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Obama on Ayers: Hey, Everybody Was Doing It

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Here is what Barack Obama said last night about Bill Ayers and Obama’s role in handing over millions of dollars to “education” programs designed by Ayers, long an advocate of using education for purposes of left-wing indoctrination:

Bill Ayers is a professor of education in Chicago. Forty years ago, when I was 8 years old, he engaged in despicable acts with a radical domestic group. I have roundly condemned those acts. Ten years ago he served and I served on a school reform board that was funded by one of Ronald Reagan’s former ambassadors and close friends, Mr. Annenberg. Other members on that board were the presidents of the University of Illinois, the president of Northwestern University, who happens to be a Republican, the president of The Chicago Tribune, a Republican-leaning newspaper.

And here is an earlier statement by Obama:

The suggestion that Ayers somehow dominated the policy or direction of the bipartisan Challenge Board, imprinting it with radical views, is absurd. The Annenberg Challenge was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend Walter Annenberg. Republican Governor Jim Edgar, who wrote to Walter Annenberg to encourage the creation of the Challenge, joined Mayor Daley to announce the formation of the Challenge and his administration continued to work closely on education reform with the Board.

There are two main problems with Obama’s response. One is that Obama is basically passing the buck for his own decisions to other people – undoubtedly a preview of his presidential leadership style, like during the bailout vote when he essentially did nothing to help his party pass the bill when it came up for the original vote. The other is his effort to conflate the national Annenberg Foundation with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge; Obama served as chairman of the board for the latter.The first problem is self-evident: Obama, having entrusted money to Ayers and his radical theories and now being embarrassed by CAC/Ayers’ funding of left-wing projects like “Afrocentric” education, wants to blame his partners on the foundation board. Not good enough. Obama’s never been in charge of anything besides CAC and the Harvard Law Review, so maybe he needs to learn: when you are in charge, you are responsible for the decisions you make.

Second, Obama’s trying to conflate the Annenberg Foundation, which provided $49 million in seed money for a grant proposal (partly written, yes, by Ayers as one of CAC’s masterminds) with the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which actually signed off on the distribution of those funds to Ayers-designed projects and had a much closer look at what was going on. FactCheck.org, which runs an extended and fairly tendentious apologiafor Obama on this, notes that the Annenberg Foundation created by Walter Annenberg in 1989 “supports awide variety of charitable causes – a total of 5,200 grants during itsfirst 15 years of operation.” The CAC was just one of those. The Foundation itself stresses that:

All participating sites in the Annenberg Challenge for SchoolReform were locally controlled and locally governed.The Annenberg Foundation was not directly involved in the dailyoperations of any of the 18 challenge sites. This includes, but is notlimited to: programming, staffing, or board composition.Work related to programs, fundraising and development, research, andevaluation at individual Challenge sites during the grant period wasundertaken through the local Challenge entities.

Which makes the parent foundation’s affiliations (including FactCheck.org, among those thousands of recipients) and those of Walter Annenberg a red herring. If anything, the whole point of people like Obama is to make those folks believe they are giving money to something respectable. As Stanley Kurtz reminds us, this all is too commonly true of foundation work:

The Obama camp denies CAC’s radicalism by pointing to the fact that this foundation was funded by Nixon Ambassador and Reagan friend, Walter Annenberg. Moderates and Republicans often support Annenberg activities, it’s true. Yet the story of modern philanthropy is largely the story of moderate and conservative donors finding their funds “captured” by far more liberal, often radical, beneficiaries. CAC’s story is a classic of the genre. Ayers and Obama guided CAC money to community organizers, like ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now) and the Developing Communities Project (Part of the Gamaliel Foundation network), groups self-consciously working in the radical tradition of Saul Alinsky. Walter Annenberg’s personal politics don’t change that one iota.

The only real relevant people here are Obama’s partners on the board:

Founding members of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge Board were:Susan Crown, vice president, Henry Crown Company; Patricia Graham, president, The Spencer Foundation, and former dean, Harvard Graduate School of Education; Stanley Ikenberry, president-emeritus, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; Handy Lindsey, executive director, Field Foundation; Barack Obama; Arnold Weber, former president, Northwestern University, and president, Civic Committee of the Commercial Club of Chicago; and Wanda White, executive director, Community Workshop on Economic Development.

Now, notice a few things about the board. First, when a board like that includes university presidents and the like and they elect a young civil rights lawyer and State Senate candidate chairman…who do you think is doing the work? Second, note the presence of the Crown family, major Obama donors and recipients of significant earmarks from Obama in his legislative career. Once again, all the Obama stories have common threads that tie them together.

In any event, the involvement of other people who should have known better does nothing to absolve Obama of his decision to fund Ayers’ projects. Nothing at all.

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