Revisiting the Guy in Obama's Neighborhood
The relationship between William Ayers and President Obama is back in the news again. American conservatives are toying with the idea of renewing their quixotic mission of shattering the dream world of the sixty percent of the population that reflexively blocks its ears and sings every time Obama's past is questioned.
Though this mission should not be pursued at the expense of a more concrete challenge to the Obama administration's record and policies, lest we see a repeat of 2008, nevertheless, quixoticism sometimes has the appeal of striking at deeper truths. And even if the majority of the population continues to reject all evidence and common sense, leaving a little time on one's dinner table debate agenda for Obama's cheesecloth-filtered past may nonetheless serve one vital purpose: it sharpens one's focus on the urgent necessity of stopping the left in its tracks immediately.
Let us, then, take a moment to revisit Obama's most famous denial of a formative relationship with Ayers. During a 2008 Democratic primary debate, George Stephanopoulos gingerly asked Barack Obama to explain why his friendship with a terrorist is unimportant.
On this issue -- general theme of patriotism in your relationships, there's a gentleman named William Ayers. He was 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." An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are "friendly." Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?
Obama, the noted orator, having undoubtedly been thoroughly prepared by his debate team for this exact question, offered this now-famous response:
This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who [sic] I know and who [sic] I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who [sic] I exchange ideas from [sic] on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was eight years old, somehow reflects [sic] on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.
The "guy who lives in my neighborhood" locution has, suitably, received a lot of attention. Taken as a whole, however, what is most striking about this answer is its garbled incoherence, its historical manipulation, and its appeal to amoral abstraction.
Notice how the answer hedges its bets, in the manner of the best post-Clinton political obfuscation. The "guy in my neighborhood" line, taken together with the "not somebody [whom] I exchange ideas [with]" plea, is clearly meant to imply that Obama does not know Ayers well enough to be sullied by Ayers' "detestable acts." And yet, Obama takes the trouble to insert that Ayers is "a professor of English from Chicago" whose unsavory activities took place "40 years ago" -- in other words, that he's not some extremist, but a "guy" with a highly respectable, essentially apolitical career, who, a very long time ago, did some bad things. If the point were merely to dismiss charges of a close relationship while simultaneously expressing distaste for the man's past activities, why add remarks designed to undermine the view of Ayers as a disreputable character? Isn't Obama supposed to be defending himself? If so, why is he simultaneously defending Ayers? The likely answer is that he is misrepresenting his relationship with Ayers, and must therefore prepare his escape route, should his lie be found out. He is arguing, in effect, "I barely know him -- but even if I do, he's been a good and respectable citizen for most of my life, so you can't pin anything on me."
Furthermore, recall the odd final phrase in Obama's denial of a significant intellectual tie: "He's not somebody who [sic] I exchange ideas from [sic] on a regular basis." What does "on a regular basis" mean? More to the point, does that phrase not, in fact, serve to invert the meaning of the antecedent claim? That is to say, the qualification that he and Ayers do not exchange ideas "on a regular basis" is a tacit acknowledgment that they have, indeed, "exchanged" ideas.
This indirect, perhaps inadvertent, acknowledgment is further highlighted by our modern Sophocles' grammatical clunker "exchange from" instead of "exchange with." It is tempting in this light to read Obama's mistaken preposition "from" as a Freudian slip. After all, what he really needs to deny in this context is not that he has ever spoken to Ayers (exchanged ideas "with" him), but rather that he has been influenced by Ayers' ideas -- that he has gotten some of his own ideas "from" Ayers. Rummaging through his ill-digested mental notes like a flustered C-student, in search of a way to deny Ayers' influence that will retain plausible deniability in the face of future fact-checkers, Obama clumsily reveals exactly what he wishes to hide -- namely, that he has adopted ideas "from" the Marxist terrorist...just not "on a regular basis."
Also remarkable is Obama's reference to Ayers' "detestable acts" as being from "40 years ago." Stephanopoulos' question explicitly identifies Ayers' terrorist activities as stemming from the 1970s. In fact, the Weather Underground was founded only in 1969 -- 39 years prior to Obama's statement -- and continued carrying out and planning bomb attacks until at least 1977. Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn turned themselves in to police in 1980.
In other words, the entire history of the Weathermen falls inside Obama's "40 years ago" fabrication. And remember that Obama is answering a question that explicitly notes Ayers' unrepentant defiance as of September 2001. The phrase "40 years ago," then, was clearly a pre-fabricated, coached lie designed to reframe Ayers' violent past as occurring "when I was eight years old." Once again, while denying a significant relationship, Obama simultaneously seeks to cleanse Ayers himself, by greatly exaggerating the "English professor's" distance from his Weathermen past. The purpose, again, is to create a suitable back-up argument, in case further details of their personal relationship should come to light. Even if they were closer than Obama claims, surely you can't hold a man responsible for his associate's actions of 40 years ago, can you?
But this chronological manipulation, by conveniently isolating Ayers' bombing activity as the controversial matter, sidesteps the more pertinent question of ideology. As no one is accusing Obama of having participated in a bombing, the central question is not whether Ayers is still a terrorist; the question is whether he is still a Marxist seeking to overthrow the U.S. government. In other words, the question is whether his and Obama's shared projects, board memberships, and "neighborhood" indicate a shared subversive agenda.
Ayers, with reference to his 9/11 New York Times interview, has subsequently denied that when he said "we didn't do enough," he was referring to bombing. Indeed, he claims that by "we" he meant "everyone." Let's take the unrepentant traitor's word for it. He meant that he now understands that a few terrorist bombs are not enough to effect the dissolution of a constitutional republic in favor of a socialist workers' state.
What, then, one might ask, does he now believe would be a more effective means of achieving this end? I think we know.