Sunday, October 05, 2008

Barack, Bill and Bernadine

The New York Times weighs in this morning on the Ayers-Obama connection and does a rather poor job. The relationship between Ayers and Obama was not as close and influential as the relationship between Obama and Wright, but neither was it as sporadic and happenstance as the Times wants us to believe. Stanley Kurz fisks it here and you can learn more by following his links.

But does it matter? The best take on it that I have seen is offered by Dave Bernstein at The Volokh Conspiracy:

Obama is an extremely ambitious man. He's been interested in a national political career for many years. It's not that surprising that he wouldn't find Ayers and Wright objectionable company--in the very liberal, Hyde Park/Ivy League circles that he's traveled in since attending Columbia, people with such views are more mainstream than, say, the average conservative evangelical Christian. That itself makes Obama far more liberal than the image his campaign attempts to portray.

But what is interesting to me is that not only did Obama not personally find anything especially obnoxious about Wright's radicalism, anti-Americanism, ties to Farrakahn, and so on, or Ayers' lack of regret for his terrorist past, he apparently didn't expect that much of anyone else would care, either. How else do you explain why he didn't jettison these individuals from his life before they could damage his presidential ambitions? How else do you explain how his campaign seemed to be caught flatfooted when Obama's ties to Wright and then Ayers became campaign issues? And, perhaps most tellingly, how else do you explain that when Obama was asked in a debate with Clinton about his ties to Ayers, he analogized his friendship with Ayers to his friendship with Senator Tom Coburn, as if being friends with a very conservative senatorial colleague is somehow analogous with being friends with an unrepentant extreme leftist domestic terrorist?

In short, Obama's ties to Ayers and Wright suggest to me NOT that Obama agrees with their views, but that he is the product of a particular intellectual culture that finds the likes of Wright and Ayers to be no more objectionable, and likely less so, than the likes of Tom Coburn, or, perhaps, a Rush Limbaugh. Not only that, but he has been in his particular intellectual bubble so long that he was unable to recognize just how offensive the views of a Wright are to mainstream America, or how his ties to Ayers would play with the public, especially post-9/11.


illusory tenant said...

"Professor Bernstein is a nationally recognized expert on the Daubert case and the admissibility of expert testimony."

Odd then, that Prof. Bernstein doesn't recognize his own musings for speculation derived from fallacies of association.

"[Obama] was unable to recognize just how offensive the views of a Wright are to mainstream America."

Or else, what is more likely, he extended to them credit enough to assume they'd attribute ideas to speakers, and not to listeners.

William Tyroler said...

he extended to them credit enough to assume they'd attribute ideas to speakers, and not to listeners

Why, then, did Obama -- when push came to shove -- not make that case, but instead (cynically) claimed he'd never heard Wright's fulminations over the decades? Or, when Wright took his own case directly to the American public, did Obama (again, cynically), claim that that was not the Reverend Wright he knew? Was it because Obama fully appreciated that Wright's views were indeed toxic and that Obama would fairly be held to account for them -- not merely for listening but because by Obama's own telling Wright's influence was formative?

Ayers may be something else, there being no suggestion that, unlike Wright, he influenced Obama in any significant way. Nonetheless, and although I think Bernstein is really onto something, ferreting out Obama's motive is necessarily speculative so put that aside for the moment. The problem here is the cover-up: Obama claimed that Ayers was just some guy in the neighborhood, when it is abundantly clear that their ties were much deeper than that. Why is Obama running from those ties?

Why doesn't he just say what plainly seems to be true, which is that although Ayers' own history might be abominable, Ayers has (in Obama's view) decent ideas about juvenile justice and education reform; and that Obama shares enough of those views to have worked closely with Ayers for a period of time? The ideas, in brief, stand on their own merit without regard to who promotes them. Why can't Obama just say as much? Is it because he fears the association with Ayers? Or with Ayers' proposed reforms?

The other issue to this story, hidden in plain sight, is the extent to which the mainstream media run interference for their chosen candidate, Obama. That said, the NYT whitewash did contain one gem of a quote, from the Port Huron Statement author himself, Tom Hayden:

“If Barack Obama says he’s willing to talk to foreign leaders without preconditions,” Mr. Hayden said, “I can imagine he’d be willing to talk to Bill Ayers about schools. But I think that’s about as far as their relationship goes.”

Hayden's right about that, the part about Obama's stated willingness to hold a meet-and-greet with any foreign leader. (Yes, Obama denies it now that he's been subject to a bit of criticism, and perhaps his instinct toward unconditional dialog would be tempered once in office. But we're talking about a time spent out of the spotlight.) Obama's predilection, astutely identified by Hayden, makes it all the more likely that Obama did establish a working relationship with Ayers. Why Obama denies it so heatedly now may rest on speculation, but his supporters may want to start asking themselves, if he's going to lie about something like this, what else is he going to hide from us?

William Tyroler said...

Richard Fernandez puts it well:

Although Obama’s accomplishments may all lie in his glittering tomorrow, Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are inconveniently part of his existing record. Ayers and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge are a substantial component of his political political career. It is one point upon which Obama actually has “history”. Unlike the prospective, which is infinitely malleable, Ayers is the one of those things about BHO by which he can actually be measured. Therein lies the danger.

Anonymous said...

And now for something completely different.

Well. Not really.

Anonymous said...

Why doesn't McCain get gas for venerating the Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy?

Or why does Palin get no gas for cozying up to a group which has as its mission the destruction of the union? I type here of the Alaska Independence Party, which advocates cecession from the USofA. I know that she isn't a member, though her husband has been and she taped a cheery greeting for the group's convention earlier this year. The group isn't dedicated to blowing the country up in the literal sense but in the figurative sense, which is perhaps more harmful than the destruction of physical elements.

Rank hypocrisy, methinks!

illusory tenant said...

Why, then, did Obama -- when push came to shove -- not make that case ...

I'm not sure that he didn't but if not, he should have. Then again, given the hysterical reaction of many, it's not clear they'd have been amenable to reason anyway.

For example, their current most beloved figurehead, Sarah Palin, has taken to essentially calling Obama a terrorist sympathizer who hates America.

Of course her listeners believe that already so they're pretty much a lost cause.

In any event, I doubt these regurgitated association fallacies are going to rescue McCain's campaign. Most people have more important concerns these days and will find these tactics pretty transparent, I suspect.

William Tyroler said...

I doubt these regurgitated association fallacies are going to rescue McCain's campaign.

If so, then it's all the more reason to be quizzical about Obama's less than candid approach. But the larger point is well-taken: I've thought for some period of time that the only question is the margin of Obama's victory.

Anonymous said...

I have always believed that Obama’s association with Ayers was the necessary relationship of persons trying to accomplish things in the political process. Ayers, for reasons Obama cannot control, has or had a position of influence that Obama had to respect to accomplish his objectives. If having a cordial relationship with Ayers helps his constituency, then Obama is being rational and pragmatic to maintain that cordiality even if he thinks Ayers is a scum-bag.

McCain and Palin, to the extent that they have succeeded in politics have done like wise and would have to do more of it as President/Vice-President. Domestic and International politics requires one to work well with folks you don’t like or abandon larger goals for smaller personality issues. We survived the Cold War by maintaining cordial relations with Soviet Leaders who were ready and willing to kill us all. Thank God for that. McCain’s reputation for working well across party lines is an example of that. I hate to think we get into another war someday because our leaders were too righteous to talk to a bad-but-important actor.

Regarding the Rev. Wright; well I cannot speak for anyone else but in all my years I never attended any particular church because I liked the priest/pastor/minister. It was always the congregation. Sometimes the congregation does not agree with the preacher but also cannot agree what to do about that. Sometimes it’s the preacher’s job to say outrageous things; things that offend those on the Left or on the Right.

I wish Obama was clearer about why he maintained these relationships; but they only show to me a willingness to listen to everyone. That’s actually a valuable trait. We all should do that.

sean s.