Have you ever been a friend or business associate of a terrorist? Not someone who, to your shock and horror, turned out secretly to have bombed government buildings. No, the question is whether you've ever befriended an unreconstructed radical whose past was well known to you when you entered his orbit and walked through doors he opened for you. Have you been chummy with an unapologetic terrorist who, years after you'd known and worked closely with him, was still telling the New York Times he regretted only failing to carry out more attacks — and that America still "makes me want to puke"?
Barack Obama has.
An organization called the American Issues Project, backed by Dallas investor Harold Simmons, is running a campaign ad which highlights Obama's troubling relationship with William Ayers. Ayers is a former member of the Weathermen terrorist organization that bombed the Pentagon, the U.S. Capitol, various police headquarters, and other targets in the early 1970s.
The Obama campaign's rejoinder is three-pronged: The first shot was an Obama response ad, which fails to offer any substantive explanation of why Obama maintains ties to Ayers. Obama's second move was to launch a heavy-handed effort to pressure television stations into rejecting the ad by promising financial retaliation against the stations and their advertisers — which effort has apparently succeeded in intimidating Fox and CNN. The capper is a desperate call for the Justice Department to muzzle political speech through the prospect of a criminal investigation — a demand that provides a disturbing sneak peak into what life would be like under an Obama Justice Department.
Needless to say, none of this is justified. If Obama has a good explanation for his ties to Ayers, he ought to give it. In the meantime, raising questions about that relationship is entirely legitimate.
Obama's campaign has acknowledged that the candidate and Ayers are friends. Though Obama has more recently minimized Ayers as "just a guy who lives in my neighborhood," it is clear that the relationship was much deeper than that. Ayers and his fellow-terrorist wife, Bernadine Dohrn (who has spoken admiringly of the infamous Manson Family murders), are icons in Chicago's hard-left circles, to which Obama sought entrée as a young "community organizer." In 1995, they hosted a fundraiser that helped launch his career in Chicago politics.
Ayers has never abandoned his indictment of America as an imperialist hotbed of racism and economic exploitation. He has merely shifted methods from violent extortion to academic indoctrination. Through his perch as a professor of education at the University of Illinois, he has been a ceaseless critic of the criminal-justice system (he is essentially opposed to imprisoning even the most violent criminals) and a proponent of what he calls "education reform" but what is actually the use of the classroom to proselytize for the Left's political agenda.
Writing in the Chicago Tribune in 1997, Obama called A Kind and Just Parent, Ayers' polemic on the Chicago court system, "a searing and timely account." Michelle Obama, then a dean at the University of Illinois, invited Ayers to participate in a panel with her husband, then a state senator who, the program explained, was "working to block proposed legislation that would throw more juvenile offenders into the adult system."
Obama apologists dismiss all this as "guilt by association" based on a single joint appearance. But it was far from the only one.
In fact, by 1997 Obama and Ayers were collaborators on a far more significant level. They sat together for several years on the board of the Woods Fund, a left-wing Chicago charitable organization. There, they doled out tens of thousands of dollars to such beneficiaries as the Trinity Church (where Obama was a longtime member and where another Obama mentor, Jeremiah Wright, preached a radical, anti-American brand of Black Liberation Theology) and the Arab American Action Network (co-founded by Rashid Khalidi, a Yasser Arafat apologist who has supported attacks against Israel and now directs Columbia University's notorious Middle East Institute, founded by Edward Said).
Even more intriguing, in 1995 Ayers won a $49.2 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation — matched two-to-one by public and private contributions — to promote "reform" in the Chicago school system. He quickly brought in Obama, then all of 33 and bereft of any executive experience, to chair the board. With Ayers directing the project's operational arm and Obama overseeing its financial affairs until 1999, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge distributed more than $100 million to ideological allies with no discernible improvement in public education.
Until this week, moreover, the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Ayers works, was blocking access to the project's files (examination of which was being sought by frequent National Review contributor Stanley Kurtz), until finally relenting under public pressure. Less than three months from Election Day, analysis of the records from Barack Obama's only significant executive experience is just beginning.
The mainstream media has been derelict on the Obama/Ayers relationship. Perhaps now, finally, it will get the scrutiny it deserves.