Bill & Barack's Excellent Adventure

William Ayers, unrepentant terrorist and education professor, is once again being tied to Barack Obama in the public mind. Controversy builds over the withholding of the archives of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an expensive failed school reform effort headed by Obama and effectively run by Ayers, held by the library of the University of Illinois Chicago. Researchers who have gained access to a few documents recording the history of the project have found strong evidence of a very important working relationship between the two men on the project, Obama's sole claim to executive experience.

Oddly enough, even though the project produced no measurable improvement in student performance according to its own final report, educators and administrators -- participants and grantees of the CAC -- were reported by outside monitors to be often "ebullient" about the activities.  For insiders, it was an excellent adventure. For the pupils stuck in the failing public schools of Chicago, an ongoing, unrelieved disaster.

Obama and his campaign long have gone out of their way to downplay, in fact distort, the long and evidently deep relationship between Ayers and Obama. In the Philadelphia Democratic debate last April, George Stephanopoulos asked Obama about his relationship with Ayers, and the candidate responded:

"This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from 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 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George. [....]

"So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't."

Almost two months earlier, the "neighbor" talking point campaign manager David Axelrod introduced the notion that Obama and Ayers were mostly just neighbors, telling The Politico's Ben Smith,

"Bill Ayers lives in his neighborhood. Their kids attend the same school," he said. "They're certainly friendly, they know each other, as anyone whose kids go to school together."

Ayers and his wife are in their sixties, while the Obamas are in their mid-forties. Ayers' children are all adults, while Obama's children are currently 10 and 7. Axelrod's prevarication is telling,  bespeaking confidence that nobody in the media will bother to dispute an obvious falsehood.

"Flimsy" turns out to be a completely misleading word when it comes to characterizing the Obama-Ayers relationship.

Notwithstanding the campaign's efforts to direct attention away from Ayers, a 527 group, American Issues Project, has just released the following ad tying Obama to Ayers, and says it is spending 2.8 million on television airtime in key states.

Despite the legally questionable embargo of the CAC archives, most of its tax returns and official evaluations of the CAC have already been made public. In the hands of intrepid bloggers such as Steve Diamond, Tom Maguire and Dan Riehl, there is already proof of Obama's extensive involvement with Ayers over the course of his chairmanship, and an emerging picture of Obama's indecisiveness and absence when serious problems needed leadership.

Barack Obama joined the CAC shortly after William Ayers and Anne C. Hallett received news that their letter of November 8, 1994 submitting a grant proposal to The Annenberg Challenge had been approved. They were to get as much as $49 million from Annenberg, plus tens of millions more dollars from other foundations. Obama's involvement predates by months the actual incorporation of the CAC and his appointment as founding chairman of the board. He came on board almost as soon as the proposal was approved.

How on earth did a relatively unknown associate at a politically-connected but small Chicago law firm come to be entrusted with the heady task of handing out tens of millions of dollars of other people's money?

Keep in mind that Obama was at this point in his career very undistinguished considering his pedigree. It would be a kind understatement to say he had underperformed his academic resume. Three years out of Harvard Law and the Law Review Presidency, here is a short list of some of the things Obama had not done:

Clerked for a US Supreme Court Justice (or any Federal Judge);

worked in an important legal position at any level of serious responsibility;

written a law review article or note or published anything of legal substance. 

As of 1995 Obama may have had the most professionally empty resume of any President of the Harvard Law Review three years gone from "The Law School."

And yet Ayers gave him a gig that would enable him to hand out large amounts of money to many people in Chicago, who could be expected to be grateful, once Obama ran for office -- as he was to do later that very year, in an event held at the home of Ayers and Dohrn.

Quite clearly, Obama was already well-enough known and trusted by Ayers to be offered the sensitive, prestigious and highly visible post of chairman of this important new undertaking. So we must ask, when did Obama and Ayers actually first get to know one another? And how did they come to trust one another?

One possible connection between Ayers and Obama was Sidley Austin, the prestigious Chicago law firm where Obama had a summer job after his first year at Harvard Law School, and where he met his future wife Michelle, assigned to him as a mentor. Also working at Sidley Austin was Bernadine Dohrn, wife of William Ayers, and a fellow Weather Underground terrorist. Given the shared "progressive" politics of the three, they probably knew one another and associated together at a firm known as a white shoe corporate practice.

Or Obama might have met Ayers even earlier, during his stint as a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago, in fact. Ayers was a well-known and very active figure in left wing Chicago politics, and might have encountered the young, articulate, Ivy League educated rookie black radical Obama, working in a Saul Alinksy spinoff.

We soon will know much more about the period of collaboration between Obama and Ayers following the start of the CAC. Even if the archives continue to be withheld from public scrutiny, the cat is out of the bag with the documents available to all. The formidable analytical engine of bloggers trading insights and new data is warming up.

But the period prior to 1995, the time when Bill and Barack, the terrorist and the presidential aspirant, got to know one another and build the relationship of trust, is one excellent adventure likely to remain obscure.

Hat tip: James Edmund Pennington and Ed Lasky

Thomas Lifson is editor and publisher of American Thinker.