Ayers/Klonsky/Obama Links: Is it only a right wing thing?

The widely respected teachers union activist Leo Casey blogs at Edwize, hosted by the United Federation of Teachers, the NY division of the national American Federation of Teachers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. He hints (loudly), just after the AFL-CIO endorsement of Obama, that the right wing’s concern about the potential influence of folks like Bill Ayers and Mike Klonsky (the once found but now lost education blogger for Obama) on the Obama campaign is no more than a clumsy attempt at a 1950’s McCarthy-style smear.

This is interesting because unlike the typical naive left wing or liberal defender of these pseudo left wing authoritarians, Casey is a longtime democratic socialist known for his concern about labor and human rights in China, Cuba and elsewhere. Thus, it is a bit of a surprise to see him rushing to dismiss the significance of the odd milieu of Fidelistas and Maoists that seems to cluster around Obama.

The thrust of Casey’s argument is that there is no link between the once insane and violent tactics of folks like Ayers and his present day activities in the world of education policy.  No careful reader of this blog can accept that rosy-tinted view of the world.  

As I replied in the comments section to his blog:

It’s not just folks on the right who are, or should be, concerned about the influence of Ayers/Klonsky on Obama’s education policy.

Ayers developed a race-based approach to politics in the late 60s and early 70s that relied on a variant of the “unequal exchange” argument of maoists and other third worldists. He applied it to the domestic US and argued that white workers lived off the backs of black workers.

Today he has endorsed a related proposal by Gloria Ladson-Billings and Obama education advisor Linda Darling-Hammond for “repayment of centuries of education debt” that has allegedly accumulated over centuries to people of color.

That is, in my view, fundamentally at odds – well, with rational argument – but also with the comprehensive multi-factor policy menu advocated by the EPI-convened Bold Approach. Ayers, Obama and Klonsky have been working together on education policy in various ways for many years, going back to the late 1980s. Ayers and Obama co-led the six year long $110 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge Program. Klonsky was a recipient of a 1995 grant of $175,000 from the Challenge for the Small Schools Workshop that he was hired by Ayers to head up (apparently Klonsky was a cab driver in Chicago at the time) in 1992.

While I have some concern that Obama would even shake hands with someone who was almost single handedly responsible for wrecking the student antiwar movement with his violent, illegal and despicable acts, I am far more concerned that Obama thinks this guy has anything useful to say about American schoolchildren.

(For the record, I think that Sol Stern made a similar argument – I hold no brief for neo-cons but his City Journal article was aimed at attempting to steer the conversation away from Ayers’ violent past to his current approach to education policy and theory.)

Btw, Ayers brothers Rick and John and (late) father Tom and Klonsky’s wife, brother and daughter all work in or on education issues. So does Mark Rudd and Carl Davidson. Strikes me as a bit odd, frankly.