Location: Columbus, Ohio, United States

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Obama and Ayers

I've had a few friends ask me something like "You can't really be pro-Obama, right?" in the past few weeks so sometime soon I'll probably write an argument for why I support Obama and why I believe that's a sound vote for Evangelicals.
That won't be this post--for now I'll just say if you don't want to vote for Obama because you disagree with him on policy, cool. Just know that the guy doesn't "Pal around with terrorists."
Three points:
1. Obama is not friends with William Ayers and never has been. They last had contact 4 years ago and were never close.
2. Ayers has not been in the Weather Underground for a long time. That sounds funny (it's been a long time since I quit terrorism) but I know a fair number of 65 year old guys who did stupid, even detestable things 40 years ago.
3. Ayers has turned into a leading thinker on teaching social justice. I'm not a fan of his work, but his thinking has influenced teaching methodology for decades and is used in teaching everyone from poor kids to corporate training and culture programs.

1. Obama on Ayers (responding to a question from George Stephanapalous on his relationship with Ayers:

This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis. And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago, when I was eight years old, somehow reflects on me and my values doesn't make much sense, George.
Here's how they know each other:
They lived in the same neighbor.
They taught at the same school (I think--although now Google tells me Ayers is at University of Illinois at Chicago and Obama taught at UC--maybe he was an adjunct?)
Both were part of two charities, the Woods Foundation and the Annenberg Trust.
Ayers held a house meet and greet for Obama to introduce him to other liberal friends when Obama was planning to run for State Senate.

2. Ayers is still a left wing nut ball, but now he's the normal kind. He's also a leading thinker on progressive education and most education students read his work on teaching poor kids. He is a leading member of "society" in Hyde Park where they both live, a prolific writer on co-constructed pedagogy (student and teacher co-create learning), and on all kinds of boards for causes like better public schools, poverty cessation, and social justice.

3. The third point isn't so much about why the Palin comments are silly, but more about how you can be wacko, and wrong, and still have something to offer to a discussion. I tend to think lots of silly crap gets bundled up into books like Ayers "Teaching for Social Justice," or "Pedagogy of the Oppressed" which tends to be taught with it, but they are worth a look. I think lots of his stuff is stupid in practice (i.e. unlike Ayers, I firmly believe that kids need boundaries, kids need to receive evaluation, kids need both cooperation and competition to name a few things I think he gets wrong.
I also think that some of his writing on the transforming role of the teacher in pedagogy in general, and on teaching people in poverty in particular, is innovative and frankly works. Notions like the "ownership culture" at Fortune 500 companies have roots in Ayers work on co-constructed pedagogy. I also find this quote inspirational:

Committed and aware teachers," Ayers observes, "are engaged in the struggle to understand the moral contract of teaching and must endeavor to accomplish two crucial tasks: to convince students that there is no such thing as 'receiving' an education as a passive receptor or vessel, and that all education is self-education. The other task is to demonstrate to students that they are valued, that their humanity is honored, and that their growth, enlightenment, and liberation are the teacher's core concerns."

I actually found this quote inspirational when I was developing Agincourt, a Christian (and microlevel entrepeneurship) based program to help students understand social science while impacting people in the developing world. I think Ayers is wrong about lots of stuff, but he has thought deeply and thoroughly about how to use education for healing poverty stricken areas. We should listen to him, even if we have to hold our nose about his past.

Debate is good, discourse is good, intellectual rigor is good. If you're dumb surround yourself with smart people. If you're smart, surround yourself with smart people who disagree with you and present a true diversity of ideas.

One more thing (more to the original point of this post)
I've got some conservative friends who are claiming that "the media" never talks about Obama "falsely claiming he was a member of the Senate banking commitee." They do this to refute Democratic claims of Palin's inexperience. "Oh yeah, while your guy lied and said he was on a commitee he wasn't."

The reason it's not being covered is because it's not clear that he lied He said, of a bill he helped, "The Senate banking commitee, which is my commitee, just passed bill XYZ." He later clarified through a spokesman that he misspoke--he meant to say "my bill." I've transposed words before too. Had he left the transposed words to stand it would be lying, but following up with a clarifying press release means he misspoke. Maybe he intentionally lied, but transposing words seems as likely.

Facts are the basis of decision making.

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Blogger Michael Joseph Sharp said...

Good post.

But it is pretty obvious that Obama is getting love by the media and hollywood, right? This might be due to the last 8 years though.

Bottom line is:

Obama is the most liberal senator, and if you agree with those politics, etc., then go for it. I for one think that government should be reigned in, not given even more power. Obama wants even more programs than we have today, and this scares me.

What are three things that Obama says he will do that you personally like? Hope and Change can't be two answers.

11:12 AM  
Blogger RA Cook said...

Here's three:
I agree with his tax policy. Trickle down does not work. This is not up for debate. There is a mountain of research showing this. The only area where "trickling down" could happen is in small business re-investment, which is addressed in Obama's tax policy by providing cap gains cuts for re-investment in small businesses and start-ups.

I like his health care policy much more than McCains (or Barr's). I write a lot about my thoughts on healthcare in an earlier post, so I won't belabor that here.

I like his position on negotiation. Clear away the muck about "conditions versus preparations" and we get back to diplomacy saves the world, and lets us carry a big ass stick. We can't project power like we could 8years ago because we were stupid in our portfolio allocation of soft and hard power.

I could go on with specifics; I actually like the Iran bill he sponsored about which me misspoke, I like the bill he sponsored with Lugar (Luger?) on protecting nuclear sites, I like the bill he sponsored on good treatment of veterans, I like the bill he wrote on federal funding and transparency that keeps the US better informed on government spending, in Illinois I like the work he did on a reasonable compromise on videotaped confessions, and the work he did on campaign finance.
If you look at his legislation you'll find something counter intuitive given his public persona. It's not flashy stuff; it's quiet, wonky stuff that gets after real problems. That's good.
Organizations succeed on details, and I like the way he thinks thoroughly.
I don't know of anybody who actually says "hope and change" are the reasons they'll vote for Obama.
One other note, I really hate his position on abortion. In fact in 2000 years ago I was a single issue voter for Bush on this. Since then I have seen that there was no change in abortion rate (more accurately the rate of decline actually slowed with only possible statistical significance). Rhetoric from Washington doesn't stop abortion; even a change in Roe wouldn't actually stop it. You want less abortion get less poverty.

1:53 PM  

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