“Hey, Look Over Here” Politics

Marc Ambinder may not be concerned with spelling people’s names correctly, but he can, once in a while, make a cogent point about the topic at hand. He does so here with Stanley Kurtz’s op-ed in the Wall Street Journal about Barack Obama’s supposed scary and sinister connections to former Weatherman Underground leader Bill Ayers:

Associations can be fair game, but here’s my question about Barack Obama and William Ayres:

What “radical” ideas did Obama and Bill Ayres come up with to foist on the Chicago school system?

What specific projects — “radical” projects — did Obama work on with Ayres?  Is there evidence that they collaborated and schemed to  … do anything “radical” together?   Ever?

Or just that they served on a board of a fairly well-respected liberal charity at the same time? And that left-leaning charities tend to give money to left-leaning organizations, a la ACORN?

Is the real story here that Obama once served on the board of a liberal education charity?

Good question, but I think the real story here is that Stanley Kurtz set out on a fishing expedition, couldn’t find any fish worth writing about, and thus decided to write a fish story.

Jason Zengerle at The New Republic nails it (emphasis in second quote was added by Zengerle):

I almost feel sorry for Stanley Kurtz. Last month the conservative writer was making a big stink that, in the course of researaching Barack Obama’s relationship with Bill Ayers, the University of Illinois at Chicago library had denied him access to “the internal files” of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, which was a nonprofit educational group both men were affiliated with in the 1990s. Kurtz protested:

The records in question are extensive, consisting of 132 boxes, containing 947 file folders, a total of about 70 linear feet of material. Not only would these files illuminate the working relationship between Obama and Bill Ayers, they would also provide significant insight into a web of ties linking Obama to various radical organizations, including Obama-approved foundation gifts to political allies. Obama’s leadership style and abilities are also sure to be illuminated by the documents in question.

Well, lo and behold, Kurtz finally gained access to those 70 linear feet of material, and, judging by the op-ed he’s produced in today’s Wall Street Journal, it looks like he found less an inch worth of damning material. Not that Kurtz would admit as much. His WSJ article is titled “Obama and Ayers Pushed Radicalism on Schools,” but the evidence for that consists largely of scare quotes (“leadership,” “organized,” “external partners,” etc) and leaps of logic designed to substitute for actual evidence, as in the final three sentences of the following graf:

One unsettled question is how Mr. Obama, a former community organizer fresh out of law school, could vault to the top of a new foundation? In response to my questions, the Obama campaign issued a statement saying that Mr. Ayers had nothing to do with Obama’s “recruitment” to the board. The statement says Deborah Leff and Patricia Albjerg Graham (presidents of other foundations) recruited him. Yet the archives show that, along with Ms. Leff and Ms. Graham, Mr. Ayers was one of a working group of five who assembled the initial board in 1994. Mr. Ayers founded CAC and was its guiding spirit. No one would have been appointed the CAC chairman without his approval. [Emphasis added.]

So Kurtz spends days wading through 70 linear feet of material, suffers lord knows how many paper cuts, and the best he can come up with is that Ayers was part of a five-person “working group” that signed off on Obama joining CAC’s board? That’s pretty weak.

Ben Smith (quoting his colleague Jonathan Martin) calls it “Hey, look over here” politics: “the campaign’s urgent attempt to change the subject from the economy.”

8 Responses to ““Hey, Look Over Here” Politics”

  1. HillarySupporters4Sarah says:

    I am more worried about Obama’s crack cocaine usage and bisexual encounters while he was a Senator during 1999.

  2. gcotharn says:

    It would be good if Barack, rather than being dismissive (dare I say defensive?), would simply be forthcoming about how he was hired to be Chair of the Board of Chi. Annenberg Challenge, what he was trying to accomplish as Chair, and why and how the resultant failures (and some successes?) occurred.

    Barack is notorious for claiming credit for everything he has ever done (asbestos removal as a community org.), and for exaggerating things he has done (supporting ethics legislation in U.S. Senate), and for lying about things he has done (claiming he was a member of the Committee on Banking, Housing, Urban affairs). Given his sometimes open desperation to claim credit for accomplishment(I have run a large Presidential campaign!), it is suspicious that he actively avoids mention of Directing the Board of the $49M Chicago Annenberg Challenge. The longer he is silent about it, the more the issue will be played up – including by me, and the greater and greater the number of voters who will notice.

    As far as “what radical things?”: Ayers openly says his education career equates to carrying on his radicalism by another method. His career is about radicalizing students. He has written textbooks infused with radicalism:

    “Science pedagogy framed around social justice concerns can become a medium to transform individuals, schools, communities, the environment, and science itself, in ways that promote equity and social justice. Creating a science education that is transformative implies not only how science is a political activity but also the ways in which students might see and use science and science education in ways transformative of the institutional and interpersonal power structures that play a role in their lives.”

    There’s a lot in that Ayers’ textbook quote. To me, the very most offensive things is “science is a political activity”.

    The story is not Bill Ayers circa 1970, but Bill Ayers radical educations efforts in the present day. Barack’s work with a present day education radical is a bigger story than bogus bs about who pays for rape kits in Wasilla (btw: no Wasilla rape victim was ever stuck with the bill for their own rape kit). If Barack has nothing to hide, he would sure help himself by saying so. He would’ve helped himself by not misleading the nation about his relationship with Ayers. He would help himself by throwing Ayers under the same bus as everyone else who helped him get his start.

  3. Robert says:

    “Good question, but I think the real story here is that Stanley Kurtz set out on a fishing expedition, couldn’t find any fish worth writing about, and thus decided to write a fish story.”

    hahahahah I like your style.

    “I am more worried about Obama’s crack cocaine usage and bisexual encounters while he was a Senator during 1999.”

    I’m more worried about whatever Hillary Clinton supporters who are voting for McCain must be smoking. That must be some serious sh*t.

  4. Kathy says:

    There’s a lot in that Ayers’ textbook quote. To me, the very most offensive things is “science is a political activity”.

    gcotharn, I’ll admit I’m surprised — but pleasantly so — to find out you are offended by the politicization of science in the Bush administration. Editing scientific reports to change scientists’ conclusions about climate change, rewording health education textbooks to mislead and lie to students about the transmission of AIDS, substituting religious right doctrine for fact-based sex education, deleting passages from guidebooks that refer to the Grand Canyon’s geological age, and let’s not forget the religious right’s push to teach the biblical account of creation in Genesis alongside evolutionary theory, or replacing evolutionary theory, in public school classrooms as if it were a scientific theory equivalent to the theory of evolution rather than a religious myth or belief.

    I think we may finally have found some stuff we can agree on!

    His career is about radicalizing students. He has written textbooks infused with radicalism:

    “Science pedagogy framed around social justice concerns can become a medium to transform individuals, schools, communities, the environment, and science itself, in ways that promote equity and social justice.

    Social justice, gasp! Horrors! Is that the part where they try to teach students about the civil rights movement?

    The story is not Bill Ayers circa 1970, but Bill Ayers radical educations efforts in the present day. Barack’s work with a present day education radical is a bigger story than bogus bs about who pays for rape kits in Wasilla (btw: no Wasilla rape victim was ever stuck with the bill for their own rape kit).

    Sad to say, we must disagree again here, both on the reality of Wasilla’s policy, when Sarah Palin was mayor, of charging rape survivors or their insurance companies for the cost of rape evidence collection kits, and on the relative significance of such a policy compared with the teaching of social justice issues in the classroom. The existence of that policy is a matter of public record, and I can’t agree with you that it’s a bullshit non-issue.

    And btw, you don’t know that no Wasilla rape victim OR her insurance company was ever billed for the cost of her own rape kit, and whether any rape victim actually was so charged or not, is irrelevant to the real issue, which is that the policy existed in the first place.

  5. gcotharn says:

    Wherever the Bush Administration disrupted solid educational principles, I’m beside you in protest. However, isn’t it nice the Bush Administration failed to join the religious right’s calls to teach Genesis in the classroom? I could’ve sworn I heard voices, from 8 years ago up to pretty much … yesterday … screaming out about Bush turning America into a theocracy. Could’ve sworn I voted for Nader, twice, b/c a vote for Bush was a vote for theocracy.

    Your post, however, consisted of you, Ambinder, and Zengerle’s assertion of nothing to see here, move along regarding Kurtz’ research and the Chicago Annenberg Challenge.

    There is plenty to see, and Kurtz documents some of it in paragraphs 7 through 11 of his article. Somehow, you/Ambinder/Zengerle managed to skim through paras 7 thru11 without allowing the gravity of the sentences to sink in. Kurtz concluding paragraphs(paras 15 and 16) also speak to Ayers radical affect upon CAC:

    Mr. Ayers is the founder of the “small schools” movement (heavily funded by CAC), in which individual schools built around specific political themes push students to “confront issues of inequity, war, and violence.” He believes teacher education programs should serve as “sites of resistance” to an oppressive system. (His teacher-training programs were also CAC funded.) The point, says Mr. Ayers in his “Teaching Toward Freedom,” is to “teach against oppression,” against America’s history of evil and racism, thereby forcing social transformation.

    The Obama campaign has cried foul when Bill Ayers comes up, claiming “guilt by association.” Yet the issue here isn’t guilt by association; it’s guilt by participation. As CAC chairman, Mr. Obama was lending moral and financial support to Mr. Ayers and his radical circle. That is a story even if Mr. Ayers had never planted a single bomb 40 years ago.

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~`

    Re: Wasilla Rape Kits

    You say the real issue is that the policy existed in the first place.

    The state law went into effect in 2000. Therefore, we are talking about Palin’s tenure as Mayor from 1996 to 2000. Since current Police Chief Angela Long says the City of Wasilla did not charge anyone for a rape kit during those years, it’s completely possible Palin had no knowledge of the policy in question. Palin spokesperson Maria Comella:

    [Governor Palin] does not believe, nor has she ever believed, that rape victims should have to pay for an evidence-gathering test.”

    Bob Owens is doing actual reporting on the story (as opposed to passing along second hand rumors, as US media have happily done):

    Testifying in front of the same committee, Lauree Hugonin, Director, Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault (ANDVSA) noted that “billings have not come from police agencies but have come from hospitals.” Trisha Gentle, Executive Director, Council on Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault noted that police departments were willing to pay for the exams, but that it was an internal decision on the part of the hospital as to who pays the hospital bill.
    […]
    there was never any evidence that victims were being charged by any police departments including Wasilla’s Police Department under Palin. Testimony instead indicates it was callous hospitals that attempted to bill victims on rare occasions of insensitivity.

    It is also true that protective mechanisms were in place in Alaska that would have picked up the cost of such kits, even if State law had not changed in 2000.

    The State of Alaska Violent Crimes Compensation Board (VCCB) was “was established in 1971 by the Alaskan Legislature to help bring financial relief to innocent victims of violent crimes in Alaska.”

    Among the things the VCCB would pay for are the medical bills of victims of violent crimes (including sexual assaults), counseling, and transportation to medical and counseling services.

    A former worker with VCCB notes via email:

    Rape kits and other medical expenses of this type would be paid by the VCCB, 100% guaranteed. The City of Wasilla could have technically ‘charged’ the victim but even if they did, the VCCB would have paid the bill in full. I still know the a few of the Board members and the supervisor and I can tell you that they are very liberal with the way that they pay the victims bills.

    Despite claims to the contrary, there is no record that the Wasilla Police Department ever charged rape victims under Sarah Palin’s leadership, nor were State law enforcement or sexual assault victim’s advocates aware of such attempts anywhere in Alaska as the proposed bill was being discussed. As committee minutes show, the offenders experts were worried about were hospitals, not police, and not Sarah Palin.

    Jim Geraghty, writing in NRO, is also doing actual reporting: Wasilla Debunking Kit.

  6. Kathy says:

    However, isn’t it nice the Bush Administration failed to join the religious right’s calls to teach Genesis in the classroom?

    Actually, gcotharn, Pres. Bush stated for the record that he believes “creationism” (i.e., the book of Genesis) should be taught alongside evolution in public schools. And of course, Sarah Palin is on record as having stated the same thing.

    Somehow, you/Ambinder/Zengerle managed to skim through paras 7 thru11 without allowing the gravity of the sentences to sink in.

    I can’t speak for Ambinder or Zengerle, but speaking for myself, I read those paragraphs as well as everything else Kurtz wrote in that article, and it’s a big pile of nothing. To start with, there is absolutely nothing wrong with including curriculum units that explore issues of inequity, war, and violence. It’s part of American history and world history and there is no reason why those themes should not be explored.

    Having said that, Kurtz has nothing to show that any of these themes were ever actually taught in any school anywhere as a result of Kurtz’s belief that they should be, or that any teacher education programs were implemented with regard to Kurtz’s belief that they should be, and he also offers nothing to show that Barack Obama had anything to do with helping Kurtz implement his educational ideas in any real, actual classrooms.

    I have no idea what Kurtz means by “moral” support, but Obama did not give any financial support to Ayers at any time as far as anyone knows, and Kurtz has offered no facts or evidence to support a contention that he did.

    Furthermore, anyone who thinks stuff like this has even a glimmer of importance when this country is in the most dire economic crisis since the Great Depression, and when Congress is being pressured by Bush and Treasury Secretary Paulson to approve a $700 billion bailout for Wall Street with no oversight or accountability or restrictions, is certifiably insane. And I mean that quite seriously.

    The state law went into effect in 2000. Therefore, we are talking about Palin’s tenure as Mayor from 1996 to 2000. Since current Police Chief Angela Long says the City of Wasilla did not charge anyone for a rape kit during those years, it’s completely possible Palin had no knowledge of the policy in question.

    You’ve left out a few relevant facts. Then-Mayor Palin fired then-Police Chief Irl Stambaugh because, she told him, she did not feel she had Stambaugh’s “full suport” in her “efforts to govern the city of Wasilla.” Before she fired him, Stambaugh had included the cost of forensic rape kits in his budget request to Palin. So unless she signed the budget requests w/o reading them, she knew that the cost of rape kits was a public expense. Then, after Stambaugh lost his job, Palin hired one Charlie Fannon; she subsequently said “it was one of her best decisions as mayor.” And oh, just by sheer chance, guess what Fannon did? He cut the rape kits out of the budget and instituted a new policy of billing the cost of the kits to the rape victims’ insurance companies and, if the rape victim did not have insurance or the insurance company would not pay for the kits, Fannon billed the rape victims themselves.

    That state law you mentioned was drafted by a state legislator, Eric Croft, after he found out about Wasilla’s policy of charging rape victims for the gathering of physical evidence to investigate their rape. There was a gap of several years between the time Fannon removed rape kits from the budget and instituted the policy of charging rape victims or their insurers, and the time that Croft found out about it and got that legislation passed.

    There is no way that Sarah Palin could not have known how those rape kits were being paid for, given that she approved the budget request that include the rape kits and the subsequent budget request that *did not* include the rape kits. There is also the fact that the rape kits included emergency contraception, which right-wing fundamentalist Christian nuts like Palin think are abortifacients, and as we all know by now, Sarah Palin thinks rape victims should be forced to have their rapists’ babies.

    Bob Owens is doing actual reporting on the story (as opposed to passing along second hand rumors, …

    Don’t make me laugh. Bob Owens wouldn’t know what actual reporting was if it hit him in the face. Bob Owens asked the current Wasilla police chief who told Bob (according to him) that there was no evidence any rape victims were billed for forensic kits, in the same breath that she told him there were no financial records available to look at before the year 2000, which was after Palin’s term as mayor ended.

    Having given his readers this evidence of absolutely nothing, Bob Owens then writes, “Outside of Wasilla, however, other government officials and experts have testified that there were no known instances of rape victims being bill for examinations,…” Who are these officials and experts, and more to the point, how would they know there were no such “known instances” when records were not kept going back to the period when the billings would have taken place?

    Next. Owens quoted the Deputy Commissioner of the Alaska Dept. of Public Safety, from the minutes of the testimony supporting Eric Croft’s legislation, and the Commissioner said, basically, that he does not think rape victims should have to pay for their own rape kits, and that “he does not know of any police agency that has requested payment.” Owens does not tell us by what mechanism or procedure the Deputy Commissioner would be informed of rape victims in Wasilla being charged for rape kits, nor does it seem to dawn on Owens that the phrase “he does not know of” strongly implies that the Deputy Commissioner is clearly just *assuming* no rape victims were billed. Nor, apparently, did Owens think it important to ask the Deputy Commissioner to provide any documented evidence to back up his “not knowing” of any instances where rape victims were billed.

    And all of the above is not even to mention the fact that Owens relies for his bold assertion that no rape kits were ever charged to the victims of rape on a couple of phone calls or emails to and from Wasilla town officials, and a quoted statement from the minutes of the legislative proceedings at the time the bill forbidding rape victims to be charged was being debated. He did not talk (or more important, make an effort to talk) to any actual victims of sexual assault during the relevant period of time. The victims might not have wanted to talk to him, but the point is, he didn’t try. Nor did he make any attempt to talk to individuals or women’s groups that advocate on behalf of rape victims, which often includes such things as staying with the raped woman when she is being examined, when the police are talking to her, etc., for emotional support. There are many individuals who would be in an equally good position, if not a better position, to know of any instances in which rape victims were billed, than present-day town officials would be.

    In the end, as I’ve said before, it’s absurd to even debate the point. Whether any rape victims ended up having to pay for their own rape kits or not, the policy existed, and it’s very likely that the rape victims knew the policy existed. The mere possibility that a woman could be aware that she might be billed for the police investigation of her own rape is such a humiliation and a degradation piled on top of the humiliation and degradation she has already suffered from the rapist. It’s like blaming her for the rape, which rape victims are all too aware many people will do anyway. Should a rape victim have to fight with her insurance company to cover the cost of her rape kit? Should she have to worry about whether she will be billed or not?

    Have a heart, Mr. Christian.

  7. gcotharn says:

    Wow. I appreciate the effort. Naturally, I do think you’ve thrown out logical fallacies like military chaff. If you want me to debunk, say the word, and I will begin the process. Otherwise, maybe this is a good place for us to draw this to a close. I think we each understand the other’s opinion.

    It’s okay with me that you tease me in your final sentence. We Americans are generally way too sensitive and hysterical about such things. However, note the double standard in your teasing of me vs. your neverending search for racist code being used against Obama (a search which goes beyond Obama Waffles). Note the double standard which would be applied to me if I wrote: “Have a heart, Jew” or “Use some logic, Jew”. And note that double standard exists b/c of my pre-existing guilt: White, Male, Southerner, Conservative, Christian, Evangelical. I am therefore guilty. You therefore receive a free pass. Everyone knows it. Leftists defend this as proper and fair.

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