Bill Ayers on ABC's "Good Morning America"
Transcript courtesy Federal News Service....
MR. CUOMO: William Ayers was thrust into the spotlight of this year's presidential race by his association with Barack Obama. The question at hand is just how significant that association was? Now, in a moment, Mr. Ayers will talk to us, but first, let's take a look at how this '60s radical-turned-college professor found himself at the center of a media storm.
William Ayers' name first came up during Barack Obama's primary race with Senator Clinton.
SENATOR HILLARY CLINTON (D-NY) (From video.): Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time.
MR. CUOMO: But it was during Obama's battle with John McCain that Ayers would become a regular line of attack.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN (R-AZ) (From video.): His relationship with Mr. Ayers is open to question.
GOVERNOR SARAH PALIN (R-AK) (From video.): Our opponent is someone who sees America as imperfect enough to pal around with terrorists.
MR. CUOMO: Ayers would become a target because of his radical past. A son of privilege, he rebelled by joining the Weather Underground, an anti-war group that bombed the Capitol, the Pentagon and police headquarters during the 1970s. Three group members, including Ayers' then-girlfriend were killed in this townhouse when one of the bombs they were making exploded, then after 9/11, Ayers was quoted as saying, he didn't regret any of the bombings and that the group didn't do enough. By then, Ayers had become a respected professor at the University of Illinois-Chicago and had met a politician named Barack Obama.
SEN. MCCAIN (From video.): But as Senator Clinton said in her debates with you, we need to know the full extent of that relationship.
PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA (From video.): Forty years ago when I was eight years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Mr. Ayers is not involved in my campaign. He has never been involved in this campaign and he will not advise me in the White House.
MR. CUOMO: So let's hear from the man himself. William Ayers joins us this morning. He's the author of many books, the one that has been re-released most recently is right there, Fugitive Days: Memoirs Of An Anti-War Activist.
Now, thank you very much for being here.
MR. AYERS: Nice to see you.
MR. CUOMO: Clearly, the matter at hand, is this relationship with Barack Obama. So let's get right to it. You did have a meaningful relationship with Barack Obama, didn't you?
MR. AYERS: I knew Barack Obama, absolutely, and I knew him probably as well as thousands of other Chicagoans and like millions and millions of other people worldwide, I wish I knew him better right now.
MR. CUOMO: But thousands of people were not asked to help start his political career in their home, right? That's an intimacy.
MR. AYERS: I was asked by the state senator to have a coffee for Barack Obama when he first ran for office and we had him in our home and I think he was probably in 20 homes that day, as far as I know, but that was the first time I really met him.
MR. CUOMO: You use the term family friend. The president-elect uses a phrase more like Bill from the neighborhood. Those two are not the same thing. Family friend signifies a relationship, doesn't it?
MR. AYERS: I think you're quoting from the after word, The Fugitive Days, right? I'm talking there about the fact that I became an issue unwittingly and unwillingly in the campaign and I decided that I didn't want to answer any of it at that moment because it was such a profoundly dishonest narrative, but I'm describing there how the blogosphere characterized the relationship. I would say, really, that we knew each other in a professional way, again, on the same level as, say, thousands of other people and I am a guy around the neighborhood, incidentally. Absolutely.
MR. CUOMO: But you understand the concern here is that it seems that there's an evasiveness here, yes, you served on boards together, but that relationship that somebody is in your home and you are introducing them to a political community that you have connections with. You're vouching for someone. There's an advocacy. There's a relationship, certainly, you must have spoken with Barack Obama about things. You must have gotten to know him before you did that.
MR. AYERS: No, actually, I didn't get to know him before I did that, but I did know him in the context of being on a board together and that relationship was public, always in a large kind of context, but you know, I don't really agree with your premise that this is worth somehow, this is worthy of really exploring because I don't buy the idea that guilt by association should be any part of our politics, and the interesting thing is as much as this was created as an issue in the campaign, it appears for most people it had no traction. It had no meaning.
So the assumption that if two people share a cup of coffee or take a bus downtown together or have a thousand other types of associations that that somehow means they share politics, outlook, policy or responsibility for one another's actions.
MR. CUOMO: But when you're measuring the content of a man's character who wants to President of the United States, certainly, information about his friendship/coffee/association with a man who has the past that you have, creating violence against the United States, you must understand how that would be a concern.
MR. AYERS: No, I don't agree with either part of that. I think that dishonest narrative is, one, to demonize me. Let's remember that what you call a violent past, that was at a time when thousands of people were being murdered by our government every month and those of us who fought to end that war were actually on the right side. So if we want to replay that history, I would reject the whole notion that demonizing me or the Weather Underground is relevant, but secondly -
MR. CUOMO: A different discussion. Violence, it's either never okay or it's sometimes okay. It's a separate philosophical discussion. The relevance here is Barack Obama was campaigning to be president. The analogy is that if John McCain had an association, somebody had a coffee for him in his house to launch his political career that was blowing up abortion clinics, but never hurt anyone; you don't think that would be relevant?
MR. AYERS: I think the content is relevant, but let's go back, again. The content of the Vietnam protest is a content where there were despicable acts going on, but the despicable acts were being carried out by our government.
I never hurt or killed anyone. I was involved in the anti-war movement. I was a militant. I was part of the militant faction of opposing the war and I've been quoted again and again as saying I don't regret it, and frankly, I don't think we did enough and I don't think we did enough, just as today, I don't think we've done enough to stop these wars and I think we must all recognize the injustice of it and do more.
MR. CUOMO: And we are going to discuss your book more in the upcoming segment, why you're releasing it now, what you want people to get out of it, but clearly, you have to understand the sensitivity. You can't say that somebody is a family friend, have them in your house trying to launch their political career and then say this is nothing because you make it sound like it's something by saying it's nothing.
MR. AYERS: No, absolutely not. What I'm saying about the guilt by association, which, as you know, has a long and tragic history in this country. What I'm saying is that every one of us actually should talk to lots and lots of people and especially our political leaders, far from being a demerit on his record, the fact that he's willing to talk to a lot of people from a lot of different walks of life, listen to a lot of opinions and still have a mind of his own is something we should honor and admire.
MR. CUOMO: But then you have to come clean about saying, and I'm one of those people. Barack Obama either sought me out or I sought him out to discuss my ideas, my radical ideas and then he made his own decision. If that's true, okay, but it can't be that end, we never discussed any of this.
MR. AYERS: It's not at all true that he sought me out to listen to my radical ideas or that I sought him out. The truth is, we came together in Chicago in the civic community around issues of school improvement, around issues of fighting for the rights of poor neighborhoods to have jobs and housing and so on, and that's the full extent of our relationship.
So this idea that we need to know more like there's some dark, hidden secret, some secret link, is just a myth and it's a myth thrown up by people who want to kind of exploit the politics of fear and I think it's a great credit to the American people that those politics were rejected, the idea that we should continue to be frightened and worried and, you know, barricaded is falling down and it should.