Like the three blind men and the elephant: The New Yorker on Obama

The New Yorker magazine made a fundamental mistake when it decided to answer the question, Who Sent Obama?  
They sent a 30-something New Yorker named Ryan Lizza to Chicago.  And Chicago ate him for breakfast and never looked back. 
Of course, as patient readers of Global Labor well know, we asked, and answered, the age old Chicago political question – Who Sent You? – back in April of this year and we updated it several times most recently on June 23.  No mention of our work in the New Yorker – but that’s ok, they likely would have screwed it up anyway.
As we wrote then, the key to understanding Obama’s rise to power in Chicago politics is knowing which questions to ask, and of whom, and to understand why some will give you a straight answer while others will smile as broad as daylight at you and feed you a pile of horse manure. Lizza ate a lot of the latter. Now he wants you to eat it, too.  Don’t be fooled.
Let’s just take apart one paragraph as an example, about the critical relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers. 
Lizza writes as follows:
Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, another activist Hyde Park couple, also held an event for Obama. Forty years ago, Ayers and Dohrn were leaders of the Weathermen, the militant antiwar group that bombed the Pentagon and the United States Capitol. By the time Obama met Ayers, the former radical and onetime fugitive had been accepted into polite Chicago society and had been reborn as an education expert, eventually working as an informal adviser to Mayor Daley. (Those ties remain intact in the jumbled culture of Chicago politics. When Obama’s association with Ayers first became a campaign issue, Daley, whose father, in 1968, sent his police force into the streets to combat Ayers’s fellow-radicals, issued a statement praising Ayers as “a valued member of the Chicago community.”)
Of course, Ayers and Dohrn are hardly “another activist couple.” Dohrn is a convicted criminal and both were terrorists who helped destroy the best of the student left and anti-war movement in the late 1960s. And is Bill Ayers a former radical? What is the evidence of that? In fact, Ayers loses no opportunity to make clear to all willing to listen that nothing has changed for him since his days in the Weather Underground – which ran until about 25 years ago, not 40 – except that he is longer tossing homemade bombs around.
Notice what Lizza does here though: “by the time Obama met Ayers” he writes, Ayers had been accepted into polite Chicago society.  He never asks, or answers when, in fact, Ayers and Obama actually met.  And, of course, experienced Chicagoans like Abner Mikva and Marilyn Katz, two key Obama allies, are never asked and do not tell.
But when did Obama meet Ayers? That is critical. It helps determine whether or not there is any shred of support for Obama’s own claim that Ayers, whose name is clearly toxic for the Obama camp, was just “a guy who lives in my neighborhood.”  And, frankly, all the rest of Obama’s political history in Chicago is pretty meaningless unless one tackles this issue.
The New York Times reported some weeks ago that according to unnamed Obama aides they first met at the fundraiser that Lizza mentions, which took place in the fall of 1995.  Of course, that is wrong because by late 1995 Obama was already chairman of the board of directors of the $110 million Chicago Annenberg Challenge, recruited to that post by Bill Ayers, co-founder of the Challenge, who himself co-chaired the Chicago School Reform Collaborative which was the operative arm of the Challenge.
The natural follow-up to that question of when Ayers and Obama met is why did Ayers want Obama as chair of the Challenge Board?  Of course the board chair would have to share the values and goals of the Challenge’s leading founder, Bill Ayers.  
And how would Bill Ayers know that the young Mr. Obama, a fresh lawyer out of Harvard, shared his goals and values?  
A job interview?  Not likely.  
The goal of the Annenberg Challenge was to enter intense political warfare – a battle royale over the future of Chicago’s giant, long-troubled public school system. For that kind of battle, as they also say in Chicago, if your enemy brings a knife, you bring a gun.
So Ayers would have been looking for some heavy weaponry as he waded back into the Chicago school wars in 1993 and 1994 through the generosity of Walter Annenberg. 
Sure, Richie Daley would shake hands with Bill Ayers down the road – more than that, he would give him the key to the damn city, naming him “Chicagoan of the Year” in 1997. So what? Of course, Daley shook his hand – keep your friends close, your enemies closer.  Again, we explained this some time ago here.
But in 1994, Ayers was at war with Daley.  Daley was attempting to reverse the radical school reform law put in place in 1988 in the wake of an unpopular teachers’ strike.  That reform effort had among its supporters, Bill Ayers, Bill’s power broker father Tom, his brother John and, oh yeah, Barack Obama.  A 1988 reform bill that put in place a new power center in Chicago schools, so-called Local School Councils, of LSCs, to watchdog teachers and principals. A leading player in the lobbying effort was the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools, of which Obama’s Developing Communities Project was a member and which a leading business organization founded by Tom Ayers, Chicago United, was a leading force in. Bill Ayers later became the chair of the ABCs.
But their impact on student achievement was mixed at best so Daley was angling to re-centralize power in his office. Ayers saw the Annenberg money as a way to pump up support for the LSCs.  And he recruited, of all the possibilities, the young Barack Obama to head up the board of directors of the Challenge in that effort.
It was a huge step up for the young lawyer at a critical point in his political career.  Sure, as Lizza notes, he had run a successful get out the vote campaign in 1991-2 which helped put Carole Mosley Braun into the Senate. But running the Annenberg Challenge put him into another layer of Chicago power and prestige altogether, allowing him to rub shoulders with the most powerful players in the city and yet to do so on behalf of a radical and troubled school reform effort. Picking Obama meant that there had to already have been a strong relationship between Obama and Ayers, perhaps one that dated as far back as the 1987-88 school reform movement.
But the Annenberg Challenge is never once even mentioned by Lizza.  Funny.
Lizza does say in passing that Obama sat on the boards of two liberal foundations but presumably he means the Woods Fund, which was smaller and less controversial than the Annenberg Challenge, and the Joyce Foundation, another small liberal non profit, both of which have been written about extensively.
But that means one key post for Obama is missing – the Annenberg Challenge where he not only was on the board but chaired it and did so from day one.  And was recruited to it by one of the most controversial figures in Chicago politics, Bill Ayers.  They would work closely together on the Challenge for five years, not only handing out the original $49.2 million grant but soliciting another $60 million from Chicago foundations and corporations as well.
Now, for sure, Lizza says Ayers and Obama met after Ayers had been “reborn as an education expert” and accepted into polite society.  God only knows when Lizza thinks that happened but if he meant to date the relationship between Obama and Ayers to 1988 or 1987 then he should say so.  
Of course, as Chicagoans well know, Ayers was not accepted into polite society, he was born into it.  His father, Tom, was the city’s leading business figure for several decades, responsible as far back as the mid-60s for brokering peace between Martin Luther King and Daley the First, and still active in education policy and other issues well into the 1990s. It was Tom who placed Ayers’ wife Dohrn into his one of his law firms, Sidley Austin, where Obama also worked just after Dohrn had left. Dohrn had also gone to law school with Judson Miner, the lawyer who first hired Obama out of Harvard in 1991.
Of course, if Lizza put the Obama-Ayers relationship back as far as the 1987-88 ABCs days, that would contradict the line being put out by the Obama campaign and would open up another wound in the credibility of the Obama machine. At some point those add up, a turning point is reached and the magic wears off. That, surely, is something Lizza clearly and no doubt desperately wants to avoid.

The willful blindness of the liberal left to the origins of Barack Obama’s rise to power, including his close and long standing political relationship to Bill Ayers, is something we have not seen in this country since the run-up to the Iraq war. That war had Judith Miller, this year’s Presidential campaign has Ryan Lizza.

Making It: How Chicago Shaped Obama – The New Yorker