Ayers’ Dirty Laundry

In last night’s spectacular orgy of anti-issues , many viewers were introduced to a new name: Bill Ayers. Barack Obama’s associations with the former Weather Underground member have been known for some time. Ben Smith reported in February that Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, now high-profile Chicago activists and professors, held a fundraiser for met with Obama at their home.* But the story failed to catch. Why is it coming back to life now?

Well, for one thing, no one raised the story in a debate. But more importantly, the Clinton camp never seized on it. And for good reason: As Obama pointed out last night in his rebuttal, President Clinton pardoned two Weather Underground members, Linda Evans and Susan Rosenberg, while in office. (Even Chuck Schumer denounced the pardons.) Today in a conference call, Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson said it’s not fair to “conflate” Obama’s fundraiser and Clinton’s pardon: “I’m not aware of either of them hosting a political event for Sen. Clinton in their homes,” he said.

So voters (or—let’s be honest—pundits) are left to decide which is worse: attending a fundraiser held by visiting the home of two people who were once synonymous with violent radicalism in America and who were both involved in numerous bombings of government facilities but who have since become staple members of the liberal Chicago activist community; or commuting the sentences of two people who were convicted of crimes—in this case, the 1981 armed robbery of an armored car that left two police officers and a security guard dead. You can see why the Clinton camp wouldn’t want to push this story too hard.

The real threat to Obama, though, is not what Clinton will do with the story but what Republicans might cook up. It could do some damage, if only because it fits into a larger Obama narrative. Just as his “bitter” comment pegged Obama as “elitist,” his Terrorist Fundraiser—permission to use, John McCain—fits the narrative that Obama is more liberal than he claims. Combine the Ayers meeting with the questionnaire from 1996 in which Obama articulated liberal stances on gun control and abortion and the death penalty, plus his “most liberal voting record” status in the National Journal , and you’ve got a strong case that Obama would appoint Bill Ayers represent the White House in a meeting with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

So maybe Obama’s lucky ABC raised the question. Clinton can push the story only so hard before it turns on her. And now it won’t come as a surprise to many voters when McCain’s team raises the issue in the fall. Better that the first Ayers jab be soft and early than late and fierce.

* Oops. Obama met Ayers at a small gathering at Ayers’ house, but it wasn’t a fundraiser. Ayers did, however, donate $200 to Obama’s Illinois re-election campaign.