Chicago Sun-Times
The scoop from Washington

William Ayers Weather Underground past no big deal in Chicago.


PHILADELPHIA --GOP mastermind Karl Rove, commenting on Bill O'Reilly's Fox News show on Thursday, chastised Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) for "hanging around" William Ayers. The Daily News, one of the papers in Philadelphia, referred to Ayers as a "1960s radical" in a story about the Wednesday Democratic debate.

(Lynn Sweet print Chicago Sun-Times column)

The debate vaulted Ayers from being a side matter in the presidential campaign to center stage just before Tuesday's Pennsylvania primary. "The Clinton campaign has been agitating to try to get this in the bloodstream for some time," Obama campaign manager David Plouffe said Thursday. But it was ABC News' George Stephanopoulos who pressed Obama in the debate to explain why his association with Ayers would not be an issue if he were the Democratic presidential nominee.

For Obama, perhaps a problem, because of Ayers' extremist past -- which has never bothered anyone in Chicago. That's why back in the day when Obama was starting his political career -- making a visit to the Ayers home while running for a state Senate seat, and then agreeing to being on panels with him and serve on a foundation board together -- it was no big deal, or any deal, to any local political reporters or to the editorial boards of the Sun-Times or Tribune.

Once Ayers, a former member of the Weather Underground, and wife Bernardine Dohrn, also in the group -- surfaced after years on the lam, they settled easily in to the village known as Hyde Park-Kenwood in Chicago, fitting into the highly political, supremely philosophical community anchored by the University of Chicago. For outsiders, it's Cambridge, Berkeley and Evanston --without a lot of chain stores. It's also the place the Obamas call home.

But Ayers, who became a scholar at the University of Illinois-Chicago, was also eventually embraced by a pragmatic son of blue-collar Bridgeport desperately trying to upgrade Chicago's chronically troubled schools: Mayor Daley, whose father's legacy was tarnished because of anti-Vietnam War protesters getting clobbered in the 1968 convention and the "Days of Rage" the next year.

Rabbi Arnold Jacob Wolf knew Ayers in the 1960s and re-met Ayers and Dohrn decades later. In the 1960s Wolf said he and Ayers were on opposite sides of the use of violence to effect social change. Then, Ayers thought it useful. Wolf came out of the school of nonviolence.

Wolf now is rabbi emeritus at KAM Isaiah Israel, coincidentally located across the street from the Obamas' Kenwood home. (The synagogue welcomes Obama's Secret Service agents inside to use the facilities.)

Ayers is "wonderful, compassionate, thoughtful, serious," Wolf said. I asked him to help reconcile the past and the present. "What we want is not to let bygones be bygones, but to transform ourselves into the kind of people we want to be and ought to be," Wolf said.

Obama made it seem at the debate he hardly knew Ayers. Besides serving on the Woods Fund board, in 1997 he and Ayers were to be on a University of Chicago panel organized by Michelle Obama, then an associate dean. And Ayers could reinforce Obama as an elitist: In 2002, Obama and Ayers were scheduled to be on a UIC panel with this lampoon-able title: "Intellectuals in Times of Crisis."


And Ayers could reinforce Obama as an elitist: In 2002, Obama and Ayers were scheduled to be on a UIC panel with this lampoon-able title: "Intellectuals in Times of Crisis."


intellectual: a person professionally engaged in mental labor, as a writer or teacher.

elite: a group of persons exercising the major share of authority or influence within a larger group

Actually, the dictionary definition of elite seems to point more to Hillary and Bill than Obama and Ayers.

Sorry, if Ayers, Wright and Rezco are the best you "reporters" can come up with on Obama, maybe you should turn your attention back to Whitewater, which was never fully settled, and a few more well known episodes in the life of the Clintons. I'm sure the Republican machine has their ads all laid out already - like: It's 3 a.m., you just left the White House after answering the emergency phone, DO YOU KNOW WHERE BILL IS?

This may be no big deal in Chicago but is in "fly over" country. Obama's excuses were lame.

Well Ron

If you have the "I don't like him so you can't like him" attitude of high school, instead of "our country's in a huge mess what are you going to do about it" attitude, and you think that all this childish, sensational, political crap means anything, then I suspect that's why you're in "fly over country" and will probably remain there.

If Rezco, Wright or Ayers were running for president, or had been promised a post that did not need Congressional approval, then it would be a big deal, but they aren't and to our knowledge, haven't (my, a question for anyone who is actually a reporter, instead of a blogger/columnist).

To denigrate and question a man because he knows three people with views you don't like or a past you find abhorrent, just shows the level of pettiness that the opposition's campaign(s) has(have) sunk to.

Sorry, the media should be ever watchful, DO THEIR OWN RESEARCH, stop looking at press releases and REPORT NEWS, not slander, pandering, and propaganda designed to appeal to one group or another's most basic fears.

You, by saying that petty stuff matters, are enabling the MSM to perpetrate a fraud on the American people by leading us to believe we have a free, independent, objective press when nothnig could be further from the truth.

If Ayers is such a wonderful guy, why doesn't Obama embrace him? Well, the courageous senator wouldn't have any problem doing that in front of his buddies in San Francisco, but he knows those bitter rubes in small town America probably aren't sharp enough to understand the complexities of the issue.

Please, speak for yourself when you write that "...(it) never bothered anyone in Chicago..." It never bothered me because I thought these avowed terrorists were in jail with the key thrown away, or dead. The weathermen organization was no adolescent prank; they were real; they knew weapons; and they didn't give a damn about schmucks like me.

I find it galling that the Ayers gang has wormed its way into the Chicago scene. I find it objectionable that my tax dollars support an individual whose intention it was (and still is - he'd do it again) to overthrow our government by violent means. I am sickened by the fact that this terrorist has influence over a presidential candidate.

Barack Obama was only eight years old when the weathermen did their nasties. Unfortunately, Obama was 39 years old, old enough to know better, when ayers had his recollections published in 2001.

To learn that obama's style is to tolerate known terrorists in his presence was very upsetting. We are known for the company we keep. Whom else does he know and tolerate?

He's lost my vote.

It appears that Obama for most of his adult life has been associated with unsavoury and highly undesirable and criminal characters. How can you Obama supporters out there not see the true character of this man who is running for president? Step back and take a good look at his past associations and decisions regarding the people he has surrounded himself with. He is not a good or trustworthy individual. He says whatever he needs to in order to win the election. Ask yourself. What will he do if he does win? Just remember, a leopard never changes its spots.

Well Helen, no disrespect but getting all the facts might be purdent before rendering a decision about any one person.

Guilt by association I guess that is the rule for the McCain campaign. Our government is in the midst of a take over by those who support fascist concepts not democratic structures. Privatize everything, Armed Forces, Prisons, Social Security. Loot the government treasury. To hell with the rest. That is what McCain wants this government to continue to do. The We Can't Afford It School when it comes to the middle class needs. But bring on the McCains mantra but he wouldn't support the GI Bill. Even though those brave Americans who are risking their lives deserve a chance for a better life via education.
Will the American Public fall for it? If the past eight years is any predictor it looks likely, Wake up America this is not a football game you are watching.

Obama supporters like Julie are why I never will be one:

"Well think that all this childish, sensational, political crap means anything, then I suspect that's why you're in "fly over country" and will probably remain there."

Classic elitist comment, Julie. Thanks for showing off your disdainful arrogance to the rest of us poor bitter slobs.

Americans are no longer allowed to question a candidate who knows people with views that most Americans find absolutely abhorrent?????

And if Americans question Obama's associations with two unrepentant domestic terrorists, that shows their "PETTINESS"?????

I'm guessing, Julie, that you are one of those young voters who actually believes the rumors about The Chosen One walking on water.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on April 18, 2008 9:19 AM.

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