Theirs is an important, even awesome, power in a mass society like the United States but it is a delicately balanced power – if they abuse their power they can lose their legitimacy and thus their power. That happened most recently to the Times when they promoted the idea that, indeed, Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. That helped lay the groundwork for a war the Times now believes was a mistake.
Thus, when they decided recently that the relationship between Bill Ayers and Barack Obama (a candidate already advocating another dangerous war!) was too important to ignore, yet at the same time so critical for their political purposes to debunk, their method had to be pitch perfect.
How did they do it?
Well, asking that is a bit like asking David Blaine, the famous illusionist, how he does his famous card tricks. He won’t tell you. And we, the unsuspecting public, will never be told precisely how the Times decided to cover the Ayers/Obama story.
But since I was a critical part of their story – I was interviewed numerous times by three different Times reporters over the last few weeks – I know a few things about it and I know enough to suggest a theory.
Like Blaine and all great magicians, the Times created an attractive distraction – something apparently so compelling that all would turn their heads in one direction while, in fact, the real story was missed altogether.
In the case of the Ayers/Obama relationship the illusion is the suggestion that there is any link at all between, on the one hand, the violent tactics, as opposed to the fundamental political viewpoint, of Bill Ayers from approximately 1969 until his decision to turn himself into the authorities in 1980, and, on the other hand, the views and policies of Barack Obama.
During that period Ayers and his fellow Weather Underground activists carried out a series of bombings that did extensive property damage and in one instance killed three of their own members. Of course, the wider damage was political not physical because as Ayers was blowing up government offices he was also helping to destroy the reputation of the most important social movements of the 1960s, including the civil rights movement and the anti-war movement.
It has, of course, been the narrow minded approach of the Republican party to attack Obama by attempting to link him to Ayers history as a terrorist.
What was so artful, in a way, about the magic of the Times story on Obama is that they used the very same episode out of Ayers’ life to hide the real story. Thus, their headline read: “Obama and ’60s Bomber: A Look Into Crossed Paths.” This was a very carefully chosen headline. Two images are created: one, the link to the violent tactics used by Ayers for a few years out of his forty year political career and then, two, the metaphor of “crossed paths” – as if the two just happened to, well, cross paths while walking their dogs around their Hyde Park neighborhood. The former is the Republican story and the latter is the Obama campaign’s story.
But neither is the real story. It turns out that, indeed, all the Times did was take a quick “look” into the real story.
That real story is the ball the Times must hide because it leads inevitably to the conclusion that the fundamental political world view of Ayers, not his tactical foray into bombings for a few years, is influencing the Obama candidacy. That is a conclusion the New York Times is likely well aware of – because I have patiently explained it to three of their reporters, including Michael Powell and Scott Shane – and because if you know where to look and whom to ask, and I think we can conclude they have the resources to look wherever and ask whomever they wish, the influence is clear.
So what is the evidence of the influence of Ayers’ world view on Obama and his presidential candidacy?
First, what is the Ayers’ world view? Ayers is what political scientists call a “neo-stalinist.” Neo-stalinism is an authoritarian form of politics which attempts to control and build social institutions to impose state control of the economy, politics and culture on the general population. It has similarities to the original Stalinism found in the former Soviet Union but it arose in other countries and used slightly different forms and in some instances created regimes that were at odds for various reasons with the Russian regime.
Classic examples of neo-stalinist regimes – regimes that Ayers and people in his political camp respect and support – are the Chavez regime in Venezuela, the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua, the Castro regime in Cuba, and the maoist regime in China.
How could such a world view have anything to do with Obama? Well, the route that Ayers and his camp have followed to promote his form of authoritarian politics is a critical policy area: education.
Ayers advocates what he calls a “social justice” approach to education. What that means is the promotion of his authoritarian politics through our public school system. Four key tactics that Ayers supports in order to help implement his world view are:
- the creation of “local school councils” (LSCs) like those that Ayers has promoted in Chicago for the last 20 years;
- “small schools” which Ayers has also promoted since the early 1990s in Chicago and elsewhere;
- the advocacy of what Ayers and others call “social justice” teaching; and
- the payment of reparations through education spending to correct what he has seen for 40 years as the fundamentally racist nature of American society.
As Ayers explained in a speech in Venezuela in front of strong man Hugo Chavez on his fourth visit to that country in November 2006, there are “profound education reforms underway here in Venezuela under the leadership of President Chavez. We share the belief that education is the motor-force of revolution.” He found in Chavez’ authoritarian Venezuela institutions being created that were very similar to what he advocates here in the United States.
And it turns out that Barack Obama also supports all four of those key tactical ideas and has since the earliest days of his political career.
But did that critical conclusion appear in the Times story?
No, they were too busy trying to convince their readers of what those readers already knew: that Obama had no support for the foray into violence by Ayers from 1969-1980.
Thus, for example, the Times did not tell its readers that when Barack Obama was a community organizer in Chicago from 1985 to 1988 the organization he led, the Developing Communities Project (DCP), was a leading player in the lobbying campaign for “local school councils” in Chicago in the wake of a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.
LSCs were mandated by a state law put in place in 1988 as a result of that lobbying. But the Times did not explain that Bill Ayers was a leading activist in that lobbying effort, a leading member alongside Obama’s DCP in the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools which led the campaign for the LSCs.
Obama and the DCP backed the LSCs even though they were viewed as an attack by many mainstream black organizations, like Jesse Jackson’s Operation PUSH, on the secure middle class jobs that blacks had won for themselves as teachers and school administrators in Chicago. Thus, Obama was willing to risk his relationship to the wider black community in order to back this effort.
And when the New York Times discussed the joint work of Obama and Ayers on the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, they did not explain that among the most important projects of the Challenge were the very same four policies so critical to Ayers political strategy:
- promotion of local school councils,
- financial support for small schools,
- promotion of a “social justice” teaching agenda, and
- a race based approach to education policy.
Since the Times is uninterested, let me explain who Klonsky is. Klonsky was an actual stalinist active in the SDS with Ayers who supported the Russians politically until 1968 when he was called by Bill Ayers’ future wife, Bernardine Dohrn, who was in eastern Europe at the time and told the Russians had invaded Czechoslovakia. Klonsky decided then his best bet was to back China! Klonsky formed a maoist party a few years later and even traveled to Beijing in 1977 where he was warmly greeted by the Communist Party leadership.
In the late 80s Klonsky went back to graduate school – as a Ph.D. student studying under his former SDS comrade, Bill Ayers, now on the faculty of the University of Illinois at Chicago. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on “small schools.” He and Ayers have used that project, with the help of the hundreds of thousands of dollars approved for them by Barack Obama while Obama chaired the Annenberg Challenge, to invade numerous Chicago schools as part of their political campaign to establish an authoritarian beach head in American society.
As one union activist who encountered Klonsky and Ayers in his inner city Chicago high school during that period said: “At best, they are irrelevant wanderers. At worst, they are teacher bashers and ideologues pushing a political line while collecting political patronage. On a couple of occasions they sent out their heavyweights (Mike Klonsky and Bill Ayers), who were equally irrelevant, albeit more arrogant (and a bit more polished).”
The Times ignored the $2 million Leadership Development Initiative put together by Ayers while Ayers headed up the Annenberg Challenge’s Collaborative arm. The Initiative was aimed at recruiting parents to the LSCs in Chicago. In fact, a central explicit purpose of the CAC was to bolster the LSCs in the 90s after they had begun to weaken in the face of ineffectiveness and morale problems.
One reason the Times may have avoided discussing the Initiative, which I had already described here on my blog and in my discussions with the Times, is that it undermines a critical defense of the Obama campaign against public attention to their candidate’s connection to Bill Ayers. They defend their candidate by saying that the Annenberg Challenge in Chicago was not a “radical” project because mainstream figures like former university presidents Arnold Weber and Stanley Ikenberry served alongside Obama on its board.
What they do not explain is the temporarily shared agenda between Ayers, Obama and those mainstream Chicagoans. Recall that the LSCs were set up in the wake of a Chicago Teachers Union strike that was unpopular, as teachers’ strikes and others strikes by public servants often are. The LSCs were a watchdog group that became an alternative center of power to the school board and the teachers union. Thus, mainstream figures from the business community and elsewhere who wanted to rein in the power of the union and the size and budget of the school board thought the LSCs might help.
However, as the 90s unfolded mainstream support for the LSCs began to fade. Thus, when Ayers proposed the Leadership Development Initiative in 1996, he ran into a buzz saw of opposition at the board of directors of the Annenberg Challenge, led by Arnold Weber, former President of Northwestern University and then a leader of a major business lobby in Chicago, the Civic Committee. Weber understood the political impact of the LSCs on labor relations in the schools. Why? Weber was a leading figure in industrial and labor relations for many decades and thus intimately familiar with the role of unions. He complained during the Annenberg board’s discussion of Ayers’ proposal that the LSCs would be viewed as a “political threat” to school principals.
But the CAC funded the Initiative anyway. How did that happen? Barack Obama led the effort to craft slightly altered wording to the statement of purpose for the Initiative and eventually Weber relented. Ayers got his $2 million and over the next several years worked with Ken Rolling, the executive director of the CAC, to set up programs to recruit and train candidates for the LSCs, thus strengthening Ayers ability to establish his base inside the Chicago public school system.
But wait – there is more. The objections inside the CAC by Weber to the LSCs were nothing compared to what was happening outside. As business and other support for the LSCs set up in 1988 waned because they were not actually improving student outcomes, Mayor Daley began moves to gut the LSCs of their power to fire principals and control teachers. He wanted to re-centralize power over the schools in his hands. As part of that effort he attacked the CAC itself attempting, in the words of CAC Executive Director Rolling, to “wrest away” the Annenberg grant from Obama and Ayers.
This, too, is ignored by the Times even though it is clear evidence of the intensely close political alliance between Obama and Ayers as Obama was beginning his climb to prominence in Chicago and Illinois politics. The willingness of Obama to take on the CAC board chairmanship side by side with Ayers chairmanship of the CAC board’s sister arm, the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, meant that Obama was willing to go into political battle with Ayers against Mayor Daley. Most likely Ayers trusted Obama because they had been on the same side in the original battle in 1988 to set up the LSCs that Daley was now attacking. And, of course, Obama had an interest in possibly unseating Daley for the mayoralty himself. It was time to prove himself on a bigger stage.
No wonder Ayers and his wife were willing to host Obama at their house to launch his campaign for state senate in late 1995. But once again, the Times is busy distracting their readers’ attention with odd comments about Ayers as a “toothless ex-radical” to explain this context – again a context they are fully aware of since at the very least they heard about it from me several times. Of course, there was, and is, nothing toothless or “ex” about Ayers’ radicalism. In 1995, Ayers was in his early 40s and as we have explained here very much still engaged in his own form of authoritarian radicalism.
Oh, and in case you thought it might be just a tiny bit useful to consider whether Ayers today has any influence on Obama, the candidate, the Times, perhaps now exhausted by their sleight of hand, simply states: “Since 2002, there is little public evidence of their relationship.”
Would that it were so. But again the Times ignores the very public evidence.
In fact, Obama supports an approach to education based on race – one of the four central lifelong concerns of Ayers – as indicated in his appointment as a key education advisor Linda Darling-Hammond. Darling-Hammond is a leading race theorist in education who has taught at Columbia and now Stanford. She contributed a chapter on education for a book edited by Ayers.
She is, like Ayers, an advocate of what is known as “social justice” teaching. She is, like Ayers, an admirer of authoritarian regimes like that of Singapore, one of her favorite examples of allegedly improved approaches to education despite the rigid control of the population there by the state.
She is, like Ayers, a strong supporter of a proposal to mandate that whites repay “people of color” the billions of dollars of “education debt” that has allegedly accumulated after centuries of racism, oppression, and slavery. In other words, reparations. She published a blue print for the radical Forum on Education and Democracy that argued that repayment of that “education debt” must be the top priority of the next President of the United States.
Of course, there is little meaningful content to this proposal. It is grievance politics at its best, pandering to desperate inner city black students and parents at worst. An alternative multi-factor approach to education reform advocated by the Economic Policy Institute would represent a much healthier alternative but Obama has refused calls to endorse it. Instead he has made several comments indicating sympathy with a race based reparations approach.
Recently, a group emerged called “Support Bill Ayers.” They contend that Bill Ayers has been unfairly attacked for his views on education and politics. The group has started a petition in support of Ayers. Among the very first signers of the petition are three of Darling-Hammond’s fellow “convenors” at the Forum on Education and Democracy who also signed on to her call for repayment of education debt.
These activities all developed since 2002 and are impacting the Obama campaign itself yet none are mentioned by the Times, again despite my discussion of these issues at length with them.
In sum, despite the best efforts of the magicians at the Gray Lady to convince its readers to ignore the obvious, there is a readily available consistent 20 year record of a relationship between Obama and Ayers evidenced by their mutual support of the authoritarian policies they advocate in the world of education.