Too little, and maybe too late. John McCain had his best night in the third and, thankfully, the final presidential debate. He pressed Barack Obama, but not hard enough. This was what he should have done at Ole Miss, giving him abundant follow-up time.
He pressed Mr. Obama hard enough to force him to abuse a few of the facts (we should say “lie,” but you’re supposed to be extra nice to a messiah). This debate attracted the smallest audience of the three, and who’s surprised? Mr. Obama, who enjoys so much glassy-eyed adoration he thinks he’s cool enough not to get called out on lies by the adoring media. He’s right about that.
John McCain is by instinct a puncher, a jabber. He never goes for a knockout. He never even throws the really hard one, even to an inviting glass jaw. Mr. McCain seemed to assume that everyone knows the Obama-Ayers story, and he felt no need to explain who William Ayers is, and was, and why the connection matters.
Except for the junkies with nothing better to do with their lives but inspect the commas, semicolons and clintonclauses in the transcripts, voters rarely pay close attention, relying on hunches, guesses and intuition. If there’s something wrong with the several versions that Mr. Obama has told of this story, and there is, it has to be clearly spelled out.
There’s plenty wrong with Mr. Obama’s nursery-school version of the story of “just a guy in my neighborhood.” This was not Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood. On Wednesday night, Mr. Obama described Bill Ayers as “just a education reformer.”
Not quite that, either.
Sol Stern, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, has studied the man and his mission, such as it is, for years.
“His hatred of America is as virulent as when he planted a bomb at the Pentagon,” he writes in an op-ed essay in the Wall Street Journal. “This hatred informs his education ‘reform’ efforts. Of course Mr. Obama isn’t going to appoint him to run the education department. But the media mainstreaming of a figure like Mr. Ayers could have terrible consequences for the country’s politics.”
Mr. Stern traces the trajectory of the Ayers career since he gave up bombing and burning and returned to school at Columbia University’s Teachers College to get the credentials needed to organize nothing less than inner-city madrassas, not to teach jihad in the name of Islam, but to indoctrinate children in hatred of capitalism, of America and its democratic institutions. He was mentored by Maxine Greene, who describes a coming “critical pedagogy” that will portray “homelessness as a consequence of the private dealings of landlords, an arms build-up as a consequence of corporate decisions, racial exclusion as a consequence of a private property-holder’s choice. This was music to the ears of the ex-Weatherman [as his wife Bernadine Dohrn].”
Barack Obama, who listened to his radical religious mentor say similarly poisonous things over 20 years in the pew, knew all this when he joined Bill Ayers on the board of the Woods Foundation to shower money on such radical schools in Chicago. This was not when the senator was 8 years old, as he says, but when he was a mature man in his early 40s. You’re entitled to regard a man of 40 as an adult, even when he resists being a grown-up. This is not guilt by association, but guilt as an accessory before the fact.
With Michelle Obama measuring the new draperies for the White House, he’s beginning to lose his reluctance to say what he’s really got in store for America. He told “Joe the plumber” of his plan to redistribute - not “spread” - the wealth, the dream of red-bone socialists for a century. “My attitude is that if the economy’s good enough for folks from the bottom up, it’s good for everybody.” He didn’t say how he expects to make the wealth defy the law of gravity, to “trickle up.” Maybe only messiahs can do that.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who describes Mr. Obama as part of his family, has great expectations, too. He expects a worldwide apology tour to all those freeloaders in Europe and applauders of evil in the Middle East. With a certain glee, he tells Charlie Hurt of the New York Post that “decades of putting Israel first” will be over, and amends will be made to Palestinian radicals.
Jesse Jackson, who once called New York City “Hymietown,” obviously doesn’t speak for Barack Obama, but he clearly speaks for Mr. Obama’s most devoted constituency. If John McCain and his friends can’t catch up before Nov. 4, there will be plenty of time to nurse his regrets - and ours - that he never aimed the facts at that glass jaw.
• Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Times.