It is troubling that the MSM has abdicated its investigatory task by being surprisingly uninterested in shining light into some of the more suspicious regions of Barack Obama’s past. And of all those dark corners, the very darkest may be the Obama-Ayers connection.
Why does it matter? Isn’t this just a meaningless game of “gotcha” guilt by association, and a rather tenuous association at that? Can Obama really be blamed for the doings of everyone who’s ever crossed his path?
The official Obama campaign statement about Ayers and the candidate focuses on the charges about Ayers’ terrorist background, the Woods hole connection, and the fact that Ayers is considered a respected scholar on education. It is entirely mum—as Obama has mostly been so far—about their work together on the Annenberg Challenge.
Several people have pointed out that Obama’s 1995-1999 tenure as chair of the Annenberg Challenge has been his most important executive position to date, President of the Harvard Law Review being the other. As for the management of his campaign—the example of executive experience Obama cited the other day—when last I checked, Axelrod held that august and lofty position.
So, why would Obama fail to offer his Annenberg background as an example of his executive chops? I don’t claim to have solved the mystery, but the omission is highly suspect, to say the least, and needs to be addressed.
But don’t sit on a hot stove until Obama explains it. The most he has done is to attack and try to silence Stanley Kurtz, a writer for National Review who has been trying to open up the closed files of the Annenberg Foundation to public scrutiny.
One thing that is clear is that Obama was being remarkably disingenuous when he called Ayers merely “a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who’s a professor of English [sic—he’s a professor of education, a fact of which Obama is well aware] in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from.”
Those who argue that the Ayers connection is important because Ayers is an unrepetentant terrorist are emphasizing the wrong part of the Ayers/Obama oeuvre. While it is shocking that Obama welcomed known terrorist Ayers’ support—the latter hosted a 1995 fundraiser for Obama when he was first starting out in Chicago politics—it is also true that politics often makes strange bedfellows. It’s way too much of a stretch to say that proves that Obama was simpatico with Ayers’ terrorist past or with the extremity of his radical beliefs.
Annenberg, however, was a whole nother ball game [bracketed interpolation mine]:
…[I]n 1995 [same year as the fundraiser he hosted for Obama] Ayers won a $49.2 million grant from the Annenberg Foundation — matched two-to-one by public and private contributions — to promote “reform” in the Chicago school system. He quickly brought in Obama, then all of 33 and bereft of any executive experience, to chair the board. With Ayers directing the project’s operational arm and Obama overseeing its financial affairs until 1999, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge distributed more than $100 million to ideological allies with no discernible improvement in public education.
Caveat: there is some controversy over whether Obama was in fact selected by Ayers or not (see this). If he was not, then the claim that he was could be easily refuted if Obama were to explain how he actually was hired and by whom. But neither Obama nor his campaign have ever tried to offer that information.
Obama’s Annenberg stint is important for several reasons, not the least of which is that it underscores the fact that Obama’s only executive experience was a washout in terms of results. In addition—and whether or not he was appointed directly by Ayers or not—it proves just how much Obama has been minimizing their true relationship.
Theirs was not only a closer connection than being mere neighbors, or serving on a random board together, or that Ayers supported Obama in his race for State Senate. It is possible that they may have also been in some sort of basic agreement on educational goals.
Well, isn’t everyone? Don’t we all want to make education better, and to reach more children?
Well, it depends what you mean by “better.” This is what Ayers means:
As Ayers puts it in one of his course descriptions, prospective K–12 teachers need to “be aware of the social and moral universe we inhabit and . . . be a teacher capable of hope and struggle, outrage and action, a teacher teaching for social justice and liberation.” Ayers’s texts on the imperative of social-justice teaching are among the most popular works in the syllabi of the nation’s ed schools and teacher-training institutes. One of Ayers’s major themes is that the American public school system is nothing but a reflection of capitalist hegemony. Thus, the mission of all progressive teachers is to take back the classrooms and turn them into laboratories of revolutionary change.
This is the cause to which Ayers has devoted himself for the last few decades, the post-terrorist portion of his life. You might say that he has found a peaceful way to advance the same causes he once championed through violence.
Obama needs to fully describe the history of his ascension to the Annenberg board, and to support the release of the papers describing his work there, not denounce those trying to do so. Until we learn the whole story, we are free to wonder whether Obama and Ayers share a commitment—not to terrorism, but to Ayers’ radical educational goals.
[NOTE: For a fuller exploration of Ayers’ educational philosophy, please see this. And here’s an excellent summary of what we know so far of the connections between the Ayers and Obama on matters relating to the Annenberg Challenge. Here’s more, as well.]