Does America Care About William Ayers?

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Exactly the type to captivate America's youth.
Exactly the type to captivate America's youth. Photo: AP

With John McCain's first personal mention of former Weather Underground member William Ayers at (another angry) rally yesterday and a new Ayers-focused ad supposedly hitting the airwaves, it's clear that the McCain campaign is still hoping to work up some kind of reaction to the Obama-Ayers relationship. Obama explained in a radio interview yesterday that he had met Ayers "working on a school-reform project" and "assumed that he had been rehabilitated." Whether or not that justification will alleviate voters' doubts is one question; whether voters actually have doubts, or are more preoccupied with the collapsing economy, is another.

• Ben Smith believes Obama's assumptions that Ayers had been "rehabilitated" may not be "unreasonable," since Ayers, though unrepentant, "had not yet become notorious" for his part in the Weather Underground. [Politico]

• Jennifer Rubin says that if that's Obama's explanation, he "seems dangerously unaware of the political views and opinions of those closest to him." [Contentions/Commentary]

• David S. Tanenhaus, who worked in the juvenile-justice system with Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn in the mid-nineties, seems to corroborate Obama's explanation: "To meet Ayers and Dohrn, as I did in 1995, was to encounter a middle-aged couple in their early 50s who seemed at ease in the vibrant academic community of Hyde Park." [Slate]

• Ross Douthat thinks that, to undecided voters, McCain's focus on Ayers looks "utterly disconnected from what's happening in the world." It's like the McCain campaign is being paid by Thomas Frank "to goose his book sales and vindicate his thesis." [Atlantic]

• Nate Silver examines the effects of the Ayers attacks so far, concluding that they're creating interest (Ayers's Wikipedia page is getting a lot of attention) but aren't making much of a tangible impact. Between October 3 and 8, Obama's unfavorables have increased by 1.3 percent, but McCain's have increased by about 2 percent. Obama's best defense is probably to "appear before a national audience as frequently as possible." [FiveThirtyEight]

• Charles Krauthammer contends that bringing up Obama's associations is completely legitimate, though with "the economy overshadowing everything, it may be too late politically to be raising this issue." McCain should have embraced this strategy "before the economic meltdown allowed the Obama campaign (and the mainstream media, which is to say the same thing) to dismiss the charges as an act of desperation by the trailing candidate." [WP]

• Chuck Todd and friends, similarly, are "hearing whispers — even among some Dems — wondering why the McCain folks decided to use Ayers now and not two months ago when they instead went the empty rhetoric/celebrity route." Doing it now risks "looking out of touch." [First Read/MSNBC]

• Marc Ambinder doesn't think McCain is serious about pushing the Ayers line; if he was, he would "put lots of money into an Ayers ad," "devote a stump speech to Obama's associations and Obama's associations only," or "mention Ayers in a debate." He's done none of those things so far. McCain understands that the media finds it easy to dismiss the "spectacle" of "dumping on Obama's character and associations in the middle of the worst economic crisis." [Atlantic]

• Michael Crowley wonders why, if "Ayers is self-evidently loathsome enough that we should doubt Obama's basic judgment," McCain would need to "keep stretching the facts" on an Ayers quote that ran in the New York Times. [Stump/New Republic]

• Tim Fernholz theorizes that the reason conservatives are indulging in these character-based suspicions of Obama but liberals aren't doing the same regarding McCain is that liberals are content to focus on conservative ideas, which "have less and less to do with reality, particularly in the economic realm," while liberal policies "are mostly popular, reasonable, and increasingly feasible." [Tapped/American Prospect]

• Chris Cillizza agrees that until "voters believe McCain understands their struggles and worries on the economy, it's likely they will dismiss as frivolous attacks on Obama's past relationships." But the other flaw of the Ayers strategy is that "the incidents in questions are not only decades old but also have already been prosecuted in the media during the Democratic primaries." This is why the McCain campaign is utilizing "the old 'cover up is worse than the crime' strategy." [Fix/WP]

• Jake Tapper writes that, while "it's certainly true that Obama and his campaign have been less-than-forthcoming about the Ayers relationship," many Republicans fear "that few swing voters will find this issue more compelling than the economy" and "will only paint McCain as nasty and out of touch." [Political Punch/ABC News]

For a complete and regularly updated guide to presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain — from First Love to Most Embarrassing Gaffe — read the 2008 Electopedia.