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.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.
“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?
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?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:
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?
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.Shales column is here; York’s column is here.
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?