Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Ayers kerfluffle

Sarah Palin’s attempt to link Barack Obama and the radical William Ayers was opportunistic and unacceptable. But that intervention does not excuse the fatuous efforts by some liberals to whitewash the odious Ayers. The New York Times (ironically, the source of Palin’s information) has been particular solicitous in the misguided campaign to exonerate Ayers. That newspaper had the bad luck to publish a fawning puff piece on the Chicago luminary on September 11, 2001. The piece appeared just hours before the Twin Towers came down.

Other voices have been better. Here are the words of an honest liberal, Michael Kinsley, writing in Time Magazine: “Bill Ayers and Bernardine Dohrn . . . disappeared in 1969 after two of their colleagues in the Weather Underground died while building a bomb. Ayers and Dohrn spent 11 years setting off bombs and putting out statements threatening violent revolution. They promised to kill innocent Americans and praised the lunatic murderer Charles Manson. In 1981 two policemen and a security guard were killed in the botched holdup of a Brinks truck. Fake IDs used to rent getaway cars in an earlier robbery had been traced to a store where Dohrn worked. A grand jury wanted her testimony. She refused. Said she didn't believe in grand juries. Spent seven months in jail, and then the matter was dropped. Other charges against Ayers and Dohrn were dropped because the evidence was tainted by the Nixon Administration's illegal wiretaps. Ayers put it well: ‘Guilty as hell, and free as a bird. It's a great country.’”

And here is a statement by John M. Murtagh, a public official in Yonkers, NY:

“In February 1970, my father, a New York State Supreme Court justice, was presiding over the trial of the so-called “Panther 21,” members of the Black Panther Party indicted in a plot to bomb New York landmarks and department stores. Early on the morning of February 21, as my family slept, three gasoline-filled firebombs exploded at our home on the northern tip of Manhattan, two at the front door and the third tucked neatly under the gas tank of the family car. (Today, of course, we’d call that a car bomb.) A neighbor heard the first two blasts and, with the remains of a snowman I had built a few days earlier, managed to douse the flames beneath the car. That was an act whose courage I fully appreciated only as an adult, an act that doubtless saved multiple lives that night…
Though no one was ever caught or tried for the attempt on my family’s life, there was never any doubt who was behind it. Only a few weeks after the attack, the New York contingent of the Weathermen blew themselves up making more bombs in a Greenwich Village townhouse. The same cell had bombed my house, writes Ron Jacobs in "The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground." And in late November that year, a letter to the Associated Press signed by Bernardine Dohrn, Ayers’s wife, promised more bombings.”

Who is the bigger evil, O. J. Simpson  or William Ayers? What politician in his right mind would consent to attending a fundraiser at O. J. Simpson's home? Why is having contacts with  O. J. Simpson, who got off a murder charge, beyond the pale --as it clearly is--but  having contacts with William Ayers is just dandy?

In his interesting blog, Disloyal Opposition (, J. D. Tuccille offers some reflections that are highly pertinent:

“I am intrigued by the rather friendly treatment that Ayers and Dohrn receive in contrast to terrorists who adhere to different flavors of violent authoritarianism.

“And I do mean authoritarianism. While press coverage tends to emphasize Ayers' and Dohrn's anti-war activism (and to refer to the bombers as "radicals" rather than "terrorists"), their ideology encompasses rather more than skepticism about the long-gone bloodbath in Vietnam. They're hostile to the market system, fond of socialism and openly solicitous of repressive political leaders who share their goals.”

As Tuccille explains, Ayers and Dohrn are particularly enthusiastic these days about Hugo Chavez, whose Venezuela is “a beacon to the world.”

Tuccille goes on: “Compare the treatment of this pair to, say Eric Rudolph. Rudolph is another political terrorist who also spent years as a fugitive, apparently assisted, like Ayers and Dohrn, by sympathizers. Driven by hatred of gays and lesbians and opposition to abortion, Rudolph planted bombs that killed two people and injured over 100. . . . “

“Like the former Weathermen, Rudolph remains unrepentant. Referring to his bombing of an abortion clinic, he wrote, ‘I have no regrets or remorse for my actions that day in January, and consider what happened morally justified.'

“Unlike Ayers and Dohrn, however, Rudolph is serving hard time in prison -- multiple consecutive life terms without parole. Ayers never served time and Dohrn spent less than a year in prison for refusing to testify about a Weather Underground heist in which a guard and two police officers were killed. And there's never been any question about Rudolph's status: press accounts regularly (and accurately, I would say) refer to him as a 'terrorist,' denying him the nudge-and-wink 'radical' status afforded to the lefty bombers.

“While it's unlikely that we'll ever get the chance to see whether any American universities are eager to award Rudolph with a tenured teaching job, it's safe to say that the authoritarian right-wing bomber is treated rather more roughly by the press and the intellectual establishment than are the authoritarian left-wing bombers. Ayers and Dohrn are widely presented as otherwise-respectable activists who went a tad too far, while Rudolph is generally described as the unpleasant product of hate, intolerance and the dark underbelly of rural American society. . . .

“Journalists, academics and intellectuals run into even the most radical leftists often enough that the likes of Ayers and Dohrn might seem excessive without coming across as unsympathetic. That sort of familiarity can result in the occasional howler, such as the misty-eyed 1990 New York Times story on a failing retirement home populated by "political idealists" -- aging communists with a lingering nostalgia for Lenin. It's hard to believe the Grey Lady would have run a similar piece about octogenarian German-American bundists pining for Adolph. But I'm certain that aging reds strike many journalists as quaint, while old brownshirts just come across as pathetic -- despite the comparable body counts of the two totalitarian ideologies.

“So the minor kerfuffle over Obama's association with Ayers and Dohrn says less about the candidate -- who did nothing most of his peers would find unacceptable -- than it does about the thinking of a certain part of the American political and intellectual establishment. Violence to achieve political change may be a no-no, but it's a minor transgression in the service of a sympathetic kind of politics, and a reprehensible crime when implemented for the wrong ideas.”


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