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Competing Views on the Relevance of William Ayers

The McCain campaign today released a pair of statements that raise questions about both presidential candidates’ ties to former Weatherman William Ayers — one directly, and one, it appears, by accident.

The first release features a statement from John M. Murtagh, who said his family’s Manhattan home was fire-bombed by the Weathermen when he was 9 years old.

“When I was 9 years old, the Weather Underground, the terrorist group founded by Barack Obama’s friend William Ayers, firebombed my house. Barack Obama has dismissed concerns about his relationship with Ayers by noting that he was only a child when Ayers was planting bombs at the Pentagon and the U.S. Capitol. But Ayers has never apologized for his crimes, he has reveled in them, expressing regret only for the fact that he didn’t do more.

“While Barack Obama once downplayed his relationship with Ayers, today his campaign took that deceit one step further. Barack Obama now denies he was even aware of his friend’s violent past when, in 1995, Ayers hosted a party launching Obama’s political career. Given Ayers’ celebrity status among the left, it’s difficult to believe. The question remains: what did Obama know, and when did he know it? When did Obama learn the truth about his friend? Barack Obama helped Ayers promote his book in 1997, served on charitable boards with him through 2002, and regularly exchanged emails and phone calls with him through 2005. At what point did Barack Obama discover that his friend was an unrepentant terrorist? And if he is so repulsed by the acts of terror committed by William Ayers, why did the relationship continue? Any honest accounting by Barack Obama will necessarily cast further doubt on his judgment and his fitness to serve as commander in chief.

“Barack Obama may have been a child when William Ayers was plotting attacks against U.S. targets — but I was one of those targets. Barack Obama’s friend tried to kill my family.”

The statement was accompanied by a link to Murtagh’s emotional account of the fire-bombing.

In February 1970, my father, a New York State Supreme Court justice, was presiding over the trial of the so-called “Panther 21,” members of the Black Panther Party indicted in a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores. Early on the morning of February 21, as my family slept, three gasoline-filled firebombs exploded at our home on the northern tip of Manhattan, two at the front door and the third tucked neatly under the gas tank of the family car. (Today, of course, we’d call that a car bomb.) A neighbor heard the first two blasts and, with the remains of a snowman I had built a few days earlier, managed to douse the flames beneath the car. That was an act whose courage I fully appreciated only as an adult, an act that doubtless saved multiple lives that night…

Though no one was ever caught or tried for the attempt on my family’s life, there was never any doubt who was behind it. Only a few weeks after the attack, the New York contingent of the Weathermen blew themselves up making more bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse. The same cell had bombed my house, writes Ron Jacobs in The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground. And in late November that year, a letter to the Associated Press signed by Bernardine Dohrn, Ayers’s wife, promised more bombings.

The second release included a list of 100 former U.S. ambassadors who have endorsed the GOP presidential nominee. Time’s Michael Scherer noticed an interesting connection to the Obama-Ayers controversy:

This morning John McCain put out a list of 100 former ambassadors who are supporting his campaign. Number two is Lenore Annenberg, the wife of Ambassador William Annenberg, the founder of the Annenberg Institute of Reform, which funded the Annenberg Challenge, which once had two famous board members: former “domestic terrorist” William Ayers and Sen. Barack Obama.

So either we should all be outraged that John McCain is supported by a family who funded a foundation that hired a domestic terrorist, or this whole William Ayers thing is just plain silly. I choose the latter.

McCain’s refusal to mention Ayers during last night’s debate indicates a hesitance to “go there” in Obama’s presence, after his campaign spent several days making an issue of Obama’s ties to the former Weatherman. If McCain believes Ayers is a worthy campaign issue, he should probably be willing to raise it to Obama’s face.

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