Opinion: Sarah Palin attacks over Barack Obama’s link to a ‘60s radical


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With exactly one month until election day, will Bill Ayers, the anti-Vietnam War radical who helped found a bomb-planting protest group, morph into what some observers earlier had predicted -- the Willie Horton of the 2008 presidential campaign?

Horton, for those too young to remember, was a felon who, while on a weekend furlough from prison in Massachusetts, committed a heinous crime in Maryland. It happened under Michael Dukakis’ gubernatorial watch, and in the final months of his 1988 White House bid the case was effectively used against him by his GOP rivals.

With this year’s race entering its final stretch -- and Barack Obama having staked out a solid lead in recent polling -- John McCain’s campaign has sent out word it’s really ready to play hard ball against Obama (and here we naively thought the game already had been rough).


Out of the gate, it looks like hammering home Obama’s link to Ayers could be central to that strategy.

The matter first arose several months ago during the Democratic nomination battle, and the Obama campaign felt compelled to post a page on its website that depicted his association with Ayers as tenuous.

Today, in a front-page story, the New York Times took its crack at airing out the Ayers connection. Here’s the key part of the piece:

A review of records ... and interviews with a dozen people who know both men, suggest that Mr. Obama, 47, has played down his contacts with Mr. Ayers, 63. But the two men do not appear to have been close. Nor has Mr. Obama ever expressed sympathy for the radical views and actions of Mr. Ayers, whom he has called “somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was 8.”

Sarah Palin, campaigning in the Denver area, took that ball and ran with it.

The Times’ Robin Abcarian relates that Palin, speaking at a fundraiser, used a wry reference to one of the well-publicized questions she faced recently from CBS’ Katie Couric to broach the Ayers issue. Said the Republican vice presidential candidate:

There is a lot of interest, I guess, in what I read and what I’ve read lately. Well, I was reading my copy of today’s New York Times [audience boos] and I was interested to read about Barack’s friends from Chicago [audience cheers]. I get to bring this up not to pick a fight, but it was there in the New York Times, so we are gonna talk about it. Turns out one of Barack’s earliest supporters is a man who, according to the New York Times -- and they are hardly ever wrong [audience laughs] -- was a domestic terrorist and part of a group that, quote, ‘launched a campaign of bombings that would target the Pentagon and U.S. Capitol.’ Wow. ...

Referring to Obama, she continued:

This is not a man who sees America as you see it and how I see America. We see America as the greatest force for good in this world. If we can be that beacon of light and hope for others who seek freedom and democracy and can live in a country that would allow intolerance in the equal rights that again our military men and women fight for and die for for all of us. Our opponent, though, is someone who sees America it seems as being so imperfect that he’s palling around with terrorists who would target their own country?


[UPDATE: Palin said much the same later in the day at a big rally in Carson, Calif. Abcarian reports that Palin signaled early in her remarks to an overflow crowd of more than 8,000 in the tennis stadium of Carson’s Home Depot Center that she would be going after Obama. “One of my campaign staff said as I was walking out here, ‘OK, the heels are on, the gloves are off,’ ” Palin said.]

Her comments in Colorado already had given the Associated Press the obvious lead for its story -- that she accused Obama of....

... ‘palling around with terrorists’ as part of what the article characterized as a stepped-up effort to portray him ‘as unacceptable to American voters.’

That effort can be expected to accelerate. And, most immediately, Ayers’ name almost assuredly will surface in Obama’s face-off with McCain in a town-hall setting this Tuesday.

Just as assuredly, the Obama campaign can be expected to use every means at its disposal to keep the spotlight on the issue that seems to have turned the election its way: the nation’s economic turmoil.

Indeed, here’s how Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan handled the reaction to Palin’s Colorado comments:

Gov. Palin’s comments, while offensive, are not surprising, given the McCain campaign’s statement this morning that they would be launching Swift Boat-like attacks in hopes of deflecting attention from the nation’s economic ills. In fact, the very newspaper story Gov. Palin cited in hurling her shameless attack made clear that Sen. Obama is not close to Bill Ayers, much less ‘pals,’ and that he has strongly condemned the despicable acts Ayers committed 40 years ago, when Obama was 8. What’s clear is that John McCain and Sarah Palin would rather spend their time tearing down Barack Obama than laying out a plan to build up our economy.


The N.Y. Times’ story, by the way, quickly got hit from both the left and the right.

At Daily Kos, it was lambasted as a cave-in by the paper to the conservative critics who never tire of carping about it.

At the National Review’s site, it’s dismissed as a whitewash job that serves Obama’s purposes.

-- Don Frederick