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Commentary: Why Ayers case is risky for McCain-Palin

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  • Roland Martin: It's easy for candidates to attack opponents over their associates
  • Republicans blasting Obama for ties to Bill Ayers, Martin says
  • Martin: What about McCain's service in Senate with past opponents of civil rights?
  • Guilt-by-association argument is a smokescreen to avoid issues, he says
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By Roland Martin
CNN Contributor
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Editor's Note: A nationally syndicated columnist and Chicago-based radio host, Roland Martin has said he will vote for Barack Obama in November. He is the author of "Listening to the Spirit Within: 50 Perspectives on Faith" and "Speak, Brother! A Black Man's View of America." Visit his Web site for more information.

Roland Martin says blasting one person's associations can boomerang.

Roland Martin says blasting one person's associations can boomerang.

(CNN) -- During the Democratic primaries, I wrote a column for CNN.com about how easy it is for any candidate to tar and feather another about their associations with less-than-acceptable figures.

Sen. Hillary Clinton tried to blast Sen. Barack Obama for unsolicited comments made by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, and folks like Fox News' Sean Hannity were happy to run with it, saying it was evidence that the junior senator from Illinois was unfit to be president.

But critics like Hannity never bothered to raise the issue of former Republican vice-presidential candidate Jack Kemp praising Farrakhan for his focus on self-help. Not only that, nearly everyone in the media was afraid to bring up the fact that Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell had high praise for Farrakhan when Rendell was mayor of Philadelphia, even as the Muslim leader sat just 20 feet away!

Again, blasting one person's associations can come back to bite you.

We now see Gov. Sarah Palin and the McCain campaign trying to stir the pot by invoking William Ayers, a 1960s radical who was a major figure in the Weather Underground, a group that bombed the Pentagon and committed other unspeakable acts of terrorism against their own country.

Palin has been hammering home the point on the campaign trail that Obama and Ayers were friends, "palling around" the Windy City, even though the Weather Underground committed these crimes when Obama was just a child. And never mind the fact that Ayers and Obama were involved in a multimillion-dollar education grant that was funded by a right-wing Republican, media magnate Walter Annenberg. Do you hear any of them castigating this late Republican pillar?

The McCain camp, along with their right-wing media comrades, want to convince you that Obama should not have decided to serve with Ayers, who was named the Citizen of the Year in Chicago in 1987 for his education work, and who is a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Now, if someone was seen as an acceptable figure by business, political and education figures, many of whom support both Democrats and Republicans, should Obama be faulted for sitting on a board with the guy?

So, let's use that same logic and apply it to McCain.

Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., a Democrat from Chicago who serves as one of the national co-chairs for Obama, told me on The Tom Joyner Morning Show that if we are to use the association tag as evidence of a candidate being unfit for president, what about McCain serving and working alongside people with virulent bigoted pasts like Sens. Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Robert Byrd?

Do we have evidence that these individuals committed specific acts against African-Americans during Jim Crow? No. But we do know that their hateful words, and willingness to uphold laws that were absolutely anti-American, did not represent the best of this nation.

Thurmond ran for president as a Dixiecrat in 1948 with a platform of maintaining segregation. Based on Helms' policies, he didn't see blacks as full Americans.

Bombing the Pentagon is horrible and indefensible. But declaring yourself a patriot while you speak such hateful and venomous words against your own countrymen, who just happen to be black, and then trying to oppress them, is just as indefensible.

So, did McCain work with them? Did he not speak with them? Should McCain have declared that he would not work alongside these men because of their past? Should the self-described maverick who believes in integrity and character have taken the honorable stance of resigning from the Senate to protest these hateful characters serving in the U.S. Senate?

No. And this is why this association argument is so weak and impotent.

For goodness' sakes, Byrd was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan, a domestic terrorist organization!

Now, if Ayers was involved in these despicable acts today -- or Byrd and his late Senate colleagues -- then it is fair game.

But no candidate should have to be held responsible for the actions of someone else that took place years ago.

I fundamentally believe that this is nothing but a smokescreen and effort to ignore the real issues we face. Nobody should care about any of this when they are losing their jobs and having their homes foreclosed and finding themselves unable to afford to send their kids to college and to get access to health care.

What I find to be more deplorable is to hear McCain advisers say they want to turn the page to anything but the issue number one -- the economy.

If that kind of talk is coming from the camp of a guy who wants to be president, then that is something to be afraid of -- not a candidate's association with Ayers, or Thurmond, Helms or Byrd.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

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