Who is Barack Obama? Is he the thoughtful, moderate guy he's appeared to be in the first two presidential debates? Or is he a closet radical? The election is less than a month away, and we still don't know.
In his campaign advertising, John McCain has made much of the association between Sen. Obama and William Ayers, a leader of the Weathermen domestic terror group in the 1970s who has never expressed regret for setting bombs in the Capitol, the Pentagon and police stations. But Sen. McCain didn't mention Mr. Ayers in Tuesday's debate.
"Why doesn't he say these things to my face?" Sen. Obama wondered in an interview with ABC after that debate. It's a fair question. And a puzzling one, because the relationship between Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayers is much closer than Sen. Obama has so far acknowledged. Sen. Obama's first campaign for the Illinois Senate began in Mr. Ayers' living room, and in 1995 Mr. Ayers was instrumental in the selection of Mr. Obama, then a junior attorney at a second-tier law firm, as chairman of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, an education "reform" project that spent $110 million to no apparent effect, other than providing employment to otherwise unemployable radicals.
The relationship may have begun sooner and been closer. Mr. Ayers was in graduate school at Columbia University when Barack Obama was an undergraduate there in the early 1980s. Did they meet then? A few years later, Michelle Obama and Mr. Ayers' wife, Bernadine Dohrn, also a former terrorist, worked at the same time for the Chicago law firm Sidley Austin.
Investigative reporter Jack Cashill has noted some intriguing coincidences between Sen. Obama's 1995 autobiography, "Dreams From My Father," and Mr. Ayers' 2001 book, "Fugitive Days," for which Sen. Obama wrote a dust-jacket blurb. Both books have the same lyrical style and are filled with nautical imagery, which would come naturally to Mr. Ayers, who spent a year as a merchant seaman, but which appear nowhere else in Mr. Obama's writing.
Excerpts from "Fugitive Days" and from "Dreams From My Father" both scored 54 on reading ease and a 12th-grade reading level on the Flesch Reading Ease Score, Mr. Cashill found. Scores can range from 0 to 121. Excerpts from "Fugitive Days" averaged 23.13 words a sentence. "Dreams" averaged 23.36 words a sentence. Excerpts from Sen. Obama's second book, "The Audacity of Hope," average 29 words per sentence, and a ninth-grade reading level, Mr. Cashill said.
In "Dreams From My Father," Mr. Obama writes fondly of "Frank," a mentor while he was growing up in Hawaii. "Frank" was Frank Marshall Davis, a member of the Communist Party USA, and who was on the FBI's list of subversives.
Both Sen. Obama and Mr. Ayers spoke at a testimonial dinner for Rashid Khalidi, a former member of the Palestine Liberation Organization and a founder of the rabidly anti-Israel Arab American Action Network, when Mr. Khalidi left the University of Chicago for Columbia University. Sen. Obama lectured part time at the University of Chicago law school from 1993 until his election to the U.S. Senate in 2004.
"Khalidi and Obama lived in nearby faculty residential zones and the two families dined together a number of times," a source on the University of Chicago faculty told Worldnet Daily. "The Obamas even babysat the Khalidi children."
In his 1996 campaign for the Illinois Senate, Barack Obama sought and received the endorsement of the New Party, a creation of the Democratic Socialists of America that was so far to the left even the Green Party described it as fringe. Then there is Sen. Obama's relationship to ACORN (Alliance of Community Organizations for Reform Now), a radical group under investigation for fraudulent voter registrations in a dozen states. Mr. Obama worked with ACORN as a community organizer, and served for a time as its lawyer in Chicago.
Finally, there is the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, who Sen. Obama described as a father figure, and to whose racist, anti-American sermons he listened to for 20 years.
For me, a lifetime of fishy associations matters more than soothing words. But if Sen. McCain is unwilling to confront Sen. Obama about his radical associations, then the issue will have no traction, because you can be sure few journalists will report on them independently. He has one more chance, on Wednesday.