Mr. Ayers’s Neighborhood:
Early this morning, the Obama family voted at the Beulah Shoesmith Elementary School, in Hyde Park. Long after they had gone, the lawn in front of the school was filled with reporters, mostly Europeans, filming voters. While I was talking to an eight-year-old kid dressed as George Washington, my colleague Peter Slevin, of the Washington Post was across the street, knocking on the door of someone else who had voted at the Shoesmith School this morning: William Ayers.
Ayers has avoided reporters ever since he became an election talking point, scratch pole, and general sensation. But now he answered the door of his three-story row house, and I joined the discussion. Ayers is sixty-four and has earrings in both ears. He wore jeans and a Riley T-shirt—Riley the kid from “Boondocks.” The day was fall-bright and 50th Street was filled with fallen gold leaves. Ayers waved to neighbors and kids as they went by on the sidewalk. He was, for the first time in a long while, in an expansive mood, making clear that, in all the months his name has been at the forefront of the campaign, he and his wife, Bernardine Dohrn—ex-leaders of the Weather Underground and longtime educators and activists in the community—have been watching a lot of cable television, not least Fox.
One night, Ayers recalled, he and Dohrn were watching Bill O’Reilly, who was going on about “discovering” Ayers’s 1974 manifesto, “Prairie Fire.” “I had to laugh,” Ayers said. “No one read it when it was first issued!” He said that he laughed, too, when he listened to Sarah Palin’s descriptions of Obama “palling around with terrorists.” In fact, Ayers said that he knew Obama only slightly: “I think my relationship with Obama was probably like that of thousands of others in Chicago and, like millions and millions of others, I wished I knew him better.”