Late last week, Bill Ayers published an article with his reflections on the 2008 election in the far left In These Times.
The article raises more questions than it answers but hints that his relationship with Obama was minimal. He attacks McCain-Palin but doesn’t really address the issues they raised. He repeats the now questionable charge that someone at a Palin rally shouted “Kill him” about Obama.
Whew! What was all that mess? I’m still in a daze, sorting it all out, decompressing.
Pass the Vitamin C.
For the past few years, I have gone about my business, hanging out with my kids and, now, my grandchildren, taking care of our elders (they moved in as the kids moved out), going to work, teaching and writing. And every day, I participate in the never-ending effort to build a powerful and irresistible movement for peace and social justice.
In years past, I would now and then—often unpredictably—appear in the newspapers or on TV, sometimes with a reference to Fugitive Days, my 2001 memoir of the exhilarating and difficult years of resistance against the American war in Vietnam. It was a time when the world was in flames, revolution was in the air, and the serial assassinations of black leaders disrupted our utopian dreams.
These media episodes of fleeting notoriety always led to some extravagant and fantastic assertions about what I did, what I might have said and what I probably believe now.
The victim card comes out – ‘I was just minding my own business and then all these people began fussing about me and bombing things.’ If the assertions are so fantastic, Mr. Ayers, then how about setting the record straight? I am not sure why he writes this stuff to In These Times readers since most of them know his background.
During the primary, the blogosphere was full of chatter about my relationship with President-elect Barack Obama. We had served together on the board of the Woods Foundation and knew one another as neighbors in Chicago’s Hyde Park. In 1996, at a coffee gathering that my wife, Bernardine Dohrn, and I held for him, I made a donation to his campaign for the Illinois State Senate.
Obama’s political rivals and enemies thought they saw an opportunity to deepen a dishonest perception that he is somehow un-American, alien, linked to radical ideas, a closet terrorist who sympathizes with extremism—and they pounced.
Sen. Hillary Clinton’s (D-N.Y.) campaign provided the script, which included guilt by association, demonization of people Obama knew (or might have known), creepy questions about his background and dark hints about hidden secrets yet to be uncovered.
On March 13, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), apparently in an attempt to reassure the “base,” sat down for an interview with Sean Hannity of Fox News. McCain was not yet aware of the narrative Hannity had been spinning for months, and so Hannity filled him in: Ayers is an unrepentant “terrorist,” he explained, “On 9/11, of all days, he had an article where he bragged about bombing our Pentagon, bombing the Capitol and bombing New York City police headquarters. … He said, ‘I regret not doing more.’ “
McCain couldn’t believe it.
Neither could I.
How about the Annenberg Challenge? Perhaps, he didn’t intend this to be an exhaustive list of his affiliations with Mr. Obama. At any rate, he minimizes the connection as he leaves unanswered what attracted them to host a coffee for the young Illinois state Senator in the first place.
Ayers attacks Hannity but does not address the substance of Hannity’s narrative.
As close as he gets to a characterization of his relationship with Obama is here:
Obama has continually been asked to defend something that ought to be at democracy’s heart: the importance of talking to as many people as possible in this complicated and wildly diverse society, of listening with the possibility of learning something new, and of speaking with the possibility of persuading or influencing others.
The McCain-Palin attacks not only involved guilt by association, they also assumed that one must apply a political litmus test to begin a conversation.
I am sensitive the guilt-by-association tactic, as gay activists have played it against me in far less important battles. However, I think it is fair to ask questions about these relationships and expect that people will judge you by the company you keep when you are a relatively unknown quantity. And it is fair to provide an explanation of appearances. Obama’s initial explanation of his relationship with Ayers was not helpful (
“just a guy in the neighborhood” “This is a guy who lives in my neighborhood…”), and he had to be forced by narrators like O’Reilly and others to extract more.
There is irony, some would say hypocrisy exposed in this article. On one hand, Ayers recounts the article on 9/11 where he says he should have done more to stop the war in Vietnam (more than bombing government buildings), and then calls the police to defend him against those who were upset by his lack of repentance. Bomb the police, call the police; is it all the same to Ayers?
He may well turn out to be a footnote on the campaign. Like so much about those who have recently taken power, we will have to wait to find out.