Yesterday in the Chicago Tribune opinion pages, Trib news researcher Brenda Kilianski became the latest to harangue Barack Obama over his association with Bill Ayers. At his NBC blog Division Street, Steve Rhodes linked to the piece, calling it "challenging and persuasive...
Yesterday in the Chicago Tribune opinion pages, Trib news researcher Brenda Kilianski became the latest to harangue Barack Obama over his association with Bill Ayers. At his NBC blog Division Street, Steve Rhodes linked to the piece, calling it "challenging and persuasive." But I don't see it.
On a basic question -- "What does this have to do with how Obama would govern as president?" -- Kilianski offers nothing of substance. Rather, she extends her ire to the work and writings of Chesa Boudin, whom Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn raised after his mother and father were incarcerated for their involvement in the botched robbery of a Brink's trunk, which left three dead. Having made the ludicrous claim that Ayers and Dorhn's "real crime" may have been creating "a Mini-Me Me Me who's all about fighting for social justice without any clue as to how his parents' antics cost lives," Kilianski finally turns to Obama. But all she can tell her readers is that Obama's association with Ayers "reflect[s] negatively on his values."
As the Ayers matter comes up again and again, those pushing the issue will boil this down to a matter of "values," just as Kilianski does. But the question remains: how will the "values" purportedly exhibited by this personal association manifest themselves in President Obama's policymaking?
Are we to believe that Ayers will be appointed Secretary of Education on day one of an Obama administration? Are we to believe that President Obama will revive the radical tactics of the Weather Underground and himself set fire to the Oval Office? If these unlikely scenarios aren't the subtext of the Ayers-related attacks on Obama, than what is? What exactly are we talking about when we talk about "values" in this context?
I understand the concern among many regarding Obama's relationship with Tony Rezko. It existed in the professional realm and Obama's explanations have often been inadequate. I agree that it deserves scrutiny from the media, as long as those putting it under the microscope can refrain from twisting the facts.
But the guilt-by-association nature of the Ayers and Wright controversies remains absurd: all distraction, little substance.
(More after the jump ...)
An addendum: last night on his New York Times blog, Stanley Fish -- himself an Ayers acquaintance -- pointed to the "illogic of holding a candidate accountable for things said or done by a supporter or an acquaintance":
Confession time. I too have eaten dinner at Bill Ayers’s house (more than once), and have served with him on a committee, and he was one of those who recruited my wife and me at a reception when we were considering positions at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Moreover, I have had Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn to my apartment, was a guest lecturer in a course he taught and joined in a (successful) effort to persuade him to stay at UIC and say no to an offer from Harvard. Of course, I’m not running for anything, but I do write for The New York Times and, who knows, this association with former fugitive members of the Weathermen might be enough in the eyes of some to get me canned.
Did I conspire with Bill Ayers? Did I help him build bombs? Did I aid and abet his evasion (for a time) of justice? Not likely, given that at the time of the events that brought Ayers and Dohrn to public attention, I was a supporter of the Vietnam War. I haven’t asked him to absolve me of that sin (of which I have since repented), and he hasn’t asked me to forgive him for his (if he has any).
Indeed in all the time I spent with Ayers and Dohrn, politics — present or past — never came up. [...]
Ayers is a longtime professor of education at UIC, nationally known for his prominence in the “small school” movement. Dohrn teaches at Northwestern Law School, where she directs a center for child and family justice. Both lend their skills and energies to community causes; both advise various agencies; together they have raised exemplary children and they have been devoted caretakers to aged parents. “Respectable” is too mild a word to describe the couple; rock-solid establishment would be more like it. There was and is absolutely no reason for anyone who knows them to plead the fifth or declare, “I am not now nor have I ever been a friend of Bill’s and Bernardine’s.”
Least of all Barack Obama, who by his own account didn’t know them that well and is now being taken to task for having known them at all. Of course it would have required preternatural caution to avoid associating with anyone whose past deeds might prove embarrassing on the chance you decided to run for president someday. In an earlier column, I spoke of the illogic of holding a candidate accountable for things said or done by a supporter or an acquaintance. Now a candidate is being held accountable for things said and done four decades ago by people who happen to live in his upper middle class neighborhood.
(Full disclosure: As a native of Chicago's Hyde Park neighborhood, I grew up with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn's children and know both parents quite well.)