The McCain campaign is trying to take the Ayers connection beyond mere association to an issue of judgment and trustworthiness, which is one step closer to whether you can trust Obama on issues like the economy. On the trust issue, the Obama campaign seems willing to oblige McCain. After first denying and downplaying Obama's connections with the unrepentant terrorist, even in the NYT's estimation, the line from the Obama camp became that he didn't know of Ayers' radical and violent past (and presumably his unrepentant present) when he was over at Ayers' house in 1995. That seemed an odd defense considering he never deployed the "this is not the Bill Ayers I thought I knew" excuse back in April when he was first confronted with the issue, and considering he would have had to avoid all local media during their association to have missed that Ayers had a yen for American government, exploded. It also became irrelevant today, when the evolving Obama defense ran up against the inevitable question: "When exactly did he figure out who Ayers was?" Today Robert Gibbs of the Obama campaign has been asked three times about Obama and Ayers, and it's apparent he doesn't know what he should know and what he can safely claim he doesn't: He's most forthcoming with Mark Halperin:
Halperin: "Is it fair to say that [Barack Obama] continued to associate with [Bill Ayers] professionally -- and personally on a casual basis -- even after he learned?" Robert Gibbs: "He continued to serve on a charitable board and an educational grant board with money supplied by Walter Annenberg, a Republican who was an ambassador under Richard Nixon. Yes." Halperin: "But with the knowledge of Ayers' past?" Gibbs: "Yes."
You can see him parsing in his head before he answers. Halperin goes on to stymie Gibbs by pressing him on the notion that a future president having professional connections with a known and unrepentant terrorist might just be an issue with voters. Gibbs repeatedly refuses to say whether Obama thinks it's all right to associate with someone who has been involved with such acts, as his association with Ayers implies, then says he may be able to get Halperin an answer on when Obama figured out Ayers was a terrorist "at the next debate." On Fox & Friends this morning:
GRETCHEN CARLSON: He wrote the foreword or a blurb at least for Bill Ayers' book. if you don't know somebody very well, do you participate in their book? GIBBS: I don't know all the details of this. I know what I read in the newspapers, and I know what I've seen throughout any number of publications that looked at this this weekend.
On America's Election HQ:
"I don't know exactly when he knew."
Mr. Gibbs, call your office. No, seriously. That's how you would get an answer to these questions, as a spokesman who is paid to have answers. The Ayers issue is a hard one to sell to voters who are very worried about the economy, but the Obama campaign's inept response to it (a full six months after it first came up) is making it much easier.
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