Former Weather Underground leader William Ayers ? the man Sarah Palin was referring to when she said Barack Obama was “palling around with terrorists” ? says he hardly knows the Democrat presidential nominee.
The onetime anti-war radical who lives in the same Chicago neighborhood as Obama said in a newspaper interview he has had no contact with the Obama campaign and considers the GOP vice presidential nominee’s accusation absurd.
“Pal around together? What does that mean? Share a milkshake with two straws?” Ayers said in an interview with The Washington Post. “I think my relationship with Obama was probably like thousands of others in Chicago. And, like millions and millions of others, I wish I knew him better.”
Ayers, now a University of Illinois education professor, had a meet-the-candidate event in his home for Obama early in the Democrat’s political career. The two also served on the board of the Woods Fund, a Chicago-based charity that develops community groups to help the poor. Obama left the board in December 2002.
Ayers said in the interview ? the first he’s given since he became an issue in the 2008 presidential campaign ? that Republicans were trying to make a case of guilt by association.
“I didn’t do anything,” Ayers said in the interview, which was posted Tuesday on the Post’s Web site. “It’s all guilt by association. They made me into a cartoon character, they threw me up on stage just to pummel me.”
He also blamed the media for not making it clear that the accusation was groundless.
“The dishonest narrative is that guilt by association has some validity,” Ayers said, adding that the media’s performance was “kind of shameful.”
The Weather Underground claimed responsibility for roughly a dozen bombings in the late-1960s. Targets included the Pentagon and the Capitol. No one was injured except for three radicals killed when a bomb exploded prematurely.
Ayers said he has recently received death threats, but doesn’t “feel very victimized.” He said he has continued to teach and write, but postponed the release of a book because of the controversy.
Ayers and Obama voted at the same polling place only a few minutes apart on Tuesday, and Ayers said he planned to join the crowd at Obama’s election night rally in Grant Park ? but on his own, not as a guest of the campaign.
“I felt from the beginning that the Obama campaign had to run the campaign and I had to run my life,” he said.