Response to Orin:

Orin suggests that I'm "connecting Obama to radical views." Well, connecting is a bit ambiguous, but I did specify quite strongly (and sincerely) that I don't think that Obama shares the views of people like Ayers or Wright.

I do, as Orin says, think that Obama is the product of a particular (and, to most Americans) peculiar liberal culture, centered in elite universities (like Obama's alma maters, Columbia and Harvard) and university towns (like Hyde Park), where the typical American political spectrum is skewed. Individuals who would be considered fringe leftists according to the ordinary spectrum are considered more-or-less mainstream "progressives," while run-of-the-mill conservatives are considered to be fringe "reactionaries."

Orin fails to note the best evidence I've presented that Obama is a product of that culture: his failure to recognize the harm that his association with Ayers, and his much closer association with Rev. Wright, could do to his presidential ambitions. These guys are mainstream figures in Hyde Park, and wouldn't raise many eyebrows in Cambridge or Morningside Heights, but they are toxic in most other parts of America.

Orin says that Obama proved himself not to be a product of that culture because he treated conservatives at Harvard fairly. But there is no inconsistency between treating someone fairly, and thinking that his views are on the fringe; this just shows Obama is a decent person.

Indeed, the praise heaped on Obama for treating conservatives fairly, if anything, suggests that he accepted the prevailing view about conservatives, but nevertheless treated them fairly. If Obama had rejected the prevailing culture, it would have been unremarkable that he would not treat conservatives like pariahs. Could you imagine someone saying of an old-fashioned, working-class style liberal like Tip O'Neill, "he showed his openmindedness by treating Republicans with the same respect as he treated members of the Communist Party, USA?"

Orin and I can agree to disagree about the significance of Obama's analogizing of Ayers' past as a Communist domestic terrorist to Coburn's present as a vehemently anti-abortion Senator. But, putting Ayers aside for a moment, I think it's clear that Obama thought that pointing out that he is willing to be friendly with a colleague who vehemently opposes abortion shows him to be an especially open-minded, non-judgmental guy.

Here's what doesn't compute for me. Even though I strongly believe that abortion should be legal, it has never occurred to me that the fact that I am friendly with various people who think that abortion is murder and want to criminalize it is a sign of special tolerance on my part. Perhaps that's because I realize that this position is fairly widely held in the United States, often by people who are sincere, thoughtful, and a far cry from the intolerant fanatical theological zealots of many pro-choicer's imagination (just look at what some have assumed about Sarah Palin, solely because of her anti-abortion views). That Obama would publicly state on his own behalf that "some my (not-so-best) friends" vehemently oppose abortion--even if he weren't analogizing this particular friend to an unrepentant terrorist--suggests to me that he is, indeed, a product of an insular liberal intellectual culture. (And let's not forget the attitude toward rural, less educated American who "cling to guns and religion).

UPDATE: By the way, while some pro-Obama commenters seem to think I'm being horribly unfair to Obama, commenters on right-wing blogs that linked my previous posts seem to think I'm being much too charitable for not recognizing Obama as the radical red they think he is. Some pro-Obama commenters have asked what the point is of these posts, if I'm not demonstrating that Obama is some horrible pro-terrorist monster. Well, whoever said that I thought Obama was a horrible pro-terrorist monster? And since when is it against blogging ethics to try to draw a reasonably subtle (critical) portrait of a presidential candidate? Obama is neither the leftist caricature that some critics assert, nor is he the postideological, nonpartisan advocate of change his campaign would like to portray.