mantra, then McCain is not going to get much mileage out of it and he will get clobbered for a guilt-by-association smear. To the contrary, if he makes the issue Ayers’s revolutionary Leftism, walks people through how comfortably Obama has associated himself with Ayers’s ideology, and explains the substantive consequences of having a president who shares much of Ayers’s worldview, there is potentially a huge upside for McCain, and for the country.