Do you now or have you ever known Bill Ayers?

April 25, 2008

ABC NEWS' George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson thought they had the smoking gun, the skeleton in Barack Obama's closet.

And its name was Bill Ayers.

During the Democratic presidential candidates' debate last week in Philadelphia, Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his connection to Ayers, a radical antiwar activist in the 1960s and now a university professor, who lives near Obama in the South Side Chicago neighborhood of Hyde Park and has supported Obama's campaigns for office.

Claiming the question was about the "general theme of patriotism in your relationships," Stephanopoulos described Ayers as "part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And, in fact, on 9/11, he was quoted in the New York Times saying, 'I don't regret setting bombs. I feel we didn't do enough.'"

Actually, the Times article was an interview with Ayers about his book Fugitive Days that appeared on September 11, meaning the interview happened well before the attacks--and wasn't, as Stephanopoulos and Hillary Clinton implied, a callous reaction to 9/11.

But this was a golden moment for the Clinton campaign, which has been trying since last year to get the media to bite about the supposed Ayers-Obama Hyde Park sleeper cell connection.

Obama's reaction was to distance himself. He even tried to connect Clinton to Ayers, pointing out that Bill Clinton pardoned two members of the Weather Underground during his presidency.

Obama didn't, of course, defend Ayers' radical antiwar activism--which is the real heart of the McCarthyite "Are you now or have you ever been a dinner guest of Bill Ayers?" attack.

If you get past the media's manufactured sound bite, what Ayers really has to say about his opposition to the Vietnam War deserves to be heard.

After September 11, Ayers wrote a letter to the New York Times describing what he said to the reporter who interviewed him: "I never said I had any love for explosives...I said I had a thousand regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce of my strength.

"I told her that in light of the indiscriminate murder of millions of Vietnamese, we showed remarkable restraint, and that while we tried to sound a piercing alarm in those years, in fact, we didn't do enough to stop the war."

That's a stark contrast to the focus group-tested rhetoric of the candidates and the pontificating of the moderators. If Gibson and Stephanopoulos want to examine the Democratic candidates' scarier connections, they should look at their backers in the defense industry and among the Wall Street war profiteers. These much more menacing figures will still be calling the shots if a Democrat takes the White House.

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