There are plenty of reasons to be skeptical about Barack Obama and his qualifications to be president. But one manufactured scandal I think just isn’t that big of a deal is Obama’s past associations with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, the former members/leaders of the Vietnam-era terrorist group, the Weather Underground. Mind you, I have contempt for these two unrepentant thugs but, you see, Chicago politics and intellectual society apparently has a different opinion, inviting them back into the fold despite their terrible acts. That Obama should end up at Chicago parties with them and at fundraisers held by them is not all surprising. Michael Kinsley of TIME explains:

If Obama’s relationship with Ayers, however tangential, exposes Obama as a radical himself, or at least as a man with terrible judgment, he shares that radicalism or terrible judgment with a comically respectable list of Chicagoans and others–including Republicans and conservatives–who have embraced Ayers and Dohrn as good company, good citizens, even experts on children’s issues. Northwestern created a “family justice” center for Dohrn to run. Ayers is a “distinguished professor” at the University of Illinois. They write Op-Eds and are often quoted in the Tribune, where, if they are identified at all beyond their academic titles, it is usually as “activists” who have never abandoned their noble ideals. In 1995 the Trib reported on a party at their home to celebrate a new progressive website, designed by the person who designed President Bill Clinton’s website. The designer said, “There is a lot of room for different ideas in progressive politics, and we’re proud to be associated with Bernardine Dohrn and Bill Ayers.”

I could write a whole separate post about how liberal politicians and intellectuals shoot themselves in the foot when they freely associate with these kinds of radicals. But I can’t pretend that Obama was going to take a principled stand that no one else in Democratic Chicago has taken or is likely to take anytime soon. Would it have been nice if Obama had avoided these two entirely? Absolutely. And it would have shown a level of character far beyond any typical politician.

At the worst, Obama’s association with Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn shows him to be just that kind of typical politician. But it doesn’t prove any radical tendencies and, to say it does, ignores the sad truth behind Chicago’s mainstream embrace of these two condemnable individuals.

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