Jeremiah Wright nontroversy? Not a problem.
Bitter clingy blue collar types, flag lapel pins? He can navigate those annoyances with ease.
But come November the Bill Ayers issue rushing up in Barack Obama's rear view mirror could be a real political problem.
A former member of the Weather Underground Organization -- a radical group responsible for a string of bombings in the early seventies - Ayers was a privileged kid turned domestic terrorist. Reformed and respectable Ayers is now an education professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, an informal advisor to Chicago's mayor and a past contributor to an Obama campaign. In Wednesday's debate Senator Clinton gave a preview of what to expect from conservatives come the general election should Obama take the nomination: accusations that Obama's cozy with radical liberals. There's not much the Clinton machine can do with the accusation seeing as President Clinton commuted the prison sentences of a couple of WUO members.
Conservatives will try to do considerably worse, and they'll have a lot to work with.
Back in the day Ayers was a radicalized liberal in the worst way. Not merely because he and his comrades turned to indiscriminate violence, but because of the reason they turned. Chiefly, their paternalistic belief that blacks could not secure civil rights without their helping, explosive hand to guide them. "Black people have been fighting almost alone for years," read the Declaration of War; the first communiqué of the WUO. "We've known that our job is to lead white kids into armed revolution."
Going metaphorically arm in arm with Dr. King -- as innumerable liberal minded folks of all persuasions did -- was not enough for the WUO. They had to blow stuff up. And they did it without regard for the fact that they were essentially spitting on the memory of a man who was committed to non-violence. Yes they were partially radicalized by the murder of Black Panther leader Fred Hampton at the hands of the Chicago police -- and Hampton was murdered. But many vented their very righteous anger without lighting fuses. But many, also, didn't fancy themselves modern John Browns leading otherwise helpless blacks to freedom.
The WUO claimed to want to avoid human suffering. But you can't express yourself with explosives without somebody getting hurt. Who got hurt were three of their own members. Blown up in an accident so tragic it's actually empty of irony.
But I'm sure at the time the WUO figured they were doing something noble.
And I'm sure Ted Kaczynski figured he was doing the same.
The issue, though, isn't what Ayers thought then, it's what he thinks now.
Read Ayers memoir Fugitive Days which was published -- in actual horrific irony - on September 10, 2001. Though I have to admit it's pretty well written, it's filled with more paternalism (A squad of cops in Cleveland had dragged Black men from a motel and shot them down in cold blood, and now we would, I thought, even the score.) and romanticism of what were ultimately terrorist acts. Ayers is also quoted after Sept. 11th saying that he has no regrets for his past actions, but rather he feels that "we didn't do enough." Take a gander at his website and see if you find contrition, or self-aggrandizement.
What someone did forty years ago -- within reason -- should not damn them forever. But that's assuming the offending individual pays their debt to society and repents. Ayers has done neither.
I genuinely hope Obama's got as much distance as humanly possible between himself and Ayers, and that Ayers is just, as Obama said in the debate, "a guy who lives in my neighborhood."
I do not in any way, shape or form want Obama's Willie Horton to be a former terrorist/current elitist who feels compelled to once again even the score for a black man.
Jason Linkins: Hannity Spoonfed Left-Field Debate Question To Stephanopoulos
Rick Ayers: Clinton's McCarthyism (and my Brother Bill Ayers)
Huffington Post: Ayers And Obama: What Is Their Relationship?
Jeffrey Feldman: Et Tu, ABC?
Marc Cooper: Hillary And The Commies