Why Words Matter

In criticizing Barack Obama today, Andy McCarthy makes the claim that Barack Obama wants to end prison sentences for violent offenders.

Not to be a broken record, but it’s worth recalling that Obama gave a rave review to former terrorist Bill Ayers’s polemic against the criminal justice system, A Kind and Just Parent. More radical than even the Warren Court, Ayers’s book called for an end to prisons and harsh sentences for violent offenders. Obama praised it as a “searing and timely account.”

That’s pretty damning. Damning, that is, until you do a five-second search on Amazon for a book description and realize that Ayers’ book is a criticism of the juvenile justice system that advocates an end to prison sentences for juveniles. I would contend that there’s a world of difference between wanting an end to harsh prison sentences for juveniles as opposed to adults.

McCarthy’s leaving the word “juvenile” out of the above sentence makes a world of difference in evaluating Obama’s policy towards the justice system. Frankly, it makes McCarthy look desperate. Why not just argue honestly about Obama’s policies, based on his campaign platform and voting record? Is it really so hard to engage reality as opposed to indulging in bizarre shadow conspiracy theories?

FILED UNDER: Campaign 2008, Law and the Courts, ,
Alex Knapp
About Alex Knapp
Alex Knapp is Associate Editor at Forbes for science and games. He was a longtime blogger elsewhere before joining the OTB team in June 2005 and contributed some 700 posts through January 2013. Follow him on Twitter @TheAlexKnapp.

Comments

  1. Anderson says:

    McCarthy & the others at NRO have been completely nuts for a while now. I looked over the last 3 days’ worth of Corner posts this morning, and they are a study in derangement.

    TNR held this Mark Levin post up for special ridicule.

  2. Mr. McCarthy is selective and wrong as you have noted. But highlighting his errors seems to be as much about deflecting attention from a potential source of trouble as anything else.

    Here’s some information hopefully not as egregiously incorrect as Mr. McCarthy’s. Bill Ayers was a domestic terrorist. He certainly seems to have given up throwing bombs and wanting to murder people indisciminately (I hope), but it is a tougher sell to imagine that he has given up a political philosophy that inpired his bomb throwing to begin with. “Guilty as hell, free as a bird,” was I believe Mr. Ayers’ quote concerning his situation. I do believe that Mr. Ayers personally maintains and teaches radical politics that would appall most people if only they could be bothered to learn anything about it. I won’t bother with Ms. Dohrn since nothing concerning her will matter to anyone who doesn’t want to deal with the sins of Mr. Ayers.

    Note that I have made no connection to Senator Obama at all to this point. From what we have learned thus far, it seems as though Senator Obama has sought to use Mr. Ayers’ help in the past to promote his political career and to grease the skids for some important money jobs, such as heading up the Annenberg Challenge. To claim, as Senator Obama has that he’s just a guy in the neighborhood, is at best duplicitious. Given Senator Obama’s statements in his autobiographies that he’s always been comfortable around radicals and that he sought them out (IIRC), it isn’t too much of a stretch to imagine that Mr. Ayers and Senator Obama are perhaps a little more simpatico than we are lead to believe.

    There are certainly attempts at guilt by association going on here, and as Mr. Ayers is guilty as well and shouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man, much less one who holds an esteemed place in academia and what passes for high society in Chicago, and given the remarkable gaps in virtually any coverage of Senator Obama’s political development in the company of some very radical people, this is perhaps understandable. Maybe there’s nothing more than a little smoke here, but if it was given a fraction of the media attention that, say, rape kits in Wasilla or the maternity of Trig Palin had been given, who knows what we might have learned? Maybe the reason it hasn’t all been done away with by Senator Obama being very open about it is that he can’t be very open about it, at least not without revealing something that all but the most devoted would not be pleased to hear.

  3. Zelsdorf Ragshaft III says:

    Yes James, what better than young violent people to populate an Obama security force? Thats right, let us let all the juvenile murderers out of jail and put them back on the street to repeat their crimes. What a bunch of f**king idiots.

  4. Alex Knapp says:

    Charles,

    I want you to know that I do appreciate and understand your hesitation about Ayers and I hope we can discuss this even if we inevitably end up “agreeing to disagree.”

    Here’s some information hopefully not as egregiously incorrect as Mr. McCarthy’s. Bill Ayers was a domestic terrorist. He certainly seems to have given up throwing bombs and wanting to murder people indisciminately (I hope)

    I would agree with most of this, although it’s my understanding that Ayers set his bombs in a manner so as to avoid killing anyone. If I’m correct in that, there’s some mitigation to it (although let me be quick to point out that it does not excuse the bombings one single bit).

    but it is a tougher sell to imagine that he has given up a political philosophy that inpired his bomb throwing to begin with. “Guilty as hell, free as a bird,” was I believe Mr. Ayers’ quote concerning his situation. I do believe that Mr. Ayers personally maintains and teaches radical politics that would appall most people if only they could be bothered to learn anything about it.

    I don’t know how radical his politics are at the moment. From what I understand, they’re pretty far to the left but not quite out of the mainline of discourse. Feel free to correct on this issue.

    From what we have learned thus far, it seems as though Senator Obama has sought to use Mr. Ayers’ help in the past to promote his political career and to grease the skids for some important money jobs, such as heading up the Annenberg Challenge.

    From everything that I have read, Obama did not meet Bill Ayers until AFTER Obama had already been named head of the Annenberg Challenge. It’s also worth noting that on the Challenge, Obama and Ayers were actually on two different commitees, and over the course of Obama’s tenure they were in the same room all of six time. It’s also worth mentioning that there were something on the order of 50-60 people involved in the Challenge.

    And yes, Obama did attend a fundraiser at Ayers’ home, but that doesn’t mean that they were fellow travelers. McCain, after all, had a fundraiser in Gordon Liddy’s home and I doubt that McCain would advocate shooting ATF agents, even if McCain and Liddy more broadly agree on other policies. (Note that this is not an attempt at equivalence, but rather an example that what Obama did was hardly unusual in the world of politics.)

    To claim, as Senator Obama has that he’s just a guy in the neighborhood, is at best duplicitious.

    Here’s is Obama’s full quote in context: “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 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn’t make much sense, George.”

    ALL OF THAT IS TRUE. There is very little evidence to suggest that Obama and Ayers had anything but a tangential relationship due to their being members of the Boards of the Woods Foundation and the Annenberg Challenge and the aforementioned fundraiser. There is simply no evidence that their relationship went beyond that.

    There are certainly attempts at guilt by association going on here, and as Mr. Ayers is guilty as well and shouldn’t be walking the streets as a free man, much less one who holds an esteemed place in academia and what passes for high society in Chicago

    From what I can tell, Ayers has not performed any illegal acts since the 1960s. Is it that hard to accept that he might have changed? I agree that he should have been prosecuted, but it was FBI bungling that led to the prosecution having to be dropped. But just because he wasn’t convicted doesn’t mean that he can’t rebuild himself a place in society, right?

    Maybe there’s nothing more than a little smoke here, but if it was given a fraction of the media attention that, say, rape kits in Wasilla or the maternity of Trig Palin had been given

    The Trig Palin stuff (which is silly) and the rape kit stuff (which I freely admit I was mistaken about) were barely covered at all in the mainstream media. The Obama-Ayers relationship, by contrast, was a front page story in the New York Times and has been covered extensively on MSNBC, CNN, and especially Fox News. Maybe nothing’s been dug up because there’s nothing there…

    As I’ve said before, in politics one has to deal with less than savory folks sometimes in order to get something done. It would be nice to live in a world where that wasn’t true, but it is. I just have not seen any evidence to show that Obama and Ayers’ relationship went much beyond a few board meetings. By my count, over the course of their acquaintance–over a decade–they met something like a total of 20-30 times. There just doesn’t seem to be any there there.

  5. John425 says:

    Alex Knapp: “I would contend that there’s a world of difference between wanting an end to harsh prison sentences for juveniles as opposed to adults.”

    Funny-we learned in Viet Nam (the hard way) that a 14 year old with an AK-47 can kill you just as dead as a 30 year old man can.

    Israel has learned that a teenage suicide bomber can also kill you just as well as an adult suicide bomber can.

    Chicago mothers have learned (the hard way) that boys with Uzis can spray the neighborhood and kill their children just as quickly as a grown thug can.

  6. Mike in Hawaii says:

    Alex, McCarthy wasn’t selectively leaving out words…he had previously posted at length about Ayers book, including the fact that it addressed juvenile justice in the following Corner post:

    “4. Regarding crime, Obama does not just know Ayers’s work; he has enthusiastically endorsed it. Ayers’s 1997 book, A Kind and Just Parent, a scathing indictment of the Chicago criminal justice system, makes the stereotypical soft-on-crime liberal look like a hanging judge. It’s all about “root causes” (no individual responsibility for the criminal whose crimes are the fault of society), it opposes appropriate punishment for violent offenses committed by juveniles (no matter how extensive their records, how atrocious the offense, and how close to adulthood the offender), and it blasts prisons as an evil to be phased out. These represent the sort of mindset and policy prescriptions that lead to entrenched crime — a fear that so powerfully moves the public that Clinton was moved to public toughness on crime having seen what a winning issue it was for Reagan in the Eighties. (Note: Illinois, and Chicago in particular, have very high crime rates — violent crime is more than twice the national average).

    Obama’s assessment of Ayers’s book? “A searing and timely account.” And when she was an associate dean at the University of Chicago, Michelle Obama thought highly enough of Ayers book that she brought Ayers and Obama together for a panel on juvenile crime, observing in the advertising flier that, as a state senator, Obama was “working to block proposed legislation that would throw more juvenile offenders into the adult system” — a page right out of Ayers’s book.”

  7. just me says:

    Mike’s post makes me wonder-Alex have you read the book or just the synopsis from Amazon?

    Only because it is more than possible that Ayers made the case that prisons in general should be phased out, and without the comments being restricted to the juvenile justice system.

    I think it is hard to really have an opinion one way or the other without having read the book and without specific quotes to his opinion on prisons in general.

    Although I have to wonder when it comes to violent offenses, if not prison what does he or anyone else opposed propose instead? It is one thing to advocate non violent crimes be punished with a sentence other than prison, but I think the best place for some violent offenders is in jail whether they are 15 or 50.

  8. tom p says:

    Obama was “working to block proposed legislation that would throw more juvenile offenders into the adult system” — a page right out of Ayers’s book.”

    There seems to be a bit of disconnect in this discussion that has me a little confused. Is Obama being slammed for a stated position of keeping juveniles out of the “adult system” of prisons?

    If so, this is hardly the same as

    let us let all the juvenile murderers out of jail and put them back on the street

    It is in fact, a world apart.

  9. Drew says:

    Alex correctly calls out McCarthy for (most likely intentionally) mis-characterizing Ayers position.

    One has to wonder, though, how Obama, and Ayers, come to their point of view. Here in Chicago we recently passed the 400 murder mark and are on our way to 500 for the year, many committed by 18-19 year olds.

    Referring to them as “juvenile’s” sanitizes who they really are: vile sociopaths, destroying the neighborhoods they inhabit. And vile sociopaths are what prisons are made for.

  10. Grewgills says:

    …many committed by 18-19 year olds.

    Referring to them as “juvenile’s” sanitizes who they really are…

    You, of course, realize that 18-19 year olds are legally adults not juveniles.

  11. Bithead says:

    Funny-we learned in Viet Nam (the hard way) that a 14 year old with an AK-47 can kill you just as dead as a 30 year old man can.

    And and then there’s Columbine HS.
    Of course that was all the fault of the guns themselves, not the supposed children.

  12. Drew says:

    “You, of course, realize that 18-19 year olds are legally adults not juveniles.”

    Yes. It is a typo. I meant to write 14-19, which I understand is the range that various state legislatures have established as the juvelile/adult distinction.

    Now, this changes the thrust of my query how? And are your picayune tendencies now satisfied?