Ayers is a meaningless election distraction

WASHINGTON — The real “man of the hour” at the latest presidential debate was the man who wasn’t there. Oh, he was lurking about, hiding behind the stage curtains and troubling people’s minds, as we used to say in the Midwest. Sarah Palin, also not seen, was nevertheless devilishly busy researching every moment of the man’s checkered past so she could continue to herald his “friendship” with Barack Obama.

On the stage, things were not half so interesting. One had to wonder last Tuesday night, while both candidates seemed strangely nonchalant that the country was collapsing around us (not them?), whether the candidates really knew what was happening.

They talked not only details, but the SAME details — those pesky mortgages, the right to have a home, the unrequited drama of health-care, oil dependency, even hair transplants — they have gone over onstage a hundred times. Where was an Eisenhower, an FDR or even a John Kennedy when we needed a leader to paint the big picture for us and convince us we weren’t really drowning despite all those people on the world’s shores waving crazily to us?

But I wander. The point is that Tuesday night, “the Man” was not Barack Obama; “the Man” is William “Bill” Ayers, today a political nobody from my hometown, Chicago, whose figure has subtly and dishonestly dominated a lot of the background political noise being made recently by McCain’s brassy vice presidential candidate.

Sled-dog attack mode

Earlier last week, in her best sled-dog attack mode, Gov. Palin used Obama’s supposed cronyism with Ayers as a proof of not only his supposed leftism but of his dishonesty in denying it. In one of her many convoluted statements, she said: “I’m not saying he’s dishonest, but in terms of judgment, in terms of being able to answer a question forthrightly, it has two different parts to this. The judgment and the truthfulness and just being able to answer very candidly a simple question about when did you know him, how did you know him, is there still — has there been an association continued since ’02 or ’05, I know I’ve read a couple different stories. I think it’s relevant.”

Whoo! A newspaperman would say it’s hard to find the lead there.

But in fact, the lead is to be found in the truly relevant matter of “guilt by association.” The McCain camp is trying to set Obama up as a leftie sympathizer of old leftie Bill Ayers (a “domestic terrorist,” they call him), who was co-founder of the radical and violent Weather Underground in the 1969 bombing rampage through downtown Chicago. Sarah Palin went so far as to tell a crowd in Florida that Obama “launched his political career in the living room of a domestic terrorist!”

But in fact, Bill Ayers, who was then rebelling against his father, Thomas Ayers, no less than CEO of Commonwealth Edison, is a man of total inconsequence today. The Weathermen are either long dead or have high positions in academia or Wall Street. He himself has a 48-page curriculum vitae and is a professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago, who was praised recently by none other than Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley for his work on Chicago public school reform and as a “valued member of the Chicago community.”

‘Days of Rage’

Nobody is forgetting what Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, also a professor today but then the more active radical of the two, did in those infamous “Days of Rage” in a troubled America. Obama himself has defined Ayers as “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago.” Then added pointedly, “When I was 8.” And Ayers gave all of $200 to his campaign!

Yes, it was all a long time ago. Thank God, there’s been a lot of necessary forgiving and forgetting in America — and pretty much everybody today recognizes that the Vietnam War they violently protested was a disaster for America. So people like Ayers and Dohrn have rejoined society. If you put your finger up to test the weather today, you’re not going to find any Weathermen coming ‘round.

The McCain-Palin campaign is swamping us with small waves even as an economic tsunami threatens us. Some people actually believe this stuff. Don’t! Many of us yearn for one of the candidates, instead of the repeated minutiae of the Ayers accusations and of Tuesday night, to tell us WHY the tsunami is coming, and how we loyal, but profoundly troubled Americans, can avoid being swept away.

Universal Press Syndicate

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