Smelling Smoke In The Ayers

I like to consider myself a reasonably good writer, and one of the hallmarks of a good writer is the general avoidance of cliche’s. But there’s a reason why a phrase degenerates into a cliche’: it’s because it has more than a grain of truth. And as I consider the story of the relationship between Senator Barack Obama and unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers, and in particular the actions taken by Senator Obama’s presidential campaign, I keep hearing certain tired and trite phrases:

“Where there’s smoke, there’s fire.”
“When you find yourself taking the heavist flak, you know you’re over the target.”
“Methinks the lady doth protest too much.”

And as much as I eschew cliche’s, I also try to avoid conspiracy theories. Hell, some of my favorite pieces were aimed at debunking some of them. But there’s enough in this matter for me to go out on a limb — at least a couple of inches — and say that there’s something very, very suspicious going on here.

Here are the facts: Senator Obama and Bill Ayers have had at least some sort of political connections over the last 15 years or so, at various times and under various circumstances. Obama has, at every opportunity, downplayed and minimized this relationship, and dismissed concerns.

Ayers, for the record, was a leader of the now-defunct domestic terrorist group The Weather Underground. That group, who drew its name from a Bob Dylan lyric (“You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows”), were dedicated to the violent overthrow of the US government. They started out in the 1960’s and remained active into the 1980’s. They carried out a series of bombings, riots, and jailbreaks.

Fortunately, none of their bombings cost any lives. That changed when they were preparing a bomb in a townhouse in Greenwich Village in New York City. That bomb went off prematurely and killed three members. The bomb in question was a nail bomb — one specifically designed not to just damage a building, but to kill and maim people, and was intended to be set off in a military social club.

Ayers spent several years underground, as a fugitive, during which time he married fellow Weather Underground member Bernardine Dohrn, before they surrendered to police. They were put on trial for their crimes, but the charges were dismissed because of police misconduct. Upon his release, Ayers described himself as “guilty as hell, free as a bird — America is a great country.”

Ayers is now a Distinguished Professor of English at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a influential community activist. And he holds absolutely no remorse over his past — indeed, he revels in it, boasting that “they didn’t do enough.”

Anyway, enough background. Who and what Ayers is is indisputable, but not the point I’m making here. What has been discovered by the investigations into the Ayers-Obama relationship, and even more importantly the reactions to those investigations, are what are drawing my attention.

Obama, initially, dismissed Ayers as “some guy from my neighborhood” and “someone I’ve met a few times.” Then it turned out that Obama’s first major political appearance was at a gathering in Ayers’ home, where Obama was introduced to some of Chicago’s major movers and shakers in the Democratic party machinery. Then it turned out that they had served together on a board. Then it came out that Obama had been both a board member and chairman of a foundation that Ayers had set up.

Now that the investigations have begun, though, it’s the way that the Obama campaign has reacted that really has me fascinated. Their conduct is reaching near-Nixonian levels of paranoia.

One guy in Texas is so unhappy with the thought of Obama becoming president that he funded an ad discussing Obama’s relationship with Ayers. The ad in question:

The Obama campaign is so incensed over this ad, they have launched attacks on TV stations that air it and even filed a legal complaint with the government over it, trying to get the American Issues Project shut down for alleged violations of election finance laws. And they even released an official campaign-sponsored ad in response to the American Issues Project ad:

As Ed Morrissey notes, there has to be a certain concern here from those concerned with civil rights — if Candidate Obama is willing to go to such lengths to suppress his opponents, just what would President Obama do? But that’s another issue — perhaps even a more important one — but not the one I’m addressing now.

Anyway, this is not the only troubling example of the Obama camp’s overreaction on the Ayers matter.

Stanley Kurtz is a Harvard-educated social anthropologist, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, and a frequent contributor to National Review. In other words, he’s a scholarly conservative. He’s been investigating the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, the organization set up by Ayers and run by Obama that I alluded to above. Obama first served as chairman of the board for four years, then stepped down to “member” for another three years, until it dissolved in 2002.

The group’s records are currently held by the University of Illinois at Chicago, where Ayers teaches. When Kurtz first sought to see the records, he was granted permission. Then, when he actually showed up to look at them, he was turned away. Finally, the permission was re-granted, and he started poring over them.

And while he hasn’t found any real bombshells (um… perhaps I shouldn’t use that term when referring to Ayers, because he has a very real history with very real bombs) in them, he’s provoked a virtual firestorm (there I go again) of a backlash from the Obama campaign.

The attacks on Kurtz are remarkable. He appeared on a long-running Chicago talk show to discuss what he had learned so far, and the Obama campaign coordinated an effort to jam the phone lines with “debunkers,” armed with talking points that did all they could to bury what Kurtz had discovered thus far.

When I first started thinking about this, I found myself reminded of how the Obama campaign handled the whole “Obama’s birth certificate” kerfuffle. When rumors first started circulating that there might be something about Obama’s birth that would, somehow, disqualify him for the presidency or otherwise damage him, the Obama camp did exactly nothing. They could have ended the whole thing by simply releasing the actual certificate, but rather chose to ignore the whole thing for weeks.

I thought the whole thing was bullshit from the outset, and ignored it too. But as the heat grew and grew, I read one theory that explained perfectly what was going on, and it’s one that I think is pretty close to true:

The Obama camp knew, immediately, that the whole birth certificate issue was bogus. It was a valid document, showing that Obama was born in the United States and a citizen thereof, and had nothing like a different name or declaration of religion or anything else. But someone in the Obama camp heeded Napoleon’s legendary counsel to “never interrupt your enemy when he is making a mistake,” and let the nuts run with the story for weeks, knowing that all the energy poured into this red herring would be energy that would not be funneled into other, more potentially fruitful, alleys.

Of course, this gives the Obama camp credit for more brains than they’ve exhibited in other areas, but I’m willing to extend them that much credit.

So, could this bit about Ayers be another form of diversion? To convince the most fervid anti-Obama folks that there really might be something worth digging? That there, as the old joke goes, really be a pony under that big pile of horse manure?

I don’t think so.

With the birth certificate mess, the Obama camp did literally nothing. They just refused to cooperate. Hell, they refused to acknowledge that there was any kind of question at all.

In the Ayers matter, they are not just ignoring it. They are taking active steps to put down the investigations. They produced the above ad dismissing the American Issues Project ad. They are trying to get the government to shut down the AIP. And they are rallying their followers to hound and harass Stanley Kurtz.

This much energy focused on this one matter has my spider-sense tingling. If this is, indeed, merely a gambit like they played with the birth certificate issue, then it’s a damned expensive one. And risky, too — the tactics they are using are very heavy-handed, and do not reflect well upon Obama himself.

Kurtz has found some fairly interesting things in his digging into the records of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge thus far — for example, one program to teach math to kids was rejected, while a Maoist and former Ayers crony got a grant for $175,000 to run the “Small Schools Workshop.” Kurtz has also uncovered minutes of numerous meetings where both Obama and Ayers were in attendance.

The Obama camp is acting precisely like you’d expect them to act if they knew — or at least believed — that there was something devastating to Obama in his relationship with Ayers. And Obama has already been caught downplaying and minimizing and misleading the nature of his relationship with Ayers.

No, I don’t know just what that might be. Hell, I don’t know if it even exists. But I wholeheartedly believe that we need to keep looking into the matter — because, if nothing else, as Ed Morrissey noted, it’s giving us a priceless insight into how a President Obama would handle adversity — and before he has the full power of the executive branch of the government at his disposal.

That, alone, is worth its weight in gold.

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