Flashback: Stephanopoulos Pressed Obama on Ayers in ’08 Dem Debate

On April 16, 2008, on ABC at the Pennsylvania Democratic Presidential Candidates Debate between the two remaining candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, then-Sens. Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Barack Obama (D-IL), moderator George Stephanopoulos and subsequently Hillary Clinton, pressed Obama on his relationship with former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers.

Stephanopoulos asked, “A gentleman named William Ayers. He was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol, and other buildings. He’s never apologized for that. And in fact on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying ‘I dont regret setting bombs I feel we did not do enough.’  An early organizing meeting for your state Senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are ‘friendly.’ Can you explain that relationship for the voters and explain to Democrats why it won’t be a problem?”

Obama replied, “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. The fact is, is that I’m also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions. Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn‘s statements? Because I certainly don’t agree with those either.So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow — somehow their ideas could be attributed to me — I think the American people are smarter than that. They’re not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn’t.”

That led Hillary Clinton to pick up after Obama’s response and press him more on his association with Ayers.

“Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position,” Clinton said. “And if I’m not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York, and I would hope to every American, because they were published on 9/11 and he said that he was just sorry they hadn’t done more. And what they did was set bombs and in some instances people died. So it is—you know, I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about. And I have no doubt—I know Senator Obama’s a good man and I respect him greatly, but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising. And it goes to this larger set of concerns about, you know, how we are going to run against John McCain. You know, I wish the Republicans would apologize for the disaster of the Bush-Cheney years and not run anybody, just say that it’s time for the Democrats to go back into the White House. (Laughter, applause.) I know that they’re going to be out there, full force. And you know, I’ve been in this arena for a long time. I have a lot of baggage, and everybody has rummaged through it for years. (Laughter.) And so therefore, I have, you know, an opportunity to come to this campaign with a very strong conviction and feeling that I will be able to withstand whatever the Republicans send our way.”

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN


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