The Obama Watch

Obama’s Prairie Fire Companion

How did old pal Bill Ayers finally outrage university liberals? By the author of Dupes.

By 9.28.10

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Every now and then, our monolithic, woefully over-priced universities do something right. A case in point is the news that University of Illinois trustees have denied emeritus status to a tenured faculty member: Bill Ayers.

Gee, with everything in his record, how did Ayers finally outrage university liberals? Well, it wasn't his past as a fugitive fleeing the law, when he assumed aliases taken from names of dead babies in cemeteries in towns where he hid. It wasn't even his more recent statements about harboring "no regrets" over bombing the Pentagon or police stations; after all, many aging tenured radicals, like Ayers in the 1960s, once referred to the military and police as "fascists" and "pigs." No, what did it was Ayers' dedication of his 1974 book, Prairie Fire, to no less than Sirhan Sirhan, assassin of Robert F. Kennedy.

The catalyst, of course, had to be something offensive to liberals, but we'll take it.

It turns out that one of the university's trustees is Christopher Kennedy, son of RFK. Kennedy implored the university community to "understand my motives and reasoning," noting, "How could I do anything else?" Indeed.

Kennedy shouldn't expect much level-headedness in return. This is, after all, the university community. One Ayers colleague told the Chicago Tribune she was "shocked" by the decision. And, naturally, the dean at the School of Education that hosted Ayers since 1987 protested that Ayers has been a "very good colleague" whose "good far outweighs any negative press."

Of course, the decision by the trustees was a no-brainer, but in our horribly un-diverse universities -- ideologically dominated by the left -- the real shock is that a just, sensible decision has been made.

The fuller history here is worth revisiting. Let me backtrack a bit.

Published as the "political statement of the Weather Underground," Prairie Fire was signed by four Weather Underground members: Bill Ayers, Bernardine Dohrn, Jeff Jones, and Celia Sojourn. Its contents are as alarming as its dedication.

"We are a guerrilla organization," explained the authors, more than one of whom teaches in our universities. "We are communist women and men, underground in the United States." This junior communist manifesto endeavored: "We need a revolutionary communist party in order to lead the struggle, give coherence and direction to the fight, seize power and build the new society…. The only possibilities are victory or death." "Our intention," wrote the revolutionaries, was "to disrupt the empire" of "U.S. imperialism," "to incapacitate it."

Citing "THE BANNER OF CHE," the manifesto pledged that, "The only path to the final defeat of imperialism and the building of socialism is revolutionary war." That "war," the authors promised, "will be complicated and protracted. It includes mass struggle and clandestine struggle, peaceful and violent…. Without armed struggle there can be no victory."

Che Guevara was the poster boy for Prairie Fire, as full pages inside the book featured loving illustrations of the god-like communist revolutionary. "In our own hemisphere," wrote the four authors, "Che Guevara urged that we 'create two, three, many Vietnams,' to destroy U.S. imperialism… and opening another front within the US itself."

One might think that the advocacy of such things might have gotten Bill Ayers rejected from admission into Columbia University's Teachers College only a few years later. It might have hindered his hiring by the University of Illinois's Department of Education in the first place. Both are bellwethers of the wretched state of America's schools of education.

And it likewise -- one would hope -- might have kept a young politician named Barack Obama from seeking Ayers' political endorsement.

Alas, it did none of those things.

The latter example, on Obama, is worth revisiting here, for several reasons reinforced in this latest Ayers episode: The articles in the mainstream media reporting on the trustees decision either downplayed or misrepresented Ayers' association with Obama. The Chicago Tribune reported only that Ayers and Obama "worked on a school-reform initiative together." MSNBC mumbled that Ayers "once served" with Obama on "a Chicago charity's board." Clearly, liberal journalists are still protecting Obama here, forcing the rest of us to do their jobs. In fact, the Ayers-Obama relationship was not insignificant. This certainly matters, as Obama was elected leader of the free world by oblivious Americans voting for "change."

Here's what we know about the relationship, which is merely the surface:

In 1995, a young Chicago politician named Barack Obama received a political blessing in the living room of Bill Ayers and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn, co-authors of the book dedicated to Sirhan Sirhan. As even the New York Times conceded, it was there, at the Ayers-Dohrn home, that "State Senator Alice J. Palmer, who planned to run for Congress, introduced Mr. Obama to a few Democratic friends as her chosen successor."

Ayers and Obama already knew each other. Precisely when they first met is a mystery, yet another that "journalists" have no interest exposing. That protective bias has led to much speculation among conservatives. Among that speculation, it seems feasible that Ayers and Obama could have met in New York City around 1983, when both were in the area and attended Columbia at times that probably overlap.

Both would leave New York for Chicago, where they interacted and worked together on many occasions and in varied capacities.

Of course, this came after Ayers stopped detonating bombs, as Obama was quick to note as a presidential candidate -- although Ayers had told the September 11, 2001 New York Times (yes, that September 11) that he retained a "poetic" love for explosives. Obama frequently noted he "was only eight years old" when the Weathermen were killing police. Yes, but Obama was 40 years old when Ayers told the Times on September 11, 2001 that he had "no regrets" about bombing the Pentagon.

By then, Ayers and Obama had known each other for at least six years, up to and through the September 11 comments. The longest period was their joint service on the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which appears to have run from 1995 through 2000, with Obama the chair. As the Times reported, archives from the project show they attended at least six meetings together, with Ayers providing briefings on educational issues. As chair, Obama could have easily rejected Ayers' contributions and even participation.

Not only did Obama not distance himself, but he personally accepted money from Ayers. According to the October 4, 2008 New York Times, in 2001, Ayers donated $200 to Obama's reelection campaign for the Illinois Senate. The mainstream media has not asked Obama to repudiate that donation. It is a rather halting fact.

From 1999 to 2002, again stretching over the September 2001 period, the pair also jointly served the Woods Fund, a tight board of only seven members. Officials from the fund refuse to release minutes from these meetings, but confirmed to the Times that the board met quarterly during this four-year period, which would equate to 16 meetings.

There were also conferences where Obama and Ayers spoke together, such as an April 19-20, 2002 session on "intellectuals" held at the Chicago Illini Union at the University of Illinois-Chicago. The speakers included Obama, Ayers, and Dohrn.

Finally, Ayers and Obama are intimately familiar with one another's written work. In fact, Obama so appreciated Ayers' work that he wrote an endorsement for Ayers' book, A Kind and Just Parent: The Children of Juvenile Court. Illinois State Senator Barack Obama wrote: "A searing and timely account of the juvenile court system, and the courageous individuals who rescue hope from despair."

Obama was not simply providing a blurb for a friend. He read Ayers' book and liked it. When the Chicago Tribune in December 1997 asked the state senator what he was reading, Obama pointed to Ayers' A Kind and Just Parent.

Interestingly, this book endorsement didn't prevent the political endorsement of Obama by the Kennedy family in 2008, including the anointing by the late "lion" of the U.S. Senate: Ted Kennedy. That Kennedy choice of Obama over Hillary Clinton was crucial to Obama securing the Democratic nomination.

Of course, it also hasn't stopped the endorsement of Obama from the same academic left that has rejected emeritus status for Bill Ayers.

In short, Obama continues to get away with his association with Bill Ayers. A partisan media is not going to press him with hard questions, because liberal journalists don't want answers -- and don't want the public to know. The scandal continues: never in American history has so little been known about the background of our president. It's a product of a willful ignorance among the "journalists" whose job is to unveil that background. The media are dupes. They are duped not by Ayers, or Obama, but, most curiously, by themselves and their own biases, victims of their own deliberate self-delusion.

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About the Author

Paul Kengor is professor of political science and executive director of The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. His latest book is 11 Principles of a Reagan Conservative.