The further to the left or the right you move, the more your lens on life distorts.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

In One Ear

When I was a young boy, I can recall my father warning me, “Be careful about who you pick for your friends.” He wanted me to understand that people are often judged not only by their own words and deeds, but also by the words and deeds of their friends and associates.

Of course, I was young, and abstract concepts weren’t my strong suit. In one ear, out the other.

But as the years passed, I learned that my father’s wise counsel was worth heeding. Whether you like it or not, friends and associates telegraph something about your character.

Over the past year, I’ve commented a number of times on Barack Obama’s friends and associates and suggested that they telegraph something about his character. In fact, if you’re willing to look hard, the character and ideology of the senator’s friends and associates can suggest quite a bit about his core beliefs, his underlying political philosophy, and his likely governing style. Since Obama is unwilling to share this information with the electorate with frank talk, it’s only reasonable to look to other sources to gain insight.

As I predicted many months ago, it’s very likely that you’ll be hearing about Bill Ayres in the months after the conventions. Ayers, an unrepentant domestic terrorist, is according to Barack Obama, just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.” The truth is that Obama and Ayers have a relationship that is considerably more intimate than “neighbors.

Conservative writer Stanley Kurtz begins an in-depth report on the subject:
The problem of Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers will not go away. Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn were terrorists for the notorious Weather Underground during the turbulent 1960s, turning fugitive when a bomb — designed to kill army officers in New Jersey — accidentally exploded in a New York townhouse. Prior to that, Ayers and his cohorts succeeded in bombing the Pentagon. Ayers and Dohrn remain unrepentant for their terrorist past. Ayers was pictured in a 2001 article for Chicago magazine, stomping on an American flag, and told the New York Times just before 9/11 that the notion of the United States as a just and fair and decent place “makes me want to puke.” Although Obama actually launched his political career at an event at Ayers’s and Dohrn’s home, Obama has dismissed Ayers as just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood,” and “not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.” For his part, Ayers refuses to discuss his relationship with Obama.

Although the press has been notably lax about pursuing the matter, the full story of the Obama-Ayers relationship calls the truth of Obama’s account seriously into question. When Obama made his first run for political office, articles in both the Chicago Defender and the Hyde Park Herald featured among his qualifications his position as chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a foundation where Ayers was a founder and guiding force. Obama assumed the Annenberg board chairmanship only months before his first run for office, and almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers. During Obama’s time as Annenberg board chairman, Ayers’s own education projects received substantial funding. Indeed, during its first year, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge struggled with significant concerns about possible conflicts of interest. With a writ to aid Chicago’s public schools, the Annenberg challenge played a deeply political role in Chicago’s education wars, and as Annenberg board chairman, Obama clearly aligned himself with Ayers’s radical views on education issues. With Obama heading up the board and Ayers heading up the other key operating body of the Annenberg Challenge, the two would necessarily have had a close working relationship for years (therefore “exchanging ideas on a regular basis”). So when Ayers and Dorhn hosted that kickoff for the first Obama campaign, it was not a random happenstance, but merely further evidence of a close and ongoing political partnership. Of course, all of this clearly contradicts Obama’s dismissal of the significance of his relationship with Ayers.

Like his relationship with convicted felon Tony Resko, Obama’s connection to Ayers is complex and sometimes convoluted. But a strong connection does exist and it’s worthy of exploration.

In a scathing report on the Obama-Ayers relationship with specific emphasis on education reform, progressive writer Steve Diamond notes:
As my readers are aware I have pointed to the joint participation of Senator Obama and Professor Bill Ayers in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education reform project, as evidence of an older and deeper relationship between Ayers and Obama than the Senator has acknowledged. Because the political views, as well as the past criminal behavior, of Professor Ayers represent, in my view, an authoritarian approach to education and society as a whole, I believe that it is important for the public to have as complete an understanding of the Ayers-Obama relationship as possible.

Of course, many well-intentioned supporters of the Obama campaign who, for example, share my opposition to the war in Iraq and perhaps share my views on many other issues, will argue that this kind of discussion can only help the McCain campaign. It may indeed be true that the McCain campaign will benefit because of the relationship between Obama and Ayers.

But if that is the case then I think the left has to take responsibility for attempting to build its opposition to the war in Iraq and other policies of the Bush Administration on the basis of the objectionable political tactics used by, and the political views of, those who lead the Democratic Party. Thus, my hope is that by confronting the truth about that Party we can build an independent progressive movement that is transparent and accountable to its members.

The Ayers-Obama connection is a complex collection of board memberships, political payoffs, and radical, left-wing politics with an emphasis on education reform. Education reform? What’s wrong with that?

Plenty, when Ayers and his compatriots enter the picture. Although Ayers has no direct connection to the Obama presidential campaign (but many, many close connections to Obama prior to the campaign), Diamond notes:
However, it must be pointed out that a notorious ally of Bill Ayers for many years, Mike Klonsky, is an open member of the Obama campaign. Klonsky runs a blog on the official Obama website here where he claims to be a "professor of education" (the website of the Small Schools Workshop that he directs says only that he teaches some graduate courses, though it appears he was a visiting professor for one year at Nova Southeastern University in Florida in 2006-07) and says he blogs for Obama on "education politics and teaching for social justice."

Who is Mike Klonsky? Well, on one level, he might just appear to be a protege of Bill Ayers in the education world. He received, as I detail below, a $175,000 grant from the Ayers/Obama-led Annenberg Challenge to run the Small Schools Workshop that he and Ayers started in Chicago to push their school reform agenda.

But that is only half the story. Klonsky was one of the most destructive hardline maoists in the SDS in the late 60's who emerged from SDS to form a pro-Chinese sect called the October League that later became the Beijing-recognized Communist Party (Marxist-Leninist). As chairman of the party, Klonsky travelled to Beijing itself in 1977 and, literally, toasted the Chinese stalinist leadership who, in turn, "hailed the formation of the CP(ML) as 'reflecting the aspirations of the proletariat and working people,' effectively recognizing the group as the all-but-official US Maoist party." (Elbaum, Revolution in the Air, 228).

And what are the opinions of Ayres, Klonsky and other Obama advisors such as Stanford University Prof. Linda Darling-Hammond on education reform? All support “the idea of replacing the widely used concept of an ‘achievement gap’ between different groups of students with the idea of an ‘educational debt’ that has accumulated over centuries and that is responsible for poor academic outcomes for black and some other minority students.”

In the words of Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings, who first proposed the “repayment of centuries of educational debt” at an educational conference in 2000 and later in a book entitled, The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks,
“What is it that we might owe to citizens who historically have been excluded from social benefits and opportunities? Randall Robinson (2000) states: ‘No nation can enslave a race of people for hundreds of years, set them free bedraggled and penniless, pit them, without assistance in a hostile environment, against privileged victimizers, and then reasonably expect the gap between the heirs of the two groups to narrow. Lines, begun parallel and left alone, can never touch. (p. 74)’” [from Diamond]

There’s no doubt that our long-term historical record of minority education has been poor. It’s also reasonable to state that our more recent history has resulted in the expenditure of hundreds of billions to try to right past wrongs. In fact, there are some who believe that money alone is not the answer, but that’s another matter. However, suggesting that an approach akin to reparations to correct “poor academic outcomes” precipitated by “privileged victimizers” is far outside the educational mainstream.

In fairness, Barack Obama has never publicly voiced agreement with the “repayment of centuries of educational debt.” However, why does he have current advisors who voice such extreme and angry views? And why has he had a close association with Ayers, a proponent of the "education debt" philosophy during his transformation from bomb maker to a champion of the educationally deprived?

I wonder if Barack Obama ever heard the words, “Be careful about who you pick for your friends.”

In one ear, out the other.

Update (8/21/08):

To its credit the Chicago Tribune , the media entity that understands “The Chicago Way” (corrupt, Democratic machine politics) better than any other media entity, is pursing the cover-up regarding the 132 boxes full of documents pertaining to the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers.
The Tribune's City Hall reporter, Dan Mihalopoulos, asked Daley on Wednesday if the Richard J. Daley Library should release the documents. Shortshanks [Mayor Daley's nickname] didn't like that one. He kept insisting he would be "very frank," a phrase that makes the needles on a polygraph start jumping.

"Bill Ayers—I've said this—his father was a great friend of my father," the mayor said. "I'll be very frank. Vietnam divided families, divided people. It was a terrible time of our country. People didn't know one another. Since then, I'll be very frank, [Ayers] has been in the forefront of a lot of education issues and helping us in public schools and things like that."

The mayor expressed his frustrations with outside agitators like Kurtz.

"People keep trying to align himself with Barack Obama," Daley said. "It's really unfortunate. They're friends. So what? People do make mistakes in the past. You move on. This is a new century, a new time. He reflects back and he's been making a strong contribution to our community."

Mr. Kurtz finally got his answer. It should grace the cover of the National Review, with a cartoon of Shortshanks, dressed like a jolly Tudor monarch, holding a tiny Obama in his right paw, a tiny Ayers in his left:

They're friends. So what?

Welcome to Chicago, Mr. Kurtz.

“Friends,” huh? It would be interesting to see just how close they really are.

It looks like Obama and his political mentors want to make sure we’ll never know.

Update (8/26/08)

The Associated Press is reporting today that the University of Illinois has decided to make all Annenberg Challenge archives available for review and study and to do so immediately. It looks like the blogosphere and a few dedicated MSM reporters have pressured Obama and his political mentors to avoid the appearance of a cover-up. It will take some time for thousands of pages of material to be reviewed. Stay tuned!