Monday, December 08, 2008

Bill Ayers speaks out

Having mismanaged the foreign and domestic affairs of this nation for the better part of the past decade and therefore having nothing positive to offer the nation, Republicans were resorting to demagoguery in their desperate search for an issue to at least discredit the reputation of the Democrats’ presidential nominee. They came across Bill Ayers – a man who in middle age is a legitimate and respected educator but in youth was a participant in violent fringe politics with a miniscule group that had deceived itself in believing in its own importance in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.

Barack Obama was a rising politician and Ayers had been appointed by the Mayor to work on a reform plan for Chicago schools in the 1990’s. He served as co-chair of the Chicago School Reform Collaborative funded by the Annenberg Foundation (established by Richard Nixon’s billionaire ambassador, Walter Anneberg) and Obama served on the board of directors for Chicago Annenberg Challenge. In 1997, Ayers was awarded Citizen of the Year by the city of Chicago for his work. Because of their common interest in education, the paths of Obama and Ayers crossed from time to time from the 1990’s onward.

Ayers’ youthful antics were far less respectable. He played a role in the splintering of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in favor of a militant faction that favored street fighting. He participated in the “Days of Rage” riot in Chicago during 1969 and was a founder of the Weatherman organization that planted bombs as a protest against the war in Vietnam. Obama, of course, was less than ten years old living half way around the world when Ayers was involved in this craziness but the Republicans were convinced the American people were not interested in details.

Obama replied that their paths crossed from time to time because of common interest in education in Chicago and he denounced Ayers’ earlier actions. Ayers wisely did not allow himself to be drawn into the debate and kept his mouth shut. And the Republicans miscalculated – the American people were interested in the details.

In yesterday’s New York Times, Bill Ayers spoke out. Unfortunately, Ayers is unable (or unwilling) to view his past objectively by over emphasizing the importance of the Weather Underground and underemphasizing the violence and its role in discrediting the antiwar movement.

Hilzoy has these thoughts:
Bill Ayers and the Weather Underground did more than 'cross lines of legality, of propriety and perhaps even of common sense.' They were, by any standard I can think of, terrorists. As one historian says, "The only reason they were not guilty of mass murder is mere incompetence (...) I don't know what sort of defense that is."

They say they did it to end the war in Vietnam. But how, exactly, that was supposed to happen is a total mystery. It's the Underpants Gnome theory of political activism:

Phase 1: Set a bunch of bombs.
Phase 2: ???
Phase 3: The war ends!

That level of tactical idiocy is one thing when you're collecting underpants. It's quite another when you're setting bombs.

Ayers may think that there's still a debate about the Weather Underground's effectiveness. And he might also think that he "acted appropriately in the context of those times." To me, though, he's just a shallow rich kid who took himself and his revolutionary rhetoric much too seriously, helped inspire people to do things that got them killed, and helped to discredit the anti-war movement and the left as a whole.

He has done enough harm already. Now he should do the decent thing and leave us in peace.


delete said...

I think the emphasis of the story should be on the fact that Ayers and Obama do not share ideologies that Ayers himself no longer hold because they were in the same room at the same time a decade ago.

The reason Ayers spoke out was not to glorify or self-promote, but to point out that the "Two Minutes of Hate"-like ignorance the Republican Party attempted through a loose affiliation (which Sarah Palin still believes) was not only the wrong strategy, but tragically irreseponsible.

It was irresponsible of the McCain campaign and has been a treasonous act by the Bush administration, Fox News and several other once-responsible bastions of leadership and information.

Still, love the Underpants Troll reference.

Paul Hammond said...

I heard Bill Ayers interviewed recently on Fresh Air I believe. He was articulate and unapologetic for his actions during the war. His view was that, any crimes committed during that period paled in comparison to the evil it was attempting to stop. There's logic in that, but that same logic is still used by extremists of every stripe be it Muslim, right of left wing. Witness the recent riots in Greece where street violence has become enshrined and police are highly restrained from preventing it. Caught in the middle are the shopkeepers and ordinary citizens. Little consideration seems to be given to them by the anarchist left and it's hard to see what they gain other than the instinctive juvenile joy found in wanton destruction.

I wonder what Ayers views are on that type of violence?

Anonymous said...

I believe that the thrust of the article was to criticize the way his name was dragged into a non existent relationship with Obama. I do not think that he has done any harm to the latter.

Comrade Kevin said...

He is somehow connected to Lyndon LaRouche's crackpot followers, and I saw him featured in a circular they were distributing here in DC.

Not a comforting thought.