Obama: I Assumed Ayers Had Been Rehabilitated

By Lee Speigel

Oct 9, 2008 9:11pm

In an interview with conservative Philadelphia radio talk show host Michael Smerconish today, Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., said his relationship with William Ayers is being questioned and his middle name is being invoked at events for Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin to distract voters from the economy.

You can listen to the audio HERE, courtesy of Politico.

"This is a red herring," Obama said of the Ayers story," because people don’t want to talk about the fact that economy over the last eight years has been mismanaged to the point that we’re teetering on a really, really bad situation.

Smerconish asked about the myriad Republicans at McCain-Palin events this week who referred to "Barack Hussein Obama."

"I don’t think there’s any secret about this," Obama said. "My father was from Kenya so I’ve got an Arab-sounding name, and I think most people know that I was raised by my mom who was from Kansas, which is why I’ve got a Kansas-sounding accent…When people are purposely doing this in connection with a theme the McCain campaign’s decided they want to pursue in the past few weeks, which is to go after me personally, in some pretty aggressive ways, then, you know they’re trying to distract from the economy."

"We’ve got the biggest economic crisis on our hands since the Great Depression," Obama said, "and Senator McCain’s team has said in the newspapers, they’ve said it publicly, ‘If we talk about the economy, then we lose the election,’" Obama said.

Smerconish said his callers wanted to know about Obama’s trip to Ayers’ home in 1995 to discuss his pending state senate run: why go to his house to begin with?

"I moved to Chicago," Obama recalled. "I didn’t grow up in Chicago. And graduating from law school I was involved in a whole bunch of civic activities.

"The gentleman in question, Bill Ayers, is a college professor, teaches education at the University of Illinois and that’s how I met him, was working on a school reform project that was funded by an ambassador and former close friend of Ronald Reagan’s and I was sitting on this board along with a whole bunch of conservative businessmen and civic leaders and he was one of the people who was on this board. And he lives in the same neighborhood.

"Ultimately, I ended up learning about the fact that he had engaged in this reprehensible act 40 years ago, but I was eight years old at the time and I assumed that he had been rehabilitated.

"So, you know, the central point this is not somebody who advises my campaign, it’s not somebody who is part of my, you know, inner circle in any way. This is somebody I’ve worked on some projects with, the latest is school reform. And I’ve strongly condemned his actions.

"The fact that, you know, Senator McCain wants to make this the centerpiece of his campaign is pretty remarkable," Obama said. "I mean, we are going through an enormous challenge right now. And Senator McCain surely doesn’t believe that I endorse any of the actions that [Ayers] has taken….Nobody is suggesting that in any way that I think the actions this radical group back in the 60s did was the right thing to do. This is just a political tactic…

"One of the problems with being in public life is you end up knowing all sorts of people," Obama said. "And you’re not going to do a vet or an investigation on every single one of them."

Hat tip to Ben Smith.

- jpt

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