Friday, April 18, 2008

Obama bungled the Ayers question

Here’s Washington Post Style columnist Tom Shales reacting to ABC’s George Stephanopoulas question to Sen. Obama in Tuesday debate concerning the Senator’s relationship with unrepentant Weather Underground terrorist William Ayers:

The boyish Stephanopoulos … looked like an overly ambitious intern helping out at a subcommittee hearing, digging through notes for something smart-alecky and slimy. He came up with such tired tripe as a charge that Obama once associated with a nutty bomb-throwing anarchist. That was "40 years ago, when I was 8 years old," Obama said with exasperation.
If cries of “shody” and “despicable” emanating from Shales, Sen. Obama’s campaign workers and many Obama media flacks satisfy concerns you have about the Senator’s relationship with Ayes, you don’t need to read National Review White House correspondent Byron York’s column in The Hill.

For the rest of you, York IMO provides the best report and analysis of Obama’s response to the Ayers question [extracts]
… ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about Obama’s relationship with William Ayers, the unrepentant former member of the Weather Underground.

“An early organizing meeting for your state Senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly,” Stephanopoulos said to Obama. “Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?”

At first Obama downplayed his connection with Ayers. “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 an official endorsement from,” Obama said. “He’s not somebody who I exchange ideas with on a regular basis.”

Then Obama downplayed the question’s relevance. “The notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn’t make much sense.”

And then, the Coburn Card.

“The fact is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate,” Obama said, “who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.

“Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn’s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those, either.”

Where to start?

Well, Coburn is ardently anti-abortion. So much so that he once said, during his 2004 Senate campaign, “I favor the death penalty for abortionists and other people who take life.”

It’s a far-out position. But note a couple of things. Coburn also said in the campaign that he realizes abortion is not, you know, against the law. And he does not support the death penalty for people who haven’t broken the law and who haven’t received due process if they have.

“I understand what the law is,” Coburn said during the 2004 campaign. “My hope would be that we would get back to a time when we recognize the value of life, and I think we’re not.”

Now, that’s still an out-there position. Coburn’s dream is not going to happen.

But wouldn’t Coburn be more comparable to Ayers if he, Coburn, had bombed abortion clinics in the past — and then said that he not only did not regret bombing the clinics but wished that he had done more? And then, after bombing abortion clinics and refusing to express regret, he held a political event in his home for Barack Obama, which Obama attended?
What York asks rhetorically makes perfect sense and exposes Obama’s equating of Coburn to Ayers as ludicrous. That’s why you wouldn’t find it in Tom Shales' column or a NY Times “news analysis” of the debate.

Back to York:
And if all that had happened, would Obama say it wasn’t a problem because Coburn had bombed those clinics a long time ago, when Obama was just 8 years old?

Do you believe that would endear Obama to voters in the Democratic primaries?

As it was, Obama used his Senate colleague Coburn to suggest that the issue was not one of violence, and radicalism, and lawbreaking, but rather a simple disagreement: Sen. Coburn and I disagree on some things, and yet we’re still friendly. Bill Ayers and I disagree on some things, and yet we’re still friendly. So what’s the problem?
York wants Obama to tell us more about his relationship with Ayers. York also notes a growing number of Americans are concerned about Obama’s relationship with people who work against America’s interests:
Obama needs to tell us more about his relationship with Ayers. It’s important because voters might well wonder whether that relationship, coupled with Obama’s longtime relationship with the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, is the beginning of a pattern, a pattern in which Obama seems quite comfortable with people who really, really, really don’t like the United States of America.

It’s a reasonable question, and Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) was right to suggest that Republicans will raise it in the general election campaign if Obama is the Democratic candidate.

They will — and they should.

Why not clear it up now?
Shales column is here; York’s column is here.


RedMountain said...

Gee, I am seriously worried about this one John. That's that Education prof that is dedicated to fighting poverty and reforming our system of education. The fact that Obama and Ayers were both on the Board of the Woods Fund for Chicago at the same time less than 10 years ago was overlooked. That is some radical group there, I tell you.

Boy George, still a Clinton man, asked a real important question. The fact that they spent 45 minutes asking qustions on lapel pins, pastors, sniper bullets, and former anti-Vietnam radicals now turned distinguished educators tells me all I need to know about a media agenda.

Anonymous said...


"asking qustions on lapel pins, pastors, sniper bullets, and former anti-Vietnam radicals now turned distinguished educators tells me all I need to know about a media agenda."

I think the questions all related to whether the candidates were able to distinguish truth from fiction. Based on the events that transpired in the Duke lacrosse frameup, I'd say its something people need to pay attention to.


RedMountain said...

Ken, hate to break it to you but the real purpose of those questions was to provoke a response between the two candidates that would ammont to a fight. They were after entertainment, not a discussion of the real issues. Sure, after 45 minutes they ran out of the real fun stuff and were forced to resort to questions about social security the war and the economy.

I don't get the connection you are referring to about the Duke Lacrosse case. I guess Obama is the only one of the three that recognized the truth and called for a DOJ investigation. The other 2 either don't know or don't care, or both. Perhaps you should submit a question for the next debate they allow outside questioning on and ask them at what point in the case they were convinced it was a frame. Sounds just as important in choosing a president as the lapel pin question to me.

justice58 said...

That debate was a disgrace to the American people & believe me that ABC is getting the backlash from it! There was no substance--no substance! It was a clown show! Gaah!

George Stephanopoulos should be fired! Yes, fired--since Bill Clinton was his former boss! It's a conflict of interest!

Both George & Charlie only wanted to push buttons and draw the candidates into a fight!

Nothing but yellow journalism! So disgusting!

Archer05 said...

I don’t think there would be any conversation about the debate if BO had done better. They really should have asked Hillary if she still preferred wearing pearls, or if BO had kicked his smoking habit?

I could have drawn a conclusion about their true character, but alas, without those probing questions of yore, I am still on the fence.

justice58 said...


No, I don't think so! Even if things had gone well for Barack, it was the dumb questions the moderators were asking! Heck, Wright-gate & Bitter-gate had already been beaten to death! Their intent was to create a gotcha moment so they could lay back and stick out their chest! Gaah!

It was a disservice to the people of Pennsylvania because some didn't get to hear how the candidates stood on some issues!

What a disgrace! They should be fired & barred from television---forever!

Yes, I'm a little angry!