Ron Radosh: Does Obama embrace Bill Ayers's dangerous education ideas?

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Ronald Radosh is a Hudson Institute adjunct senior fellow. His books include "Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left."]

THE Obama campaign hotly denies the McCain camp's charges that Barack Obama has long ties to Bill Ayers, the 1960s Weather Underground terrorist. I'll leave it to others to discuss most aspects of the relationship - and focus on one damning admission made in Obama's defense.

While denying any other meaningful link between the two, the Obama campaign says that Obama has long respected Ayers' work on education; many press accounts refer to him as a "school reformer." Problem is, those "school reforms" boil down to propagandizing for the very ideas that led Ayers to blow up buildings decades ago.

The Obama defense cites the likes of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, who told The New York Times that Ayers (now a University of Illinois professor) is an educator who has "done a lot of good in this city and nationally." Thus, if Obama sought Ayers' expertise on his chosen field of childhood education, it was hardly anything to be wary of.

But, as Stanley Kurtz and Sol Stern have pointed out, Obama helped deliver thousands of dollars to fund Ayers' education projects in the Chicago Annenberg Challenge - whose purpose, says Kurtz, is to infuse students "with a radical political commitment."

Ayers makes this very clear in all his writings. K-12 teachers, he has written, must teach "for social justice and liberation" - making classrooms into centers for creating revolutionary change.

Time has only hardened Ayers' views. Consider an interview he gave two years ago to "Revolution," a magazine published by The Revolutionary Communist Party, USA, a self-described "Marxist, Leninist, Maoist" group.

There, Ayers argues that education can't be separated from "the concept of politics and political change." Urban schools are now merely preparing students "for prison, for unemployment and for war."

So, to create a genuine "progressive" education for our children, teachers must work to overturn the repressive, racist and imperialist system that governs the United States; it is imperative to fight "the most reactionary cabal of ideologues" that control the federal government and the media.

Even if the Republicans lose the White House in in 2008, Ayers notes, the ruling class will remain irritated by education - which he proudly proclaims the one area they don't control. To keep it that way, he calls for fighting to stop proposals such as those favoring charter schools and vouchers. (Ayers doesn't seem to realize, or care, that such reforms gain access to good education for precisely the poor whose interests he claims to represents.)

In the interview, Ayers also makes a point of declaring solidarity identifying with perhaps the biggest charlatan in modern American academia - Ward Churchill, who was finally removed from his University of Colorado professorship by the school's president for academic misconduct, including false use of sources, plagiarism and the most extreme politicization of the curriculum conceivable.

As Ayers sees it, Churchill was simply challenging students "with ideas they've never seen before," and with encouraging students "to question things."

In fact, Churchill won his notoriety by saying that the Americans killed in the 9/11 attacks were "busy braying, incessantly and self-importantly, into their cellphones, arranging power lunches and stock transactions, each of which translated, conveniently out of sight, mind and smelling distance, into the starved and rotting flesh of infants.

"If there was a better, more effective, or in fact any other way of visiting some penalty befitting their participation upon the little Eichmanns inhabiting the sterile sanctuary of the twin towers, I'd really be interested in hearing about it."

To Ayers, Churchill was simply "being pilloried . . . for being a leftist, for being a critic of US imperialism."

Consider also Ayers' 1997 book on juvenile justice, which Obama praised in a review as a "searing and timely account" of the issue. Yet, Ayers argued against the very existence of prisons in the United States, compared our country and its incarceration system to apartheid in South Africa and called for drastically softer sentences for juveline murderers. In a panel on the book Obama later even agreed with Ayers that the system is an "industrial-prison complex."

Ayers' policies when Obama worked with him were those of the revolutionary left; his views remain the same today. He refers to himself and his comrades as "revolutionaries" who have to "stand up" and fight for revolution. This is a "school reformer" Barack Obama respects?

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Lorraine Paul - 10/20/2008

If what you say above is true regarding your past affiliations, then I have nothing more to say to you except -

One political party is never better by far than another. On the other hand, there is one that is always marginally better regarding social justice and workers' conditions. A conservative party is definitely NOT that party and never will be.

If, as you say, that you have belonged to various Unions then you should know more that what I am sensing from your comments. The only thing which makes me totally denounce you as a traitor to your roots, is the fact that many people in the US do have a great understanding of the Union struggle and tradition. Whereas Australia's Union traditions go back to before the middle of the 19thC. We were the first country to get the 40 hour working week, and the second to give women the vote; New Zealand was the first. Although, the State of South Australia gave women the vote before any other country or state.

An excellent film which I saw many years ago which may help you realise what a struggle it was to form a Union in your country. It is called 'Matewan'.

Sorry, but I have no idea what those capital letters represent, just as you would probably have no idea what
VTHC or ACTU. I will google them.

Donald Wolberg - 10/11/2008

Flatter? Never, I would not dare to do so, and I appreciate your self control and not calling me a "despicable worm," but who is Bill Huisler?

I rather admire most worms, annelids especially and you might like reading Darwin's charming book on earthworms. Somewhere in our own lineage, we were rather "wormy" and it is to worms we all return. But, I do not understand your association of me with Mr. Murdoch. In actuality I am of a long line of Democrats, and even worked for Hubert Humphrey's campaign in Minnesota.

My father was a Teamster and truck driver his whole working life (which began when he was 15), and I was once a member of the ILGWU, AFSME and I think the AAUP once took money from my paychecks. I have rather admired the Teamsters despite their "guilt by association" as well as the Steel Workers, both rather robust unions with perspective.

Again I do appreciate your literary self-control.

Lorraine Paul - 10/11/2008

This time I will not call you a "despicable worm". Rather a dupe of the Murdoch form of smear campaign.

Please, don't attempt to flatter me, you are no Bill Huisler!

I have heard that Unions in the US are different from Unions in Australia. My father was a furnace-man, one of the hardest and dirtiest jobs of the modern age. Because of his job, he was a long-time member of the Steelworkers' Union, for a much of that time it was considered a boss' union. However, even a weak Union is better than no Union at all.

Donald Wolberg - 10/11/2008

My day would not be complete without a message from Ms Paul. I am certain Ms paul is correct and not all union members believe in the mission of their respective union. I am a former member of some myself, as were many family members. We took it all seriously; my father for almost 40 years. I am prepared to suggest that the Palins seem to be proud of their union membership and take it very seriously.

Lorraine Paul - 10/10/2008

You may not be aware of it Mr Wolberg, but not every Union member believes in Unions and the work they do. Some actually join to subvert the work of their respective Union and, in fact, Unions overall.

I'm not saying that Palin and her husband are of that ilk, but don't start waving the egalitarian flag for them until you have some knowledge of their voting patterns.

Lorraine Paul - 10/10/2008

Kudos!!!! The newspaper from which this article was taken says it all.

Another Murdoch yellow-press rag!!!

I am astonished and saddened that people who visit and comment on this website would be so easily fooled by another Murdoch stooge. Believe me, we all know about Murdoch and his equally dishonourable father here in Australia. I wouldn't even believe that man if he told me the date with a calendar in his hand.

Opinion given as 'fact', sloppy reporting, journalistic pride a thing of the past!


Clare Lois Spark - 10/10/2008

I just returned from the UCLA library where I checked Audacity of Hope for possible traces of Maoism or Third Worldism. In a quick search, I could not find the passages in this particular book that I recalled explicitly pitting the Third World against the U.S. (I haven't checked Dreams From My Father.) But he does come off as a liberal internationalist in the triangulating Clintonian mode, trashing the Right, and labeling the U.S. as expansionist, imperialist and capitalist (see p.279ff).
There is one passage on the Middle East, where he fancies the U.S./himself? as mediator: Commenting on a trip to Israel and the West Bank: "I talked to Jews who'd lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignities of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all of them like fragile outposts against the green [sic?] and stony hills....We have an obligation to engage in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the safety and security of the people of the region, but for the safety and security of our own children." (p.322)
Whether or not this is very close to the Arab narrative after the second world war, or simply vague ruminating, I leave it to others on this list to determine.

Donald Wolberg - 10/10/2008

Of course comments like this are expected: unfortunately there is no question of Ms Palin's loyalty and the jabs at here husband are obscenely phoney and false. The loyalty test for Mr. McCain is not only incorrect, but reflects a serious lack of being able to define reality. Mr. McCain is an American hero, and although he may not be a good politician, he is not an elitist and he has some intelelctual skills. I don't know if Mr. McCain or Ms Palin is any more potentially intellectually gifted than Mr. Obama, but they do know how many states we have, understand energy issues, and don't associate with people who planned to blow up Washington and kill Americans, nor with characters such as Mr. Wright, who suggested that the brains and intellects of Blacks and Whites were different; that HIV was spread by Whites by injecting Blacks, and on and on. By the way, Ms Palin and her husband are members of the United Steel Workers--my oh my, what subversion!

Clare Lois Spark - 10/10/2008

Kudos to Ron Radosh for doing our homework and specifying exactly what educational reform means for Ayers.
For those who are still objecting to "guilt by association" may I recommend that you read The Audacity of Hope? There are several passages that are consistent with the Ayers Leninist-Maoist philosophy. One doesn't have to read between the lines to spot the reparations agenda of black nationalism, and black nationalism has been successfully institutionalized within our schools. Example: Obama throughout links Martin Luther King with Malcolm X, erasing the huge rupture between their tactics and general assessments of this country. Has anyone called him out on this bizarre conflation of the integrationist and separatist strategies? Has any historian? Who has come out against "whiteness studies?" Shame on the profession!

James W Loewen - 10/10/2008

If there is guilt by association, should we not apply the same standard to both sides? Consider Gov. Palin, for example. Her husband is or has long been a member of the Alaskan Independence Party, and she has spoken favorably about that party and addressed its conventions recently, knowing full well that its founder, Joe Vogler, maintained: "I'm an Alaskan, not an American. I've got no use for America or her damned institutions." Since secession is not legal, this party's support for it (see their website) literally advocates treason.
Then there is John Hagee, rightwing fundamentalist minister in San Antonio, whose support John McCain sought and received. Hagee holds: "The United States must join Israel in a pre-emptive military strike against Iran to fulfill God's plan..." That will help lead to the Rapture.
The difference between these associations and Obama's tie to Ayers: the Republicans' ties are ongoing and important. McCain and Palin have both spoken to meetings sponsored by these folks, praising them and their missions. In short, these are real ties, not mere guilt by association.

Donald Wolberg - 10/10/2008

One can only find it remarkable that there is any doubt at all about the stupidity of Mr. Obama denying relationships with the most ridiculous and worrisome of people such as Mr. Ayers or Ms Dorn or Mr, Wright. When Mr. Obama or says he did not know Mr. Ayers was a terrorist who plotted to blow up buildings, or Mr. Wright a looney racist, or for that matter that his realestate crony, Mr. Rezco, was corrupt while at the same time accepting financial favors from him, are we to be as stupid and believe him. Candidates for President, the Senate, the House, Mayor, or even dog catcher, don't associate with people like this. I have come to believe that people like Mr. Obama, cloak themselves in the aura of the eleite they wish to be, but at best are naive, and at worst not the sharpest tacks in the shed. There have been hints of the intellectual "shortfall" all through the Obama campaign. He does not seem to know how many states we have, brought home by his wondering if he, "had visited 57 of our 58 states," or his call for the, "need to do away with all forms of carbon."
Mr. Obama must realize that to deny knowing the history and views of Mr. Ayers, Ms Dorn, Mr. Wright, etc., only leaves a deficit of intellect as a viable answer. That deficit is too serious to gloss over.

John D. Beatty - 10/10/2008

Bobblehead Emperor Barak the First will be enshrined and then you can hunt Radosh down and wag your finger at him all you want, but until then he is as "entitled" to his position as you are to yours.

Gerald Sorin - 10/10/2008

Radosh may have shown that Ward Churcill is a charlatan, and a dangerous one (and I agree), and that Bill Ayers has said positively foolish things in support of this irresponsible and unqualified pied piper; Radosh has also shown some tangential connection between Ayers and Obama, but he is not entitled from this or anything else in his little "guilt by association" piece, to tie Obama to Churchill(!), no less to Ayers in any way that affects Barak Obama's ability, intelligence, or personality to be president of the United States.