My good friend Bruce takes issue with my recent commentary on the Presidential race. He is correct that I have steered pretty clear of discussing the Obama/ACORN/Ayers accusations, other than to offer the political analysis that those lines of attack appear to be unproductive for the McCain campaign. But I have not said much about the legitimacy of the issues themselves. So, I'll do so briefly here.
First, the William Ayers connection. My broad reaction to this is that Obama appears to be a calculating, opportunistic, ambitious politician, who has consistently forged connections with those who might prove helpful to him. That includes a wide array of people, from staunch conservatives to true lefties, and from his choice of church membership to his working relationships with Senate colleagues.
This might not be the most saintly personal characteristic, but it's pretty much standard for a successful politician. (John McCain, for all his maverickiness, is no different on this score.) I see no evidence that Ayers in particular stood out among the many, many, connections Obama had in Chicago. In fact, it seems clear that Obama made his way by building coalitions without the leftists and black nationalists who had considerable political strength in that city -- note that Obama ran against Bobby Rush for Congress.
If the charge is that Obama's associations with Ayers shows a lack of judgment, that's a reasonable criticism; although I, and it seems most people, don't feel that it rises to any great level of concern.
If the charge is that Obama is a stealth leftist, who secretly believes and would attempt to implement the most radical philosophies of the most radical people he has ever known, I think that's a very tough sell. His life history suggests the opposite: that he has always navigated a cautious, pragmatic middle ground -- evidenced certainly as far back as Harvard, where he rose to editor of the Law Review by exactly that path, and where conservatives and liberals alike say that he went on to run the Review in a very non-ideological, even-handed manner.
If the charge is that Obama has been deceptive about the extent of his relationship with Ayers, I suppose there may be something to that. But again, it's hardly much to get worked up about. Politicians are constantly rewriting their own histories to downplay some things and overstate others. Sure, Obama does this; so does Biden, so does Palin, and certainly so does McCain -- and everyone else who ran for President this year.
Now, as to ACORN. I try to take the broad view of this: the process of running elections is fraught with potential problems of many kinds, for which we need aggressive oversight, and we seem to have developed a de facto adversarial system by which the competing interests of the left and the right try to achieve that oversight. It's not ideal, and it's often ugly.
That said, I just don't get what horrors ACORN is supposed to have rained down upon our democracy. They have a perfectly reasonable goal: registering people to vote. They have a biased, but reasonable focus: minorities, the poor, and other disadvantaged people who are, after all, the people they exist to work for. They have a flawed, but understandable method: hire some former convicts -- a particular group they try to serve -- to collect registrations. If they paid strictly by the hour, those workers would be likely to not accomplish much, so they pay by the result; ie, the number of registrations. Inevitably, some of their workers attempt to defraud ACORN by creating phony registrations. This is of no advantage to ACORN: they are paying for nothing, and the "denial-of-service attack" result of a flood of illegitimate forms only slows down their own efforts to get legit registrations processed. ACORN has an oversight process that tries to catch the inevitable attempts at fraud, and most of the stuff that's been caught has been flagged by ACORN. (They are required to submit those forms regardless -- which makes sense, because you don't want the folks collecting registration forms to decide for themselves which ones to turn in and which to throw out.)