Chicago is home to a retired conservative University of Chicago professor named Milt Rosenberg who hosts an evening talk show on WGN radio. WGN stands for “World’s Greatest Newspaper” because it is owned by the Tribune Company which also owns the Chicago Cubs. Jack Brickhouse, the voice of the Cubs for years when I was growing up, broadcast on WGN. And these days many people follow the Cubs on WGN cable television all over the country.
In other words, the folks at WGN are Chicago icons.
Yet tonight the Milt Rosenberg show was the subject of a wave of hostile attacks from followers of the Obama campaign because Milt had the nerve to put on his show Dr. Stanley Kurtz, a journalist and conservative intellectual who writes for National Review Online. Dr. Kurtz has been writing a series of articles on Obama and, in particular on Obama’s political activities while in Chicago.
Most recently, Dr. Kurtz has turned his attention to a subject that Global Labor has been exploring – albeit from a left perspective – the relationship between Barack Obama and Bill Ayers particularly on the $160 million six year long Chicago Annenberg Challenge (CAC) from 1995 to 2001.
In fact, Kurtz was in Chicago this week to examine the records of the CAC held at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). UIC had invited him to look at the records and then, very oddly, revoked their invitation after a discussion with the donor of the records. Then they reversed course again and invited him back, along with a host of mainstream media representatives who were now paying attention to this issue for the first time.
Caller after caller to WGN read off talking points provided them by the Obama campaign alleging that Dr. Kurtz, and by implication and sometimes directly, Milt Rosenberg, was “smearing” Barack Obama and finding Obama “guilty by association.” They also accused Kurtz of lying.
Yet, when pressed for specifics, these callers had none.
This gang of callers and emailers reminded me of the “turbas” – the street thugs organized by the Nicaraguan Sandinistas who would be deployed on a moment’s notice to harass independent trade unionists, human rights activists and government critics during the Sandinistas’ rule over Nicaragua in the 1980’s. Hugo Chavez in Venezuela – a favorite haunt of Bill Ayers and other “Progressives for Obama” – uses similar bodies in Caracas neighborhoods.
Now keep in mind for those of you not familiar with the Rosenberg show: it has run for decades and has always been thought of as a quiet sober discussion space; generally conservative but usually open to a range of views.
My father, a lifelong Chicago liberal and former Democratic party precinct captain, has called in and jousted with Rosenberg several times over the years (Milt called him a “professor of sophistry” in one exchange). Yet, listeners are blogging tonight that they have never heard anything like what happened this evening.
Perhaps we should not be surprised by the tactics of the Obama campaign – attempting to squash a legitimate discussion on the respected Rosenberg show of these sensitive issues.
But it suggests to me a whiff of panic inside the campaign. Sure, John Kerry should have gone after the swift boaters in the last election. But this is not swift boating. We are talking about a decade or more of close political activity involving Ayers and Obama.
Far from being a smear, the accusation made that Dr. Kurtz and Global Labor is engaged in “guilt by association” is really a form of McCarthyism. I have experienced this in the past from some on the left and wrote here about it.
(For the record, I was called up by the Milt Rosenberg show and asked to join in the conversation last night. In doing so, I pointed out that those in the Obama camp like Mike Klonsky and David Axelrod who are red diaper babies ought to be particularly sensitive to the use of McCarthyite tactics by those in the Obama camp.
It turns out I misspoke, as far as I can tell only Klonsky is, in fact, the son of members of the Communist Party. I had seen web references to Axelrod as a son of CP members but I went back last evening to check and I found that those seem unreliable.
Instead it appears that Axelrod is the son of fellow travelers, i.e., folks who worked side by side with CP members and shared many of their views but who did not formally join the party. Axelrod’s mother, it appears, was a writer for PM magazine, a 50’s era magazine heavily influenced by the CP.
Oddly, Rosenberg suggested I was “maligning” Axelrod by suggesting he was a red diaper baby. I don’t know why being a red diaper baby would be considered maligning Axelrod: after all, we do not choose our parents. In any case, I have known many red diaper babies and they are no better and no worse than anyone else on the political scene with a wide array of viewpoints.
So I apologize for misspeaking but not for making the suggestion that someone was a red diaper baby, since that is not anything to apologize for. And I stand by my original statement that someone with a 50s era background in or around the CP should be particularly sensitive to the use of McCarthyite tactics like those being used by Obama supporters against critics of the Obama/Ayers relationship.)
So why this ginned up outrage from the Obama camp?
Becuase Dr. Kurtz has found out as we have been discussing here for some time, that, indeed, Bill Ayers co-founded the Chicago Annenberg Challenge and then co-chaired its Collaborative arm while Barack Obama was selected to chair the board of directors of the Challenge.
Together Ayers and Obama worked to hand out more than $160 million in and around the Chicago school system to groups that allegedly were going to work to improve student achievement. The effort failed, miserably, at least on the level of achievement.
But Ayers and others claim it was a success – no doubt because it helped them in their battle with the Mayor of Chicago, Richard Daley Jr. who was trying to wrest control of the Annenberg Challenge grant away from Ayers and Obama. Daley was also trying to crush the Local School Councils set up in 1988 after a campaign that Ayers and Obama both participated in. Those Councils were aimed to be a watchdog over the Teachers Union and the School Board. They were failing too and Ayers and Obama viewed the CAC money as a conduit to prop them up.
So it is a hard fact that Ayers and Obama knew each other well before the time the Obama campaign has stated in the past. And clearly Obama well knew that Ayers was not just a guy from the neighborhood as he stated on national TV.
That must be a difficult problem for the Obama camp to swallow – they pushed their candidate to deny, deny, distance, distance, when, in fact, they long knew of the close political relationship between Ayers and Obama. For all we know, the relationship continues. Ayers backs a key policy proposal of Obama education advisor, Linda Darling-Hammond: to wit, the repayment of the alleged “education debt” to people of color.
I warned of this very dilemma for the campaign many months ago. I pointed out that the hope for change that the Obama campaign had raised among many in the anti-war and labor movement, for example, would be crushed if Obama could not explain why he was involved with someone like Bill Ayers
Ayers was one of the most destructive forces on the left for many years – in fact, he should not be called a leftist. He is an authoritarian who is more comfortable with figures like Hugo Chavez than he is with genuine democratic activists like those in the labor movement.
For whatever reason, Obama chose Ayers as an ally at a critical point in his career. The post at the CAC was big step up for the young lawyer. Obama, though, could have made other choices. He could have said no to Ayers. But they worked together on school reform for years, then on juvenile justice issues and then on the board of the Woods Fund.
As some on the left – often inappropriately – like to say: those chickens are coming home to roost.
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