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One More Reply to Orin:

Let's play an analogy game. A debate moderator asks you about your relationship with unrepentant domestic terrorist Bill Ayers. The analogy you choose to draw with Ayers is:

(a) Justice Hugo Black, who joined a terrorist organization in his youth, but later contributed greatly to liberal reform;

(b) Timothy McVeigh, because he is another domestic terrorist who was proud of his actions;

(c) John Brown, another freedom fighter accused of being a terrorist for challenging an oppressive system with violence, but who was later rehabilitated; or

(d) Senator Tom Coburn, because his right-wing views on abortion are similarly offensive to Ayers' radicalism, and pointing out that you are willing to be friendly with the like Coburn shows that your coziness with Ayers doesn't mean that you endorse his views.

Obama chose "d". Surely that tells you something about where he's coming from (in particular, that he fails to understand that the reason that his relationship with Ayers is troubling to many is because of Ayers' lack of remorse for his terrorist past, not because he has views today that some would find radical), just as his choice of (a), (b), or (c), would have told you something about his perspective.

UPDATE: Orin writes that he doesn't understand my point, because Obama only knew one of these men, and he was trying to make a point about how he is friendly with people whose ideas he vehemently disagrees with. But that assumes that Obama had to respond the way he did. Obama could have chosen A, which would have meant acknowledging that Ayers had a terrorist past, he was aware of it, but thinks he has overcome it with good works. He could have chosen B, and added (if true) that he no longer speaks to Ayers because he found him to be unrepentant in private conversation and public statements. He could have chosen C, which implies that he agreed with Ayers' violent acts, because they were justified to stop the Vietnam War.

Instead, he chose (d), from which, contrary to Orin, we can surmise several things. It tells us that he tried to give a weaselly politician's answer, instead of directly telling people what he thinks of Ayers' past and present. (Not really surprising for a politician, however.) It tells us that he thinks that it's a sign of one's open-mindedness that one is willing to be friendly with colleague who has some rather harsh anti-abortion views, which is probably true of someone who travels in his circles, but would strike many people who are friendly with vehement pro-lifers as an odd conclusion to draw.

And most important, it tells us that he simply didn't understand that his connection with Ayers was under attack not primarily because Ayers currently has radical views that one could, perhaps, analogize to Coburn's in their "unmainstreamness," but because unlike Coburn, Ayers was a terrorist who tried to kill innocent Americans, and he is not only proud of it, but feels he didn't do enough. Some commenters have pointed out that in the elite liberal academic culture I've been referencing, violence on behalf of "revolutionary" goals is not only not shocking to many, it's often affirmatively romanticized, as with the ubiquitous Che t-shirts, and the inexplicable love affair many in the academy have with Fidel Castro. Again, it's not that Obama himself romanticizes such violence, but that he is a product of a culture in which being disturbed by a lack of remorse over the "revolutionary" violent actions of the Weathermen 30+ years later is just not on the cognitive map.

And commenter Jerry F. adds:

Now, perhaps Professor Kerr is right and, when Obama initially brought up Coburn, he meant only that he can be friends with people who have views that Obama strongly disagrees with. I suppose only Obama knows what he had in mind then. Assuming this was what Obama meant, however, he was completely missing the point, since commentators who expressed concern about his relationship with Ayers (for the most part) did not argue that he agreed with Ayers' most noxious views.

But I think that a more reasonable interpretation of Obama bringing up Coburn (regardless of what Obama may have said as an explanation after the fact) is that he finds Coburn to be more or less the equivalent of Ayers on the right. In any event, I don't see on what ground someone can argue that this interpretation is less reasonable than Professor Kerr's charitable interpretation. The truth, of course, would be that Coburn is, at most, *Obama's* equivalent on the right (assuming Coburn is the most conservative member of the Senate), not Ayers' equivalent on the right.

And Jerry F. (no, not my sock puppet!) adds, in response to Orin's (and some commenters') doubts that Obama didn't understand how toxic Ayers is:

Because if Obama had that understanding, he would have dumped Ayers years ago.

Is this really so hard for you people to understand? If Obama actually appreciated how normal people will respond to a Rev Wright or Bill Ayers, he would have got them out of his life before he started running for President. He would have "Sister Souljahed" both of them, rather than "that's not the Rev Wright I knew" and "Bill Ayers, he's just some guy down the street."

Think of how much damage to his campaign Obama could have avoided if he'd left Trinity two years ago. Think of all the lies and cover-ups Obama could have avoided if he'd totally separated himself from Ayers after getting elected to the US Senate. Why didn't he do that?

Because he's loyal? Don't make me laugh.

nicestrategy (mail):

Senator Tom Coburn, because his right-wing views on abortion are similarly offensive to Ayers' radicalism


Once again, David Bernstein knows why Obama made the reference and is 100% certain that it was meant as a comparison and not an example. Because he is a mind reader. Or maybe its because he's a partisan hack. How do I know? I don't have to know. Because when you start with a conclusion and go searching for evidence, it pops up all over the place. Because I said so.
10.7.2008 2:39am
eyesay:
The truth, of course, would be that Coburn is, at most, *Obama's* equivalent on the right (assuming Coburn is the most conservative member of the Senate)


Keith Poole's 110th Senate Rank Ordering ranks all senators based on their votes in 2007. Obama is in a two-way tie for 10th-11th most liberal. Coburn is the 2nd most conservative. Sen. DeMint (R-SC) is the most conservative. More liberal than Obama are Feingold (D-WI), Dodd (D-CT), Sanders (I-VT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Kennedy (D-MA), Boxer (D-CA), Harkin (D-IA), Brown (D-OH), Reed (D-RI). Obama is tied with Biden (D-DE).

Coburn is more conservative than Obama is liberal, within the Senate spectrum. And Obama is about to get elected president of the United States, because his views on health care, abortion, military entanglements, foreign policy, taxation, environmental protection, and many other issues are what American voters want. In 2016, at the end of the Obama-Biden administration, we will look back and realize just how mainstream and moderate Obama is.
10.7.2008 3:38am
mls (www):
Isn't the question whether Obama would still be friends with Coburn if Coburn were friends with someone who had bombed abortion clinics (and was unrepentent)?
10.7.2008 7:49am
Modus Ponens:
Dude.

If Obama had picked any of your hypothetical responses other than (d), he wouldn't have been answering Stephanopoulus's question.

Obama was asked, as per his association with Ayers:

Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem? (emphasis added for Bernstein's benefit)

Could you please write out for us, David, your proposed answer to Stephanopoulus's question using any/all of the persons mentioned in (a) through (c) above?

And could you do so in a way that doesn't make Obama look as cagey and non-responsive as Palin did in her recent debate?
10.7.2008 8:01am
smitty1e:
Here is a somewhat humorous, tangentially related clip on the communication gap:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eaE98w1KZ-c
Most people have regrettable associations. I had to tell my own father that, love him though I do, and while I wouldn't think to gainsay him in his own house, while he was visiting me, there was certain racially-charged language and rhetoric that I found false and intolerable, and would he please refrain from demonstrating his ignorance under my roof?
This is not meant to break my arm patting myself on the back, but rather to point out the kind of air-clearing that has not happened, to my knowledge, WRT Senator Obama. It seems that there has been an attempt at serial minimization of a host of questionable characters. Rather than limp negative statements about associates when they become politically embarrassing, Senator Obama could readily turn these weaknesses into strengths by coming out and say "Yeah, I took in a broad spectrum of thought in my youth, including ideas [A..Z] from folks like [A..Z], and I reject them for the following reasons [1..N]".
Therein lies the rub. There is reasonable doubt that Senator Obama repudiates ideas that, historically, have mixed results at best. Coupled with a knee-jerk "racist" label for anyone not toeing the good Senator's line, and the whole endeavor takes on the feeling of a con-job.
10.7.2008 8:41am
mlstx (mail):

Assuming this was what Obama meant, however, he was completely missing the point, since commentators who expressed concern about his relationship with Ayers (for the most part) did not argue that he agreed with Ayers' most noxious views.



Commentators made two arguments based on the relationship:

1. Many DID argue that he agreed with Ayers' views

2. Others argued he shouldn't hang out with terrorists like Ayers.

Obama's response was addressed to the second argument -- he "hangs out" with lots of people he disagrees with, even reactionary republicans. And DB's "evidence" supports this -- conservatives from Harvard agreed that he could deal with them on LRev matters regardless of their conservatives views which he disagreed with.

Seems pretty non-issue to America's mainstream, which finds it a positive value to get along with all kinds of people.


But I think that a more reasonable interpretation of Obama bringing up Coburn (regardless of what Obama may have said as an explanation after the fact) is that he finds Coburn to be more or less the equivalent of Ayers on the right.



No, that's nothing more than mind-reading. A more reasonable interpretation is the one that the American people placed on it when the argument was discussed to death months ago -- Obama can get along with people, and wouldn't that be a refreshing change in Washington? Seems like it would be better than McCain's way of being a "maverick," as illustrated by his unsuccessful attempts to broker a bailout deal.
10.7.2008 9:26am
Brooklynite (www):
He could have chosen B, and added (if true) that he no longer speaks to Ayers because he found him to be unrepentant in private conversation and public statements.


"B" here being Timothy McVeigh.

Let me get this straight. You think that when, in the course of a nationally televised presidential debate, Barack Obama was asked about his professional relationship with Bill Ayers, the most productive and illuminating thing for Obama to have done, assuming that he is honest in repudiating Ayers' views, would have been to compare Ayers to Timothy McVeigh?

Really?

I'm sorry, but that just doesn't make any kind of sense. Not as an answer to the question Stephanopolous asked, not as a response to the concerns the Ayers relationship raises about Obama, not as a matter of political positioning, not in any way at all.

Again, it's not that Obama himself romanticizes such violence, but that he is a product of a culture in which being disturbed by a lack of remorse over the "revolutionary" violent actions of the Weathermen 30+ years later is just not on the cognitive map.


It's funny, Mr. Bernstein. I'm a product of something close to the intellectual culture Senator Obama came out of, and in fact I'm pretty well immersed in that culture right now. And I'm repulsed by Bill Ayers, and every time his name comes up I say so, and I say why, and I've never had a friend or colleague contradict me when I did.
10.7.2008 9:32am
JosephSlater (mail):
"Sooner or later, people are going to figure out if all you run is negative attack ads you don't have much of a vision for the future or you're not ready to articulate it." [John McCain - The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer - 2/21/2000]
10.7.2008 9:57am
LPC (mail):
It's funny, Mr. Bernstein. I'm a product of something close to the intellectual culture Senator Obama came out of, and in fact I'm pretty well immersed in that culture right now. And I'm repulsed by Bill Ayers, and every time his name comes up I say so, and I say why, and I've never had a friend or colleague contradict me when I did.
They are calling you a reactionary behind your back.
10.7.2008 10:03am
Xanthippas (mail) (www):

Is this really so hard for you people to understand? If Obama actually appreciated how normal people will respond to a Rev Wright or Bill Ayers, he would have got them out of his life before he started running for President. He would have "Sister Souljahed" both of them, rather than "that's not the Rev Wright I knew" and "Bill Ayers, he's just some guy down the street."

Think of how much damage to his campaign Obama could have avoided if he'd left Trinity two years ago. Think of all the lies and cover-ups Obama could have avoided if he'd totally separated himself from Ayers after getting elected to the US Senate. Why didn't he do that?


Because he didn't imagine that "conservatives" like you would care that much about who he worked with on an education issues, or the sometimes-wacko things that his preacher said? I suppose one can consider Obama naive for thinking that "conservatives" would share his tolerance for divergent views.

By the way, please keep discussing this issue as the global economy melts down. The fascination of the right with Obama's associations will continue the eight-year long process of proving to voters that conservatives are completely superficial and utterly unserious.
10.7.2008 10:17am
Brooklynite (www):
They are calling you a reactionary behind your back.

Yeah, they're really not.

Read The Nation's review of Fugitive Days, if you want to know what Ayers' academic liberal critics think of him. Or Cathy Wilkerson's response to it in Z, for a view from a bit further left on the spectrum. Or any one of a long list of other scathing critiques.

Ayers is not by any means a universally well-regarded figure in liberal or left circles, and the Weather Underground are by no stretch of the imagination seen as heroic by most folks Obama would have come in contact with during his rise in Democratic politics. Bernstein can make such claims all he wants, but they're trivially easy to disprove.
10.7.2008 10:18am
Brooklynite (www):
Think of all the lies and cover-ups Obama could have avoided if he'd totally separated himself from Ayers after getting elected to the US Senate. Why didn't he do that?

What relationship have they had since Obama was elected to the Senate? It's my understanding that their last professional connection, their joint membership on the Woods Fund board, was severed by Obama not long after the publication of Ayers' memoirs in 2001.
10.7.2008 10:21am
runape (mail):
"If Obama actually appreciated how normal people will respond to a Rev Wright or Bill Ayers, he would have got them out of his life before he started running for President."

I don't think this is true. I think Obama has faith that ordinary Americans are more concerned about what Ayers, at least, can do for them in the present than they are about what he did in the past. Wright is a different story now, but at least at the start of the campaign the same could be said. The real divide is between pragmatics, who care much more about whatever good Ayers is doing in the present, and culture warriors who can't get past what he did in the 70s.
10.7.2008 10:35am
Henry679 (mail):
I guess it is time to skip the Conspiracy for the next month or so.
10.7.2008 10:41am
JB:
It's really sad that Bernstein keeps harping on this issue. Yes, Ayers is unsavory; No, this is not the issue on which the election will be decided.

Bernstein's concerns about Ayers are less telling than his belief that this issue will resonate with people losing their homes, retirement savings, and jobs. The fact that he thinks it will proves that he is so far to the right-wing that it would take a 3-layover plane trip to get him back to the mainstream.
10.7.2008 10:44am
PC:
Prof. Bernstein, why did Walter Annenberg hate America?
10.7.2008 10:45am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmmm.

@ mlstx


"Seems pretty non-issue to America's mainstream, which finds it a positive value to get along with all kinds of people. "


Is this a joke?

Ayers is a domestic terrorist who tried to kill Americans. So is his -wife-.

I think quite a few Americans wouldn't be all that happy about this. It's not like spending 10 years playing canasta with your postman.
10.7.2008 11:36am
ed (mail) (www):
Hmmmmm.

@ runape


"I think Obama has faith that ordinary Americans are more concerned about what Ayers, at least, can do for them in the present than they are about what he did in the past."


Do you guys read what you're writing?

I think the very last thing most Americans are thinking about is what a domestic terrorist with socialist/communist political ideology can do for them.
10.7.2008 11:39am
runape (mail):
"I think the very last thing most Americans are thinking about is what a domestic terrorist with socialist/communist political ideology can do for them."

I agree. I don't think anyone cares about the fact that he has a terrorist background. I think people care about what he's doing these days - which is why, among others, Richard Daley (no socialist he) has consulted with Ayers on education policy.

If Ayers held the cure to all life's problems, would you ignore him on the ground that he committed atrocities 30 years ago? If not, what must he accomplish before you are willing to accept that he may have something to contribute to modern society? Suppose he were a doctor, and he discovered the cure to cancer. Should we ignore it because of his past?
10.7.2008 11:49am
Tony Tutins (mail):

Because if Obama had that understanding, he would have dumped Ayers years ago.

I forget, did the US shun Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir?

Because Shamir was a leader of a terrorist organization (Lehi) that drove a truckload of explosives into a police station (in Haifa) that killed four and injured 140. They planted bombs (on trains) that killed civilians as well as soldiers. They also assassinated a high government official (Lord Moyne) as well as a UN diplomat (Count Bernadotte). Their toll of bloodshed against the legal government of their country dwarfs anything the Weather Underground was accused of doing. Did Shamir ever repent of his antigovernment terrorism?
10.7.2008 11:55am
Floridan:
This is an interesting question -- should someone who takes up arms against our government be shunned forever?

Apparently, at onetime this was not as much of a concern. General Joseph Wheeler fought against the United States during the Civil War; the troops under his command were responsible for the deaths of thousands of American soldiers. Later, Wheeler served as a general in the U.S. Army during the Spanish-American War.
10.7.2008 12:10pm
Ken Arromdee:
Suppose he were a doctor, and he discovered the cure to cancer. Should we ignore it because of his past?

In this hypothetical, only he has the cure to cancer. I fail to see the relevance unless the reason Obama associated with him is that he could provide something that no other human being could.
10.7.2008 12:11pm
Mr. Greenbean:
I'm just glad I'm not one of Prof. Bernstein's students. If this analogy game is indicative of his test questions, I'd most certainly fail. It makes little to no sense to me.
10.7.2008 12:27pm
runape (mail):
"In this hypothetical, only he has the cure to cancer. I fail to see the relevance unless the reason Obama associated with him is that he could provide something that no other human being could."

The point of the hypothetical is that there's a line-drawing problem. Ayers (like most ex-cons, and unconvicted (or convicted!) felons, and so forth), has some marginal, but positive, value to society. The question is how much value he has to generate in order for his critics to pay attention to him, rather than simply shunning him. Obama reasonably believed that his value was sufficiently high to warrant working with him, a position that is not inconsistent with detesting his past acts.
10.7.2008 12:28pm
runape (mail):
Incidentally, the idea that society should ignore people it believes to be dangerous in the hopes that they go away has parallels across many areas of policy. Conservatives (or, more accurately, Republicans, I suppose), seem to think that this is a good idea. Many liberals do not. The debate is quite close to some of the foreign policy debate in this election cycle.
10.7.2008 12:30pm
Accountant Ed (mail):
We get it. You hate Obama. Consider that horse dead.
10.7.2008 2:12pm
Chimaxx (mail):
Maybe the people around you are outraged by this very thin link to someone who was a "bad guy" somewhere in the past, but your repeated assertions that his is something that outrages ordinary Americans doesn't match up witht he people I encounter, the things I read or the current poll numbers. People have pretty much shrugged it off as irrelevant--no more important than McCain's chumminess with convicted felon, sympathizer of anti-ATF terrorists, and generally creepy guy, G. Gordon Liddy.

That lack of interest by most ordinary people is what seems to bug you most of all.

Get over it.
10.7.2008 2:47pm
EIDE_Interface (mail):
The only commenters going after Dr. Bernstein are left-wing hacks. One even tried to imply that Ayers has something useful to do for America.
10.7.2008 5:08pm
Suzy (mail):
At last, Jerry F. is making the point that I find so obvious about this: Obama is not equating Coburn and Ayres in the way this argument suggests. Rather, Coburn is Obama's equivalent in this scenario. Coburn is making extremist statements of the kind that domestic terrorists might sympathize with, and obviously it doesn't reflect on him poorly enough that Obama doesn't want to associate with him. They're friends, right?
10.7.2008 5:22pm
Psalm91 (mail):
This is Bill Ayers week for Prof Bernstein. He must not have a 401k.
10.7.2008 11:05pm