If Bill Ayers’ name is brought up in tonight’s presidential debate, don’t be too surprised if someone mentions another radical opponent of the war in Vietnam, David Ifshin.

Ifshin, a campus protest leader who was elected student government president at Syracuse University in 1969-70 and the president of the National Student Association in 1970-71, visited North Vietnam in December of 1970 to promote a “People’s Peace Treaty” calling for an end to the war.

While he was there, he recorded a speech attacking the war, saying that the US was not fighting “for democracy or to defend the right of the people, but … to murder the people of Vietnam in order to make South Vietnam into one large US military base.” That speech was later broadcast as propaganda directed at American troops, including POW John McCain.

So why would anyone mention Ifshin tonight? Well, it’s a long and strange story, but the short version is that Ifshin came to regret giving that speech, and eventually became active in Democratic party politics. He and McCain met in the mid-1980s — at an AIPAC conference, of all places — and became friends. Ifshin died of cancer in 1996, and McCain delivered a eulogy at his funeral, saying that Ifshin had “always felt passionate about his country,” and “always tried to do justice to others.”

David Ifshin and John McCain forged a friendship that was grounded in a belief in redemption and forgiveness. John McCain may very well draw a distinction between Ifshin and Ayers tonight, and if he doesn’t, it’s just possible that Barack Obama will draw a parallel between the two.