This assertion has generated substantial media interest not only because of the credibility of the story’s source, retired mailman Allen Hulton, but also because the story fits all the known facts and resolves at least one major mystery.
In the way of background, the Ayers family was both affluent and indulgent. Until he retired in 1980 at the age of 65, Tom Ayers was the CEO and chairman of Commonwealth Edison.
According to Steven Diamond, an honest liberal blogger who knows Chicago politics, Tom was a “lifelong liberal” – one deeply involved in the same educational reform movement that engaged the interest of his son, Bill.
In 1988, Chicago United, a group Tom Ayers founded, formed a community advocacy association called the Alliance for Better Chicago Schools. As director of the Developing Communities Project, Obama participated in the group. So did Bill Ayers. “WND’s Aaron Klein has documented this well.
In 1988, Obama had things on his mind other than school reform. Despite an “unspectacular” academic record in college and prep school and a chronic lack of funds, Obama was planning on law school – and not just any law school. In his 1995 memoir, “Dreams from My Father,” he limits his law school choices to “Harvard, Yale, Stanford.”
In “Dreams,” Obama admits to only spending a few months on educational issues and only then while his mind was “elsewhere.” Curiously, though written seven years after his brief flirtation with education reform, “Dreams” offers a detailed brief on the problems of Chicago schools.
Not surprisingly, the educational brief in “Dreams” happens to match point by point an educational brief written by Bill Ayers in 1994 with a title entirely appropriate to a former merchant seaman, “Navigating a restless sea: The continuing struggle to achieve a decent education for African American youngsters in Chicago.” Some examples:
Dreams:Chicago’s schools “remained in a state of perpetual crisis.”
Navigating:Chicago schools remained in a “perpetual state of conflict, paralysis, and stagnation.”
Dreams:Problems include a “bloated bureaucracy” and “a teachers’ union that went out on strike at least once every two years” as another.
Navigating:The “bureaucracy has grown steadily in the past decade.” Ayers also confirms “Dreams” math, citing a “ninth walkout in 18 years.”
Dreams:“Self-interest” is at the heart of the bureaucratic mess.
Navigating:“Survivalist bureaucracies” struggle for power “to protect their narrow, self-interested positions against any common, public purpose.”
Dreams:Educators “defend the status quo” and blame problems on “impossible” children and their “bad parents.”
Navigating:An educator serves as “apologist for the status quo” and “place[s] the blame for school failure on children and families.”
Dreams:One problem is “an indifferent state legislature.”
Navigating:One problem is an “unwillingness on [the legislature's] part to adequately fund Chicago schools.”
Dreams:“School reform” is the only solution..
Navigating:The only solution is “reforming Chicago’s schools.”
Dreams. “Asante Moran,” likely an homage to the Afro-centric educator, Molefi Kete Asante, tells Obama: “The first thing you have to realize is that the public school system is not about educating black children. Never has been. Inner-city schools are about social control. Period.”
Ayers (“Fugitive Days,” 2001):“The message to black people was that at any moment and for any reason whatsoever your life or the lives of your loved ones could be randomly snuffed out. The intention was social control through random intimidation and unpredictable violence.”
Dreams:“Frank” (Frank Marshall Davis) tells Obama: “You’re not going to college to get educated. You’re going there to get trained. They’ll train you to forget what it is that you already know.” (The real Davis, by the way, loved his college experience and loved speaking at colleges.
Ayers: (“To Teach,” 1993): “What we call education is usually no more than training. We are so busy operating schools that we have lost sight of learning.”
There is, however, one critical point of difference in the way Ayers and the Obama of “Dreams” saw educational reform. Over the years, the Chicago educational bureaucracy had morphed, as Ayers notes in “Navigating,” from being a bastion of “white political patronage and racism” to being “a source of black professional jobs, contracts, and, yes, patronage.”
For reasons both ideological and practical, Ayers wilts in the face of this bureaucracy. In none of his writing, in fact, can he bring himself to suggest even the slightest flaw in black culture.
Everything, of course, is the white man’s fault. In “Navigating” he seconds the black activists who gripe that assaults on the bureaucracy were based not “on hopes for educational change, but on simple Chicago race politics.”
As to the culprits in the city’s race politics, Ayers cites everyone but the black bureaucrats: Mayor Daley, white businessmen, unnamed “professionals,” Reagan Education Secretary William Bennett, even “right-wing academic Chester Finn.”
On this racially tender issue, not so strangely, “Dreams” tells a different story. Obama openly chides the black “teachers, principals, and district superintendents,” who “knew too much” to send their own children to public school.
“The biggest source of resistance was rarely talked about,” Obama continues, namely that these educators “would defend the status quo with the same skill and vigor as their white counterparts of two decades before.” Yes, even Ayers would not talk about it.
As to the claims of these educators, affirmed in “Navigating,” that “cutbacks in the bureaucracy were part of a white effort to wrest back control,” the author of “Dreams” says teasingly, “not so true.”
“Not so true”? In these three words one can anticipate Obama’s potential return on Ayers’ investment. Simply put, as an African-American Obama could address sensitive racial issues in ways Ayers could not.
Bill Ayers surely recognized this. Tom Ayers likely did too. “Dreams” was a careful book, one written to launch the career of a deeply indebted and highly malleable Chicago politician, maybe even a mayor, one who saw the world through white eyes, as the Ayers family did, but one who could articulate the city’s real problems in words that they could not.
The “Dreams” project, however, had turned into a nightmare. Obama had already blown one advance and was struggling with a second. A published author – indeed the author of “the best memoir ever produced by an American politician” – had a much better political future than a failed writer with a contract hanging over his head.
Rescuing “Dreams” from Obama’s sluggish work ethic and sophomoric style was a major investment of Bill Ayers’ time. It would not have been hard, however, for Tom Ayers to make it worth Bill’s while.
This all might have worked as planned – if only Obama had contented himself with Chicago, but as the mailman discovered, Obama had bigger ideas.