The Pennsylvania Democratic debate took a few nasty turns last night, as moderator George Stephanopoulos sought to inject a new figure from Obama's Chicago life -- William Ayers -- into the national discourse. Before the debate, few voters were aware of Williams Ayers, much less the nature of his connections to the the Illinois senator.
The Associated Press reports on Ayers in the debate:
Clinton said she was concerned about Obama's association with Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground who Clinton pointed out said in an interview published on Sept. 11, 2001, that he didn't regret bombing government buildings. Obama quickly responded that Clinton's husband pardoned one member of Weather Underground and commuted the sentence of another.
"Look, there is no doubt that the Republicans will attack either of us," Obama said. "What I've been able to display during the course of this primary is that I can take a punch. I've taken some pretty good ones from Senator Clinton."
The New York Times has a rundown on William Ayer's controversial past, as well as his loose ties with Barack Obama:
Mr. Ayers is listed as a member of the nine-member board of the Woods Fund of Chicago, an offshoot of the Woods Charitable Fund, founded in 1941 by a prominent lawyer and telephone company executive. According to the fund's Web site, it has focused in recent years on "issues that affected the area's least advantaged, including welfare reform, affordable housing" and "tax policy as a tool in reducing poverty."
For a time, Mr. Obama was on the board with Mr. Ayers, though he no longer has a formal association with the group. At the debate, he described Mr. Ayers as "a guy who lives in my neighborhood," but "not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis." Mr. Obama said he was being unjustly linked to "somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8 years old."
The Washington Post also points out that Ayers contributed $200 to Obama's state senate reelection campaign in 2001.
Politico, who first covered the relationship into this year, reports that Obama visited the household of the Ayers in Chicago early in his political career:
In 1995, State Senator Alice Palmer introduced her chosen successor, Barack Obama, to a few of the district's influential liberals at the home of two well known figures on the local left: William Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn....
"I can remember being one of a small group of people who came to Bill Ayers' house to learn that Alice Palmer was stepping down from the senate and running for Congress," said Dr. Quentin Young, a prominent Chicago physician and advocate for single-payer health care, of the informal gathering at the home of Ayers and his wife, Dohrn. "[Palmer] identified [Obama] as her successor."
As Lynn Sweet points out, Obama's seemingly scant relationship with Ayers has been a favorite story of Fox News:
Ayers is a noted education specialist at the University of Illinois at Chicago. But to Fox News -- which has relentlessly been playing up Obama's associations with Ayers -- Ayers is an unrepentant terrorist. Obama made it seem like he barely knew him, though they both served on Chicago's Woods Fund board.
Indeed, some have pointed out that Stephanopoulos' question in the debate sounded eerily similar to a conversation between him and Fox anchor Sean Hannity held the day before the debate. From Hannity's radio show (via Think Progress):
HANNITY: There are two questions that I don't think anybody has asked Barack Obama, and I don't know if this is going to be on your list tomorrow. One is - the only time he's ever been asked about his association with Bill Ayers, the unrepentant terrorist from the Weather Underground who on 9/11 of all days in the New York Times was saying "I don't regret setting bombs. I don't think we did enough." When asked about it by the Politico, David Axelrod said that they have a friendly relationship, and that they had done a number of speeches together and that they sat on a board together. Is that a question you might ask?
STEPHANOPOULOS: Well, I'm taking notes right now.
And Talking Points Memo has a clip from Fox News falsely claims that Ayers was Obama's mentor:
Still, the connection is troubling, if only for reasons of perception, to at least some progressives. HuffPost blogger Larry Johnson suggested in February that, "William Ayers, in the age of terrorism, will be Barack Obama's Willie Horton."
What makes Ayers so toxic is his own written record equating U.S. Marines with terrorists. Look at the beating that John Kerry took for tossing his medals over the White House fence. Ayers did not toss medals, he threw bombs. Real ones. Bombs that exploded.