It's probably fair to say that many conservatives have long had their suspicions about George Stephanopoulos of ABC News. In their view, his long association with Bill Clinton--and subsequent employment in the MSM--are enough to raise concerns about Mr. Stephanopoulos' ability to treat conservative politicians (and issues) with fairness and objectivity.
However, we will give Stephanopoulous credit for at least listening to conservative voices. Serving as co-moderator of last night's Democratic Presidential Debate in Philadelphia, Mr. Stephanopoulous apparently drew on some unlikely sources for two of his questions--talk show host Sean Hannity and conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer.
The queries, directed first to Senator Barack Obama, focused on a proposed extension of the U.S. nuclear umbrella to Israel, and the his personal relationship with former Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers.
When we heard the question about Mr. Ayers, we almost fell off the couch. Barely 24 hours earlier, Stephanopoulous had been discussing the issue on Sean Hannity's radio show. When Mr. Hannity asked if he planned to raise the issue during the debate, Stephanopoulos sounded a bit vague--almost as if he was unaware of the controversy. When Hannity listed key elements of the Obama-Ayers relationship, Stephanopoulos replied, "I'm taking notes."
And apparently he was. The ABC news anchor raised the same points in his question for Mr. Obama during the debate. From The New York Times transcript:
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator, if you get the nomination, you'll have to -- (applause) -- (inaudible).
I want to give Senator Clinton a chance to respond, but first a follow-up on this issue, the general theme of patriotism in your relationships. A gentleman named William Ayers, he was part of the Weather Underground in the 1970s. They bombed the Pentagon, the Capitol and other buildings. He's never apologized for that. And in fact, on 9/11 he was quoted in The New York Times saying, "I don't regret setting bombs; I feel we didn't do enough."
An early organizing meeting for your state senate campaign was held at his house, and your campaign has said you are friendly. Can you explain that relationship for the voters, and explain to Democrats why it won't be a problem?
Not surprisingly, Obama's response was less-than-satisfactory:
SEN. OBAMA: George, but this is an example of what I'm talking about.
This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood, who's a professor of English in Chicago, who I know and who I have not received some official endorsement from. He's not somebody who I exchange ideas from on a regular basis.
And the notion that somehow as a consequence of me knowing somebody who engaged in detestable acts 40 years ago when I was 8 years old, somehow reflects on me and my values, doesn't make much sense, George.
The fact is, is that I'm also friendly with Tom Coburn, one of the most conservative Republicans in the United States Senate, who during his campaign once said that it might be appropriate to apply the death penalty to those who carried out abortions.
Do I need to apologize for Mr. Coburn's statements? Because I certainly don't agree with those either.
So this kind of game, in which anybody who I know, regardless of how flimsy the relationship is, is somehow -- somehow their ideas could be attributed to me -- I think the American people are smarter than that. They're not going to suggest somehow that that is reflective of my views, because it obviously isn't.
Regrettably, Stephanopoulos didn't follow-up on Obama's comparison of Bill Ayers to a conservative Republican Senator. Mr. Ayers is an admitted domestic terrorist, whose past actions have resulted in the loss of American lives. Senator Coburn, on the other hand, has never actually proposed the death penalty for abortion providers. Contrary to Obama's assertions, there's a world of difference between Senator Coburn and Bill Ayers. But his oily answer did provide an opening for Hillary Clinton:
SEN. CLINTON: Well, I think that is a fair general statement, but I also believe that Senator Obama served on a board with Mr. Ayers for a period of time, the Woods Foundation, which was a paid directorship position.
And if I'm not mistaken, that relationship with Mr. Ayers on this board continued after 9/11 and after his reported comments, which were deeply hurtful to people in New York, and I would hope to every American, because they were published on 9/11 and he said that he was just sorry they hadn't done more. And what they did was set bombs and in some instances people died. So it is -- you know, I think it is, again, an issue that people will be asking about. And I have no doubt -- I know Senator Obama's a good man and I respect him greatly but I think that this is an issue that certainly the Republicans will be raising.
To be fair, Mr. Obama did point out that Senator Clinton has her own "terrorist" problem. When Bill Clinton was in the White House, the pardoned two other members of the Weather Underground, and 17 members of the Puerto Rican terrorist group, the FALN.
On his question about Israel, Stephanopoulos was clearly inspired by Krauthammer's column, which called for the United States to issue a "Holocaust Declaration" in support of the Jewish State. Under that policy, the American nuclear umbrella would be extended to cover that nation; any nuclear attack against Israel would be treated as a nuclear strike on the U.S., and bring a devastating response from our strategic forces.
As with the Ayers query, Obama tried to waffle and equivocate:
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: Senator Obama, let's stay in the region. Iran continues to pursue a nuclear option. Those weapons, if they got them, would probably pose the greatest threat to Israel. During the Cold War, it was the United States policy to extend deterrence to our NATO allies. An attack on Great Britain would be treated as if it were an attack on the United States. Should it be U.S. policy now to treat an Iranian attack on Israel as if it were an attack on the United States?
SEN. OBAMA: Well, our first step should be to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of the Iranians, and that has to be one of our top priorities. And I will make it one of our top priorities when I'm president of the United States.
I have said I will do whatever is required to prevent the Iranians from obtaining nuclear weapons. I believe that that includes direct talks with the Iranians where we are laying out very clearly for them, here are the issues that we find unacceptable, not only development of nuclear weapons but also funding terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah, as well as their anti-Israel rhetoric and threats towards Israel. I believe that we can offer them carrots and sticks, but we've got to directly engage and make absolutely clear to them what our posture is.
Now, my belief is that they should also know that I will take no options off the table when it comes to preventing them from using nuclear weapons or obtaining nuclear weapons, and that would include any threats directed at Israel or any of our allies in the region.
MR. STEPHANOPOULOS: So you would extend our deterrent to Israel?
SENATOR OBAMA: As I've said before, I think it is very important that Iran understands that an attack on Israel is an attack on our strongest ally in the region, one that we -- one whose security we consider paramount, and that -- that would be an act of aggression that we -- that I would -- that I would consider an attack that is unacceptable, and the United States would take appropriate action.
Hillary Clinton was quick to pounce:
SENATOR CLINTON: Well, in fact, George, I think that we should be looking to create an umbrella of deterrence that goes much further than just Israel. Of course I would make it clear to the Iranians that an attack on Israel would incur massive retaliation from the United States, but I would do the same with other countries in the region.
Readers will note that there was no follow-up question on Clinton's response. While her answer was aimed at getting votes from key electoral groups, there are problems with extending the nuclear deterrent to Israel, as we observed in a recent post. At best, the so-called "Holocaust Declaration" may be premature, given Israel's own, robust nuclear deterrent and existing missile defense systems.
Still, Mr. Stephanopoulos deserves credit for posing some reasonably tough questions that conservatives have been asking for weeks. For his effort, the former Clinton White House advisor is being excoriated by left-wing blogger, who are calling the debate an "ABC hit job." And, with the Democratic candidates still refusing to debate on Fox News, these may be the last answers we hear on the Ayers issue and the nuclear umbrella for some time.