Friday, August 22, 2008

"The Ayers Card"

By Lawrence Albright

Last night, CNN's "The Situation Room" hosted by Wolf Blitzer, featured a segment on what it called "The Ayers Card." This segment focused on the efforts of Senator John McCain's campaign to allege a Democratic-inspired "cover up" which, in turn, is based on the refusal of the University of Illinois to release records in its custody pertaining to the Woods Fund of Chicago, an offshoot of the Woods Charitable Trust, established in 1941. Its mission includes "issues that affected the area's least advantaged, including welfare reform, affordable housing" and "tax policy as a tool in reducing poverty."

The issue, such as it is, revolves around the fact that both Senator Barack Obama and the aforementioned Mr. Ayers served on the board of the Woods Fund. In itself, this wouldn't pass the yawn test except that between 1969 and 1980, Mr. Ayers was a leading member of a group called the "Weathermen," a faction of the 1960's Students for a Democratic Society that went "underground" and engaged in a campaign of bombings directed at US military-related targets.

The fact that this has nothing to do with Senator Obama's character or judgment is not of interest to the McCain campaign. As with other GOP campaigns, its interest is in generating fear, a negative buzz, and in attempting to dupe people into taking their attention off the critical issues that confront our nation: the economy, the ongoing war in Iraq, and the absolute contempt of the current Republican administration for anything other than extra-constitutional power and unbridled avarice at the expense of millions of working people.

"The Situation Room" broadcast gave prominence to Mr. Ayers, who was all of 25 years old when he joined with a number of SDSers in forming "Weathermen." While mentioning that Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, escaped prosecution on a technicality, the broadcast failed to mention the nature of that technicality; the widespread and wholesale abuses of legality by the FBI. Even had the FBI not crossed the line, let us remember the immortal words of Michael Mukasey, our current Attorney General, who said, "Not every wrong, or even violation of the law, is a crime." Perhaps when the Bush administration leaves office, Mr. Mukasey will find the time to go to law school. It almost makes me appreciate John Mitchell, who at least knew the law when he saw it -- or broke it. I didn't think that was possible.

Nor did the report mention that the only people ever killed in a Weathermen bombing were members of the group itself; several died when a bomb exploded in a Greenwich Village townhouse in 1970. I mention this not to excuse or condone the action of the Weathermen -- who later took the non-sexist moniker Weather Underground -- but to decry the fact that selective reporting in an age of soundbites borders on the worst sort of tabloidism.

Fact: Senator Obama had no influence in selecting the board of the Woods Fund of Chicago.

Fact: Senator Obama has strongly condemned the activities of the younger Ayers as "reprehensible." And Senator Obama was a minor child when these took place.

One of my neighbors was a bootlegger during prohibition. I knew him, I said hello, we exchanged pleasantries from time to time. Hell, I even (gasp!) shook his hand. Does that make me liable for his actions at a time when I wasn't even born? Does it make him a communist?

I struggled hard to find something that would match the level of irrelevance in the "Ayers Card." After intensive searching, I found it but had to go back to 1966. Did you know that one of the exhibits in the Warren Commission's voluminous investigation of the assassination of President John F. Kennedy is a reproduction of dental x-rays of Jack Ruby's mother's teeth? His mother's teeth! I believe it was Mark Lane who commented that such an exhibit wouldn't be relevant even if Ruby had bitten Oswald to death.

If the McCain campaign believes the "Ayers card" gives them a straight, they're wrong. It and the innuendo connected with it needs to be.....flushed.