Obama’s “Brain”

A brief sojurn into grubby electoral politics:

Recall from years ago, the enormous amount of press received by GOP strategist Karl Rove as George W. Bush’s political “Brain” ? A similar role with Barack Obama is played by Illinois Democratic political consultant David Axelrod, except that Axelrod keeps a far lower profile than Rove did and Axelrod has inifinitely better relationships with the working press, notably with the nominally Republican Chicago Tribune where Axelrod was formerly a political reporter and columnist. Axelrod is also tightly connected to Chicago’s all-powerful Democratic Party boss, Mayor Richard M. Daley, another longtime Axelrod client; and to Exelon/Com. Ed. , the politically powerful Illinois utility that contracts with Axelrod’s public relations firm and whose employees have been among the largest financial donors in Illinois to the Obama campaign.

What kind of campaign can we expect from Axelrod in the general election? Overtly positive themes and public posturing complemented by covertly delievered and mercilessly negative “stiletto” attacks against key people around John McCain that are not directly traceable to Axelrod. The model for this strategy is the previous Obama senatorial campaign in Illinois, where Obama’s two most formidible, centimillionaire, rivals, Democrat Blair Hull and Republican Jack Ryan were personally destroyed in the primaries when salacious details from their sealed divorce records were mysteriously leaked to the media, which then pressured for their full release, notably in the pages of the Chicago Tribune. Thus, ultimately permitting Obama to run against an out-of-state, clown candidate, religious conservative firebrand Alan Keyes, in the general election.

Negative political advertising is reliably effective, something known since the days of Murray Chotiner running Richard Nixon’s California races, but the information age imposes “blowback” costs when it is used too openly by a candidate. Axelrod’s long courtship of the media will permit similar “fingerprint free” attacks against the GOP to work unless McCain’s campaign is smart enough to start doing social network analysis of key media people crossreferenced with Obama Campaign functionaries and Axelrod associates.

It’s also noteworthy of how little escapes Axelrod’s attention. The conservative intellectual and writer, Dr. Stanley Kurtz, has been digging into the UIC archives on Senator Obama’s extensive political relationship with Dr. William Ayers, the 60’s radical and unrepentant ex-Weatherman terrorist, now a professor of Education at UIC where he is a leading advocate of politicizing teacher certification programs along Leftist lines (Ayers is the son of the late, prominent Chicago business leader, Thomas Ayers, former chairman/CEO of Commonwealth Edison and board member at he Chicago Tribune). Kurtz was invited to be a guest last night on Dr. Milt Rosenberg’s highbrow Extension720 WGN-AM radio show and discuss his research and Rosenberg’s switchboard and email system was instantly flooded and essentially shut down by an orchestrated wave of Obama supporters. While something of a local legend, Rosenberg’s radio show is, in the national media scheme of things, a fairly obscure program. Sort of a conservative NPR, except a lot smarter and writ small.

I would expect the ante be upped against Obama critics to include nuisance suits and worse if the fall campaign tightens.


It appears that the Obama-Ayers-Annenberg story, which I expect will soon feature the infamous pic of Ayers trampling a U.S. flag in an alley, is making it on to the MSM radar. Michael Barone does a superb job as political anthropologist here, explaining the ” Chicago Way” to Americans in more normal communities:

Obama Needs to Explain His Ties to William Ayers

….Ayers was one of the original grantees of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a school reform organization in the 1990s, and was cochairman of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative, one the two operational arms of the CAC. Obama, then not yet a state senator, became chairman of the CAC in 1995. Later in that year, the first organizing meeting for Obama’s state Senate campaign was held in Ayers’s apartment. Ayers later wrote a memoir, and an article about him appeared in the New York Times on Sept. 11, 2001. “I don’t regret setting bombs,” Ayers is quoted as saying. “I feel we didn’t do enough.”

Ayers was a terrorist in the late 1960s and 1970s whose radical group set bombs at the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.

You might wonder what Obama was doing working with a character like this. And you might wonder how an unrepentant terrorist got a huge grant and cooperation from the Chicago public school system. You might wonder-if you don’t know Chicago. For this is a city with a civic culture in which politicians, in the words of a story often told by former congressman, federal judge, and Clinton White House counsel Abner Mikva, “don’t want nobody nobody sent.” That’s what Mikva remembers being told when he went to a Democratic ward headquarters to volunteer for Adlai Stevenson in the 1950s, and it rings true. And it’s a civic culture in which there’s nobody better to send you than your parents.

Read the rest here.

18 thoughts on “Obama’s “Brain””

  1. My only regret about getting married and having kids is that I can’t travel the country slitting the throats of guys like Ayers with gleeful abandon…

    Oh well….

  2. Shannon and I have been going back and forth about Ayers for about a thousand comments. I hope she feels this brief summary of our differences is more or less accurate:

    Her Thesis: Ayers was a terrorist and was accepted by the mainstream because leftists like both Ayers’s actions and philosophy. Even though Ayers was firmly established in Chicago by time Obama came on the scene in the early 90’s, he should have known about his past and made a point of staying as far away from him as possible.

    My Thesis: Ayers entered the mainstream in a low key way by taking advantage of the fact that people have essentially forgot the 60’s. The generic label of ‘former 60’s radical’ or ‘activist’ allowed him to lump himself in with a host of other people who never advocated, performed or supported violence in the late 60’s and 70’s.

    This from the Obama campaign’s ‘talking points’ on Ayers:

    Last night on Fox News, Kurtz tried to radicalize an education reform program in Chicago called the Annenberg Challenge. The Challenge was funded by Republican Walter Annenberg, introduced by Mayor Daley and Republican Governor Jim Edgar, and one of its initiatives was even praised by John McCain.

    Kurtz claimed on Fox News that William Ayers recruited Obama to the Annenberg Challenge — a flat out lie. Ayers did not serve on the board of the Challenge, and he had nothing to do with Barack’s recruitment.

    Assuming the above is true, what does it say about which thesis is correct? If Ayers was known by all as the 60’s terrorist, then how could not only mainstream characters support the Annenberg call but also Republicans? If Ayers wasn’t so known (meaning the information was there but no one cared), why was Obama’s responsibility here higher than simply doing his best on the Annenberg project to support worthy grant requests?

  3. One wonders whether Boonton reads others’ comments. Some posts back more than one comment informed him of Love’s sex.

  4. “Last night on Fox News, Kurtz tried to radicalize an education reform program in Chicago called the Annenberg Challenge. The Challenge was funded by Republican Walter Annenberg, introduced by Mayor Daley and Republican Governor Jim Edgar, and one of its initiatives was even praised by John McCain.”>/b>

    That said, these initiatives were such a disaster that the state legislature turned over control of the public school system to Mayor Daley. It’s hard to say they “wrecked” an already broken school system but the school councils added a greater order of magnitude of chaos and incompetence.

    “Kurtz claimed on Fox News that William Ayers recruited Obama to the Annenberg Challenge — a flat out lie. Ayers did not serve on the board of the Challenge, and he had nothing to do with Barack’s recruitment.”

    Boonton – I would not hang your hat on this assertion from campaign HQ, the records are now being looked at and not by not just Kurtz. Ayers wrote the original grant that Annenberg funded and while he did not “sit on the board” he helped select those who did, being one of the grantees. Here’s a document letter from the original proposal:


  5. One wonders whether Boonton reads others’ comments. Some posts back more than one comment informed him of Love’s sex.

    I do but I often skip around too.

    Boonton – I would not hang your hat on this assertion from campaign HQ, the records are now being looked at and not by not just Kurtz.

    These assertions, I doubt, are part of any confidential records. It’s been reported elsewhere about both Mayor Daley’s support of the project as well as his later opposition to some of its proposals. That Gov Jim Edgar would introduce it, even McCain praise one of its initiatives is likewise unsurprising. If these things never happened I think it would be quite easy to find sources to refute the talking points email….(and remember the point of a talking points email is to provide a supporter with valid facts that he can use in a debate…not to make him look like a fool by giving him stuff that is easily refuted or outright false). Likewise it also fits the picture. Big program to provide funds to grant ideas for improving schools not funded from taxpayers but a large, well respected foundation? Don’t tell me that isn’t the type of thing politicians of all stripes love to flock too and ‘cut the ribbon’ on.

    The question remains on the table. If ‘leftists’ are at fault for ‘allowing’ Ayers to get in on something like this then what about everyone else? Previously I’ve asked Shannon to provide any evidence that right wingers did anything to ever object to Ayers before it was discovered it could be used as a ‘gotcha’ on Obama. To date he hasn’t been able to produce anything. Granted the Chicago Tribune seems to have a pretty horrible search capacity tied to making you pay $$$ to look at results but the question is out there. Did anyone object to Ayers ever in the past? I’m not talking about mounting a campaign or dramatic fight….was there even a backroom attempt by anyone important to counter him? If not it seems odd to charge that Obama, just starting out in Chicago politics, had a duty to ‘bring him down’

  6. Here’s my exhibit A in support of my ‘forgetfulness’ thesis:


    Wikipedia’s entry on Ayers circa 2005 before the Obama issue arose.

    I think wikipedia is a pretty good example of a source someone would use if they heard the ‘English professor next door’ or the guy on the board of some foundation was famous. Note what such a person would have learned (or not learned):

    1. Ayers as a “1960’s-era political activist”.

    2. He was a Weather Underground member (note not a founder and note the organization is not identified as a terrorist group….)

    3. “Ayers went underground with several comrades after their co-conspirators’ bomb accidentally exploded in 1970” aside from failing to make it clear that Ayers had previously been involved with bombing a monument twice, the article gives the impression that Ayers could have just as easily been unaware or only marginally connected to the building of the bomb.

    4. After turning themselves in, “most charges were dropped because of “extreme governmental misconduct” during the long search for the fugitives.”

    Now perhaps Ayers was more on the minds of people in the Chicago intellectual scene but the fact remains it does appear he was a marginal character in Chicago life who succeeded in ‘getting back in’ the mainstream more through forgetfullness than leftist sympathy for his actions or thought. As I pointed out elsewhere, a few of his critics before the Obama issue were leftists who remember how the violence of his small group tarred the much larger movements who were non-violent.

  7. Boonton,

    Ayers was the grantee. He selected the board. The Obama campaign just lied about it to Obama’s supporters. Put down the kool aide and back away from the keyboard slowly :)

  8. Just to clarrify, I never wrote that Ayers didn’t write the application for the grant nor did I quote anything from Obama’s campaign claiming that.

    Unfortunately the Tribune’s search capacity isn’t all that great for those of us who don’t want to pay any $$ but the NYT is currently free. It can help give us some perspective as to what peole were and weren’t thinking about with the Annenberg Challenge:

    http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE6DE1539F931A15752C0A963958260&scp=1&sq=Annenberg%20Challenge&st=cse introduces it. The Challenge wasn’t Chicago only nor did Ayers originate it. It was a nationwide program to raise private grants to primarily reduce class size and targe more local involvement in school control (the grants could only go directly to school and not be used to plug any system wide deficits). (Annenberg’s fortune seems to have come from owning TV Guide)….(The announcement was made at the Clinton White HOuse but other search results seem to indicate Annenberg got a ‘Point of Light’ award from Bush I.

    This 1995 article goes into some details (http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=990CE6D71F39F933A05757C0A963958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2). Interesting there was at least one rightist critic who was quoted but he said nothing about a radical winning the Chicago grant. Instead his criticism was that the grant was focused on improving the worse of the worse districts while avoiding the problems of the general school system.

    What’s more interesting is to search on “William Ayers” and sort the results oldest first. Ayers makes the headlines in 82 and 85 over his criminal activities. He appears in 1990 writing brief letters to the editor on educational issues and is quotes as a professor of education.

    This fits perfectly with my forgetfulness thesis combined by an attempt by Ayers himself to enter the mainstream by getting himself noted but avoiding anything that would cause people to start digging into who he was. An example might be this 1990 letter to the editor on an article about drugs and despire in troubled classrooms:

    One would hope for more. For example, there are inner-city schools that work. They are places where teachers act as coaches and guides, not as clerks and cops, and where children take an active part in their own learning. WILLIAM AYERS Assistant Professor of Education, The University of Illinois at Chicago


    Note the pattern. Address a niche issue with a point that isn’t likely to raise too many objectors nor cause anyone to dig too much into your background.

    What this all leads to is:

    1. Not only Obama, but the left, right and center all failed to note Ayers ‘reentry’ into the mainstream (or entry given that you can argue he wasn’t in it to begin with).

    2, Ayers’s mainstream-ization had nothing to do with anyone agreeing with his past actions or even having sympathy for him but everything to do with the simple fact that no one effectively knew who he was.

    If Shannon would like to argue that he was well known he is free to post his evidence. It would seem he was particularly hard to know unless you made it a special project to research his life (even trusty wikipedia would have been off) or had lived through and kept track of his early life (which Obama didn’t because he was a child). Or, of course, knew him personally or his friends and they filled you in on his early life….but as it seems Ayers was making an effort to live a mainstream life when his bombing days ended so he was not one to introduce himself as “Hi, I’m Bill Ayers, the guy who blew up the monument twice and lost two friends in a failed bombing” rather “Hi, I’m Bill Ayers, Education Professor and all around do -gooder in these parts”….

  9. Also one last point, I’ve seen some stuff written elsewhere that the Annenberg Challenge was a dismal failure because no noticable increase in scores, grades or whatnot was observed during its time. This is probably jumping the gun. While $49M is a lot of money it’s a drop in the bucket compared to the entire system. The year it was announced, for example, Chicago’s system had a $300M deficit. Even if the challenge was a resounding success it would have worked miracles to move the entire system’s numbers.

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