A review of records of [a Chicago school reform] project and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.”
Yes, this is the Bill Ayers story again, but as the Times explains, Ayers is a legally innocent man. Whatever he admitted to doing, and however he feels about it, "Federal riot and bombing conspiracy charges against him were dropped in 1974 because of illegal wiretaps and other prosecutorial misconduct."
The school project both men were involved in is known as the Annenberg Challenge. The Times reports: "In March 1995, Mr. Obama became chairman of the six-member board that oversaw the distribution of grants in Chicago. Some bloggers have recently speculated that Mr. Ayers had engineered that post for him. In fact, according to several people involved, Mr. Ayers played no role in Mr. Obama’s appointment. Instead, it was suggested by Deborah Leff, then president of the Joyce Foundation, a Chicago-based group whose board Mr. Obama, a young lawyer, had joined the previous year. At a lunch with two other foundation heads, Patricia A. Graham of the Spencer Foundation and Adele Simmons of the MacArthur Foundation, Ms. Leff suggested that Mr. Obama would make a good board chairman, she said in an interview. Mr. Ayers was not present and had not suggested Mr. Obama, she said."
Obama sat on another board with Ayers, and once commented favorably on a book Ayers had written on the juvenile court system. I haven't read the book, but I'm inclined to doubt that it vindicates the Weather Underground or endorses domestic terrorism. "Since 2002, there is little public evidence of their relationship," the reporter notes, "If by then the ambitious politician was trying to keep his distance, it would not be a surprise."
I suspect that the busy governor stopped reading halfway through the article, upon taking moral instruction from a Chicago columnist who believes that Ayers should be shunned from public life. This writer claims that people who want to give Ayers or Obama a free pass are practicing the old double standard.
“I don’t think there’s a statute of limitations on terrorist bombings,” Steven Chapman told the paper, “If you’re in public life, you ought to say, ‘I don’t want to be associated with this guy. If John McCain had a long association with a guy who’d bombed abortion clinics, I don’t think people would say, ‘That’s ancient history.’ ”
Of course, Senator McCain has been associated with dubious characters, actively seeking endorsements from religious leaders with disturbing views, but somehow everyone seems satisfied once McCain cuts ties with them. Palin herself has some alarming clerical associations, if we can believe what we hear on MSNBC. But I wonder whether McCain's associations have yet been explored fully.
Palin could just as well have taken moral instruction from her running mate. McCain himself has claimed the moral high ground to pass judgment on Ayers. The Times quotes him from earlier this year saying, “How can you countenance someone who was engaged in bombings that could have or did kill innocent people?”
Somehow that strikes me as the wrong question for someone who has actually done time for bombing innocent people, so to speak, to ask.