McCain, Obama, Osama, Ayers, & Us

While his campaign continues its efforts to cultivate an imagined connection between Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden (source), recent television adds accuse Obama of "lying" and attempting to "hide" his relationship with Bill Ayers.

(From FactCheck.org - non-partisan, non-profit group)

We find McCain's accusation that Obama "lied" to be groundless. It is true that recently released records show half a dozen or so more meetings between the two men than were previously known, but Obama never denied working with Ayers.

Other claims are seriously misleading. The education project described in the Web ad, far from being "radical," had the support of the Republican governor and was run by a board that included prominent local leaders, including one Republican who has donated $1,500 to McCain's campaign this year. The project is described by Education Week as reflecting "mainstream thinking" about school reform.

Despite the newly released records, there's still no evidence of a deep or strong "friendship" with Ayers, a former radical anti-war protester whose actions in the 1960s and '70s Obama has called "detestable" and "despicable."

Even the description of Ayers as a "terrorist" is a matter of interpretation.
Setting off bombs can fairly be described as terrorism even when they are intended to cause only property damage, which is what Ayers has admitted doing in his youth. But for nearly three decades since, Ayers has lived the relatively quiet life of an educator. It would be correct to call him a "former terrorist," and an "unapologetic" one at that. But if McCain means the word "terrorist" to invoke images of 9/11, he's being misleading; Ayers is no Osama bin Laden now, and never was.

I reccomend that you read the entire article here.

I find myself neither upset, nor unsettled that Obama has worked cooperatively with Bill Ayers. I *want* a president who will cooperate with all kinds of people to further the interests of the United States and make the world a more peaceful, equitable, and prosperous place.

That kind of cooperation certainly includes direct diplomacy with our enemies when they aren't behaving in ways that promote peace. If they were behaving well, it seems diplomacy would be less necessary. In my mind, it also includes working to improve education alongside just about anyone who is willing to contribute in productive ways. (even if they have done bad things, or embrace different ideologies).

Obviously, I don't approve of people blowing up government property (or anyone's property). I don't advocate the choices of Bill Ayers in his youth. Barack Obama has definitively and consistently called those acts "detestable". Out of the scores of admirable public servants who have worked alongside Bill Ayers, it's likely that none of them agree with the militant activism Billy Ayers mobilized in the 70's. But almost three decades later, they still worked with him. Why? Because he was making positive contributions for the good of his community (you could say they were all working with people from the neighborhood).

Question: How would John McCain and his campaign leaders prefer that Obama had treated Bill Ayers?

(Ten Years Ago) Should he have refused to engage in a project to improve education simply because Bill Ayers (even then a contributing and well respected citizen of IL) was involved?

These boards included numerous other public servants from both political parties. Should all of them be somehow implicated in the acts committed by Bill Ayers more than 30 years ago?

Should every politician who has received some kind of support from Bill Ayers (or other entities with a shady past) receive this kind of scrutiny, or be compared to Osama Bin Laden?

I would actually be more upset to find that Barack Obama had refused to work on these education reform projects simply because another board member had participated in violent acts more than 30 years ago.

My feelings on this extend both directions:

I assume that Gov. Sara Palin does not agree with the many of the ideologies of the Alaska Independence Party (AIP) - a fairly radical group with a very radical past.

I choose to believe that she does not share in the feelings of the AIP's founder Joe Vogler who wrote: "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions... The fires of hell are frozen glaciers compared to my hatred for the American government. And I won't be buried under their damn flag. I'll be buried in Dawson. And when Alaska is an independent nation they can bring my bones home."

In 1993 Vogler was scheduled to make a presentation to the United Nations on making Alaska an independent nation. The presentation was sponsored by Iran.

Sara's husband was a member of the AIP from 1995-2002, but that doesn't mean that he agrees with Vogler's inflammatory rhetoric. And it certainly doesn't mean that Governor Palin does.

This year Sara Palin addressed the AIP convention, welcoming the attendees with remarks including: "Good luck on a successful and inspiring convention, keep up the good work, and God bless you."

Does the AIP have some radical ideas? Yes.

Was it founded by someone who was less than Patriotic in their rhetoric? Yes.

If she participates as a speaker in their 2008 convention, addresses them cordially and declares some of their work "good", does that mean she embraces all of their past and present viewpoints? Absolutely not.

A good leader works to build consensus and unite unlikely allies.


If we want peace for our children, we've got to suppress the urge to ignore, marginalize and isolate our enemies. Handing out "Axis of Evil" name-tags and refusing dialogue with enemies does not seem to be working well.

While there are some very bad people out there, we've got to remember that these nations are still comprised primarily of mothers and fathers who want peace for their children as desperately as we want it for ours.

I believe that we should seek an audience with anyone who demonstrates the most remote interest in peace. I believe this as a spiritual compulsion and a practical necessity. Barack Obama's willingness to extend diplomacy before conditions are met is a great step in that direction.

John McCain's campaign strategies, and his "guilt-by-association" posture toward diplomacy seems to be a stark contrast.

Back to the [ir]relevance of Bill Ayers in this election:

I believe that Sara Palin's *active* association with the AIP has a more significant bearing on this presidential election than the fact that Barack Obama worked on the same board of some non-profits with Bill Ayers. But at this point, the entire line of questioning seems to be an unnecessary distraction from the real issues.

If someone has a problem with either association (or any similar association), they should specifically identify whatever it is that they find detrimental in the ideologies or actions of the person who is a "friend", "colleague", or "acquaintance".

We *should* ask:
Does the candidate agree or endorse the behavior or ideals in question?
Is the candidate clearly and substantially influenced by the individual or organization?
Is the candidate, or will the candidate enable the undesirable behavior, ideals, or agenda in question?
Is the candidate complicit in wrong-doing?

If not, further inquiry seems like a waste of time.

From my perspective there is no reason to believe that Sara Palin "sees America as so imperfect" that that she thinks Alaska should break away from the union, even if she is able to find and applaud "the good work" being done by the AIP (whatever that may be).

Conversely, there is no connection between the actions of Bill Ayers 40 years ago, and Barack Obama's political campaign. It doesn't seem like Sara Palin has any legitimate reason to believe that cooperative efforts with Bill Ayers provide a true measure of how Barack Obama "sees America".

None of the candidates hate America. None of the candidates want to hurt their country. None of the candidates are friends of terrorists. None of the candidates have anything substantially in common with Osama Bin Laden.

Obviously, I don't approve of the Weather Underground's militant activism. However, since the W.U. took deliberate measures to make sure that no humans were harmed or killed in their bombings, I'm not sure it's helpful or honest to compare them to the Osama Bin Laden brand of terrorism.

With that in mind, the Virgina GOP Chairman Jeffrey Frederick's unapologetic assertion that: Obama and bin Laden "both have friends that bombed the Pentagon" seems ignorant, manipulative, and irresponsible. "That is scary," Frederick said while providing talking points to GOP volunteers in western Prince William County as they prepared for a door-to-door canvass (source).

Frederick knows that the 911 assassins he calls "friends" of Bin Laden, were in fact trained, motivated and equipped by Bin Laden himself. He knows that the eight year old Barack Obama was obviously and completely non-complicit when Bill Ayers executed his plan to flood the empty pentagon bathrooms destroying classified information in the pentagon.

And while we can rightfully call the actions of Bill Ayers in the 70s "terrorism", the value of human life implies that it cannot be considered in the same league as the 911 attacks.

The definition of "friends" is incomparable, and the scope of terror is incomparable.

I'm sure the line has garnered it's share of laughs. It is moderately clever.

For me, the comparison might be laughable if it did not seem so disrespectfully flippant toward those who have actually lost a loved one in a terrorist attack. The slightest implication of similarity seems to diminish the incredible loss caused by Bin Laden's attacks.

My son Will has a cold. If I went to the children's cancer ward and told a greiving father that "we have something in common", it wouldn't be lying outright; but it wouldn't be honest and it wouldn't be helpful. At best, it would be grossly insensitive.

The Virginia GOP Chairman knowingly made these evocative statements in the presence of a NY Times reporter who had been invited by the McCain campaign to observe Frederick and the campaign. Frederick remains the Virgina GOP Chairman and stands by his remarks.

Last week, McCain was asked directly if he felt the remarks were appropriate (video). McCain stated that he would have to "look at the context of [Frederick's] remarks" and proceeded to validate the connection Frederick was attempting to make; once again misquoting Obama as stating that "Bill Ayers was *just* a guy from the neighborhood".

This seemingly innocuous nuance has been erroneously repeated numerous times by McCain and his staff, further reinforcing his false claim that Obama lied about his relationship with Bill Ayers.

I'm not sure why McCain needed to examine the "context" of Frederick's statement. I can't imagine any context where such a comparison would be an appropriate public statement by a campaign leader.

In the following days the McCain Campaign issued the following statement: "While Barack Obama is associated with domestic terrorist William Ayers, the McCain campaign disagrees with the comparison that Jeff Frederick made."

From my perspective, it just doesn't seem that John McCain is sincerely interested in laying this comparison to rest.


Like everyone this election season, I approach these issues with a degree of personal bias. Still, it seems that these kind of statements coming from the McCain campaign are unacceptably frequent, deceptive, and intentionally engineered to create an irrational conclusion or some kind of hysteria.

It also seems these groundless assertions are intended to play into the fears that are peddled to the gullible and willfully ignorant:

"Just listen to his name..."
"He says he's a Christian, but he was raised in a Madrasa..."
"Once a Muslim, always a Muslim..."

When this type of atmosphere is intentionally and consistently cultivated, you can't be surprised when McCain/Palin supporters start yelling:
"Kill Him!"

This is a dangerous form of political energy.

And these are sad moments for America (sad for the whole world).

My suggestion to the candidates: (I assume you are both listening)

At this point, you both have an opportunity to take a big step in the right direction:

"Thanks for coming to our rally. Feel free to get excited. But if anyone shouts something that is hateful, dehumanizing, or of a violent nature, we will stop whatever it is we are doing. We will all cooperate to identify the person who shouted the inflammatory statement. They will be forcefully removed from this and all future rallies. If possible, we will press charges. This party, this candidate, and this country, deserves better, and will not tolerate less."

To his credit
, in the time that I've been working on this post, John McCain has made some small steps in the right direction.

Considering the ads he continues to run & the enabling statements he has already made, I believe that he and his campaign need to do more. (much more).

A clear and consistent message along these lines would help: "I do not believe that Barack Obama holds *anything* in common with Osama Bin Laden. The comparison is ridiculous and ugly. I regret someone made it while campaigning on my behalf. My best efforts will be applied toward the prevention of statements like this coming from my campaign." (If he's made this statement and I've missed it, please let me know).


I should also add that unfortunately, neither campaign has been innocent of misinformation.

Barack Obama's campaign also runs negative ads pointing out what they perceives to be deficiencies in McCain's policies, voting record, or stance on issues. While I often agree, and find that type of critique appropriate (from either side); I've sometimes been disappointed when those ads turn out to be misleading. I wish that Obama's campaign would more often find the courage and humility to correct these mistakes and issue retractions when necessary.

Here is a critical difference in my mind: As far as I can tell, none of Obama's campaign ads have been engineered to make the American people associate John McCain with a mass murderer, or enhance the existing ethnic tensions surrounding people of color, Americans of middle-eastern decent, the Muslim faith, or fear induced racial profiling.

And most politicians at least try to remember that their opponent could be leading the nation in a couple months.

  • I believe that John McCain wants the best for America.
  • I believe that John McCain is an American hero.
  • I believe that this political behavior is beneath his ability, beneath his accomplishments, and beneath the office he aspires to.


libarrylady said...

Good points, Daniel. Well thought out and well written. Compassionate, intelligent & thoughtful. (By the way...I love, admire & respect you!)
I have formed my opinions in this election by going to the candidate's web sites and reading their stands on issues and their plans. I have prayed and meditated on these things. I have visited factcheck.org and similar sources every day...(I wish the people who work on both campaigns would. Pray AND check their "facts")
I've stopped listening to ANY campaign ads.
I don't understand why some people, when they've chosen a candidate, feel hatred for the other candidate and are furious at those who have decided to vote for him/her.
I am voting for Obama. I don't think McCain is a monster and I don't wish him anything except a blessed life. I don't dislike those who are voting for him. As with you, many of them are people I know very well, and they are compassionate, thoughtful, intelligent people I love, admire and respect.
I hope this election has the biggest voter turnout in history.

Deano the Great said...

Wow, you are leaning a little left these days my friend. You obviously spent a lot of time doing your homework. Now that you've totally debunked Ayersgate, your next post should start on the Jeremiah Wright relationship. Oh, wait. I don't think McCain has used that one yet. Maybe he is waiting to spring that one right before the election...
Face it: both of these wannabe's scare me and should scare you. Nobama is an empty suit, and McCain is borderline psychopath. One will lead us to socialism, the other will lead us to... Iran? Who knows.
What I do know is that it drives me insane to see conservatives flocking to McCain because of his running mate. Yea, she's hot and all but come on: we have been bashing on McCain for years, ever since McCain-Feingold. How come he is all-of-a-sudden "the man?" Drives me nuts. How much role does the veep have in the presidency? (Lets see... zero divided by... carry the zero... hmmmm....).

Anyway, I think you are nuts, way off your rocker, have too much time on your hands (OK, that one was out of homework-induced jealousy) and should vote for http://www.bobbarr2008.com/