Kinsley: Obama shouldn't be linked with Ayers

The columnist dismisses attacks against Obama that connect him to the Weather Underground member, saying a connection proves nothing about Obama.

Published May 30, 2008 10:15PM (EDT)

The connection between Barack Obama and former Weather Underground members Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn, slightly tenuous though it may be, has already become something of an issue in this campaign, and it will no doubt only get more attention as we get closer to the fall. In a recent column, Michael Kinsley made a preemptive attack against the issue, calling it "absurd."

The connection between Obama and the Weather Underground members certainly isn't as strong as, say, Obama's connection to his former pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. But there is a bit of a link -- specifically, as Edward McClelland noted in an article for Salon, "One of [Obama's] first campaign events was at the home of Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn ... Obama later served with Ayers on the board of the Woods Fund, which supports projects in poor Chicago communities."

Kinsley's argument isn't that Ayers and Dohrn should be forgiven for their past, or that their connection to Obama is too shaky to be worth discussing, though he does correctly call it "tangential." Instead, he writes:

In America we believe in redemption and even self-reinvention. And we don't usually require stagy Stalinesque recantations. But Dohrn and Ayers test the limits of that generosity. They remain spectacularly unrepentant ...

When it became clear even to them that there would not be violent revolution in America, Ayers and Dohrn shrugged and rejoined society in Chicago, where he had grown up. It wasn't difficult. While he was in hiding, his father was CEO of Commonwealth Edison, the big utility. Ayers the elder sat on every Establishment board in town -- Northwestern, the Tribune Co., the Chicago Symphony. Ayers the younger and his wife were welcomed back into the fold ... They set off bombs and talked about killing their parents, and the Chicago establishment didn't even care ...

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.

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

MORE FROM Alex Koppelman

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

2008 Elections Barack Obama War Room