The Obama-Ayers connection: Chicago Annenberg Challenge

posted at 8:11 am on September 23, 2008 by Ed Morrissey

Stanley Kurtz tried to force the University of Illinois at Chicago to open its records on a publicly-funded project, and for his journalistic effort got called a “smear merchant” and “character assassin” by Barack Obama and his campaign.  They didn’t want reporters snooping through the records of the Chicago Annenberg Project, Obama’s one claim to executive experience — and the years that belie Obama’s characterization of former domestic terrorist William Ayers as nothing more than a neighbor and an acquaintance.  Kurtz discovers a long working relationship between the two on a project designed to spread radical political thought by essentially feeding it to schoolchildren under the guise of educational reform:

CAC translated Mr. Ayers’s radicalism into practice. Instead of funding schools directly, it required schools to affiliate with “external partners,” which actually got the money. Proposals from groups focused on math/science achievement were turned down. Instead CAC disbursed money through various far-left community organizers, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (or Acorn).

Mr. Obama once conducted “leadership training” seminars with Acorn, and Acorn members also served as volunteers in Mr. Obama’s early campaigns. External partners like the South Shore African Village Collaborative and the Dual Language Exchange focused more on political consciousness, Afrocentricity and bilingualism than traditional education. CAC’s in-house evaluators comprehensively studied the effects of its grants on the test scores of Chicago public-school students. They found no evidence of educational improvement.

CAC also funded programs designed to promote “leadership” among parents. Ostensibly this was to enable parents to advocate on behalf of their children’s education. In practice, it meant funding Mr. Obama’s alma mater, the Developing Communities Project, to recruit parents to its overall political agenda. CAC records show that board member Arnold Weber was concerned that parents “organized” by community groups might be viewed by school principals “as a political threat.” Mr. Obama arranged meetings with the Collaborative to smooth out Mr. Weber’s objections.

The Daley documents show that Mr. Ayers sat as an ex-officio member of the board Mr. Obama chaired through CAC’s first year. He also served on the board’s governance committee with Mr. Obama, and worked with him to craft CAC bylaws. Mr. Ayers made presentations to board meetings chaired by Mr. Obama. Mr. Ayers spoke for the Collaborative before the board. Likewise, Mr. Obama periodically spoke for the board at meetings of the Collaborative.

First off, we should note what this isn’t.  It’s not a smoking gun revealing criminal activity, and not a precursor to an armed overthrow of American government, although Ayers has done both in his lifetime and still talks approvingly of at least the latter.  The program outlined by Kurtz breaks no laws, and Kurtz never claims otherwise.

However, Kurtz’ report provides a very interesting look at the early political life of Barack Obama.  He had already entered politics at the time he joined the CAC, and even at that stage had allied himself with ACORN, which has found itself at the center of more than a dozen voter-fraud investigations.  Obama also allied himself with Ayers and helped the former Weather Underground fugitive push forward with his plans to radicalize an entire generation of schoolchildren in the area through the CAC.  Note well the parallels to community organizing that play out in the activities of the CAC, and recall again how Obama claims that activity as a major qualification for the presidency.

Ayers wanted teachers trained to instruct against “oppression” and to push schoolchildren towards political beliefs Ayers valued — apparently valuing them higher than actual education.  Barack Obama agreed, and for several years worked in close partnership with Ayers to implement that educational policy.  Even had Ayers never tossed a single bomb, this kind of educational philosophy would likely raise eyebrows with most parents, who desire a real education for their children and not some sort of political indoctrination camp.  With the context of Ayers’ violent radicalism, however, it makes the CAC even worse — a breeding ground for future Weathermen, ready to follow Ayers’ lead when the time comes for the revolution that Ayers and his wife (and co-terrorist) Bernardine Dohrn to this day desire.

Barack Obama not only supported this, he helped run this program for several years.  What does that say about Obama’s idea of mainstream, as he has repeatedly described Ayers and Dohrn?  What does that say about his own politics, his own ideas on education, and what kind of philosophy he brings to American politics?

Update: Steve Diamond notes other, more political aspects of the Obama-Ayers relationship, and says the CAC was part of a campaign to fight Mayor Ruchard Daley and the teachers’ unions for control of the schools:

Ironically, while Kurtz wants to tar Obama with the red paint brush of the 60s “radical” Ayers, an understanding of the real purpose of the CAC indicates a much closer political alliance between Obama and Ayers.

The grant application itself and much of what the CAC was up to emerged in the heated “Chicago School Wars” underway in that city from the late 1980s until the late 1990s. This war was for the control of Chicago’s public schools.

One side in this war was controlled by Mayor Richard M. Daley, Jr., son of the legendary Mayor Daley.

And the other side was led by Ayers and a small group of reformers that had emerged several years earlier in 1988 during a battle to create a new power center in the Chicago schools, the so-called Local School Councils, or LSCs. The LSCs were an effort to rein in the power of unionized teachers, school principals and school administrators, in the wake of an unpopular teachers’ strike in 1987.

This milieu around Ayers also included, as far back as the late 80s, Barack Obama and the Developing Communities Project (DCP) that had hired Obama as its Executive Director in 1985. The DCP was a leading participant in the campaign to establish the LSCs.

Thus, in fact, the “radical” Bill Ayers and his ally Barack Obama, a Democratic political activist and lawyer on the rise in Chicago, were engaged in an anti-union effort to influence the direction and nature of the entire Chicago public school system. It would lead them into a battle with Mayor Daley himself.

Read the whole post. I have a little skepticism about this, though, since Obama allied himself politically with both the educational unions and Daley during this same period of time. If Obama was at war with Daley and the unions, neither side acted much like it — and Daley has publicly defended William Ayers on more than one occasion.


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