What is the history and extent of the relationship between unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers and Barack Obama? Good question, and one that has stumped the Obama campaign since they delivered their first misinformation about it last February. In a different political environment this level of deceit and evasiveness would spark press coverage of an obvious cover-up, but you go to elections with the media you have.
As part of the prep for tonight's debate let's
reprise their shifting
In February of 2008 the theme was "nothing to see". Here is Ben Smith of The Politico:
I didn't get to ask Obama about his relationship with Bill Ayers today, but did ask his chief strategist (and reigning expert on Chicago's political tribes), David Axelrod, about the two men.
"Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."
That barely survived the day; from an UPDATE:
UPDATE: There's been a bit of confusion about Axelrod's line on the kids, who -- as the Guardian's Daniel Nasaw noted -- aren't the same age. Obama's kids went go the the University of Chicago Lab Schools, where Ayers kids, who are much older, had gone. However, Bernardine Dohrn is still active at the school, and an Obama aide said that was the connection.
Ahh, kids in the same school. That story held up for a little while. In April George Stepanopolous asked Obama directly during the Democratic debate in Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton seemed to know more about the relationship than either George or Obama, who gave this reply:
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.
Bill Ayers is a professor of education, as Obama had excellent reason to know since in 1995 and for several years thereafter he had worked with Ayers on education reform as part of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Hillary joined in, noting their association as board members on the Woods Fund of Chicago.
Following that debate the Obama campaign put out a "Fact Check" to clarify the Obama-Ayers relationship. No mention was made of the years the two men spent working together on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge. Puzzling.
Obama had a slightly clearer memory when asked about Ayers during a Fox News interview a bit later in April:
OBAMA: ...Now, Mr. Ayres [sic] is a 60 plus year old individual who lives in my neighborhood, who did something that I deplore 40 years ago when I was six or seven years old. By the time I met him, he was a professor of education at the University of Illinois.
We served on a board together that had Republicans, bankers, lawyers, focused on education, who worked for Mayor Daley. Mayor Daley, the same Mayor Daley probably who when he was a state attorney prosecuted Mr. Ayres’s wife for those activities, I (INAUDIBLE) the point is that to somehow suggest that in any way I endorse his deplorable acts 40 years ago, because I serve on a board with him.
One might guess that Obama is referring to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which focused on education reform. However, although Bill Ayers was deeply involved in founding and working with the Challenge, he was never on the board. However, Obama sat on a successor board with Ayer's father.
In May the NY Times took a turn (my emphasis):
Mr. Obama also fit in at Hyde Park’s fringes, among university faculty members like Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, unrepentant members of the radical Weather Underground that bombed the United States Capitol and the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. Mr. Obama was introduced to the couple in 1995 at a meet-and-greet they held for him at their home, aides said.
Can't trust those aides! This response came before the mainstream press was reporting on the Challenge, although bloggers were discussing it. The first board meeting of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge was in March of 1995, with Bill Ayers and Barack Obama in attendance. The Politico has reported that the 1995 meet-and-greet was in the second half of 1995.
So let's see - as of May David Axelrod had lied to or misled Ben Smith of the Politico, "aides" had misled the NY Times, Obama had misled the nation and the Obama "Fact Check" was fact-free. Credibility, where art thou?
Recently we have had a min-breakthrough. Following Stanley Kurtz' well-publicized attempt to make sense of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge archives in August the Obama campaign has admitted the bare minimum - Obama did in fact work with on the Challenge (as Obama spokesperson Ben LaBolt conceded to the Times). Their current contention is that this is when the two men met; per David Axelrod (him again!) Obama was unaware of Ayers' terrorist past.
Obama himself joined in with a similar interpretation:
"The gentleman in question, Bill Ayers, is a college professor, teaches education at the University of Illinois," he said. "That's how i met him -- working on a school reform project that was funded by an ambassador and very close friend of Ronald Reagan's" along with "a bunch of conservative businessmen and civic leaders."
"Ultimately, I ended up learning about the fact that he had engaged in this reprehensible act 40 years ago, but I was eight years old at the time and I assumed that he had been rehabilitated," Obama said.
What does "Ultimately, I ended up learning about the fact..." mean? It reads to me as if Obama only learned later about Ayers' past. How odd. Let me toss in a widely-overlooked fact - in the famous 1981 Brinks robbery in which two policemen and a security guard were killed, members of the Weather Underground had partnered up with members of the Black Liberation Army. And why did they need the money? Well, they were making bombs and protesting against South Africa.
This should have been a big deal at Columbia, where young Barack was newly enrolled, since a major demonstration was at JFK Airport (protesting the departure of South Africa's Springboks rugby team, on a world "goodwill" tour.) The Brinks robbery was in New York and well-covered by the NY Times. Beyond that, Obama (per Dreams From My Father) had a special interest in the South African divestiture issue. So how did this politically attuned young campus activist manage to never get a glimmer of the Weather Underground's involvement in criminal activity in 1981, long after Obama was eight years old? Doesn't he read the Times?
Well, the Obama camp's current story is that Obama knew nothing about that and that the two men met in 1995. How firm is that date? Well, there was a city-wide push for school reform in 1988. Obama was about to leave for Harvard but...
"The months passed at a breathless pace, with constant reminders of all the things left undone. We worked with a citywide coalition in support of school reform."