Sunday, October 12, 2008

The real William Ayers and Barack Obama link

I'm a lifelong Democrat, though a moderate Clintonian Democrat (having been raised in Orange County, I know that my Republican relatives and friends are not the devil and I see much merit in the policies of fiscal restraint and entrepreneurial innovation that were cornerstones of Republicanism before the Bush-43 deficits and deregulation made greedy deception the surefire way to make money over actual innovation and hard work). 

However, Senator Obama's bashing of South Korea and Japan in his stump speeches to union members, and his expressed non-support for the ROK-US FTA that goes along with it, are the single thing that give me pause about voting for Obama. And, yes, that may be a deal breaker. More on that in another post. 

I have respect for Senator John McCain and I say wholeheartedly the world would have been better off had he been the Republican nominee in 2000 instead of George W. Bush, an incompetent who was poorly informed on international issues and was easily led around by nefarious puppet masters who had their own selfish interests in mind but packaged and marketed them to the American people using fear. But despite my generally positive feelings toward McCain, I do not like where his campaign is going, and it's largely not his own fault. 

McCain was booed by his supposed supporters at his own rally in Minnesota recently when he said, in response to one attendee who said he was "scared of an Obama presidency," that they have nothing to worry about:
"I want to be president of the United States and I obviously do not want Senator Obama to be. But I have to tell you, I have to tell you, he is a decent person. And a person that you do not have to be scared (of) as president of the United States."
And for that McCain got booed. Obama tried to return McCain's true class in kind, thanking him for toning down the vitriol.

What has gotten so many in McCain's camp riled up is the relentless barrage of memes about how untrustworthy Obama is. "What do we really know about this man?" and "Is he American enough?" seem to be the seeds for these memes, which mostly emanate from uberpartisan sources on the right. That gives us Obama the secret Muslim or clandestine Arab, a Manchurian Candidate for Islam, a man secretly in cahoots with terrorists. It's red meat to swing voters your way by appealing to their worst instincts and deepest fears (and I'm just as critical when it's done by uberpartisans on the left).

It was the latter of those memes that has been gaining traction lately, and it was part of the mini-speech made by that Lakeville rally attendee to whom McCain was responding about Obama's decency and suitability to be president when he got booed. The man stated:
"... but I'm concerned about someone that cohorts with domestic terrorists such as Ayers."
Leaving aside that "cohorts" is not a verb (not yet, anyway), it is interesting to note that Ayers has become such a household word among the right that it's not even necessary to explain who this is: Bill Ayers, the cofounder of the Weather Underground, a radical group that bombed public buildings from the very late 1960s until the early 1970s (mostly preceded by evacuation warnings) in protest against American military bombings in Vietnam. 

When the Weathermen started, the future Senator Barack Hussein Obama was eight years old. What was an eight-year-old doing with such a violent organization? The answer is he was doing nothing. But fast-forward to the 1990s and especially the 2008 presidential campaign, and the right would want you to believe that Obama "cohorts" with this domestic terrorist. 

Ayers was never convicted for his activities and he eventually became a "Distinguished Professor" at the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Education. He later settled in Hyde Park, a tony Chicago neighborhood where Obama also lived. The Washington Post details some of the interactions between the two, including Ayers hosting a coffee meeting to raise support for Obama's first run for office and a $200 contribution to his re-election. They were also together on the eight-person Woods Fund Board, a community activist group in which Ayers is still active. Quoting the WaPo:
Whatever his past, Ayers is now a respected member of the Chicago intelligentsia, and still a member of the Woods Fund Board. The president of the Woods Fund, Deborah Harrington, said he had been selected for the board because of his solid academic credentials and "passion for social justice."
And see, that's part of the point. Four decades later, this guy has cleaned himself up and is now a respected citizen for his passion and his ideas. 

But a lot of people won't accept that. They think Ayers is still a bad man (and come on, there are some people who were killed by the Weathermen's activities) and they fear a strong connection between Ayers and Obama is an ominous sign of what is to come.

But is this connection so strong? Are Obama and Ayers so buddy-buddy that Ayers's activities of forty years ago will influence Obama in the present day? Leaving aside that Obama has "strongly condemned" the activities of the Weathermen, just how close did Ayers see his relationship to Obama? 

Why would he support Obama in the first place? Starting with his college days' participation in a picket line protesting a pizzeria that wouldn't sit Blacks, he has a long record of supporting justice on race issues. Hardly surprising that in his more mellow later years he would support an up-and-coming Black community organizer. Twice. (And is Obama responsible for the decades-old past of each and every supporter and contributor?)

But to get an idea of how Ayers or anyone viewed the supposed Ayers-Obama connection prior to when this issue came to the forefront in early 2008 (when Hillary Clinton's supporters thought that this could be Obama's Willie Horton if her were to become the nominee), before the Republican smear machine started running with this, before most anyone my age or younger had even heard of Ayers, let's see what was written about the two.

[photo: Bill Ayers in 2007. His shirt says "Cubs," not "Cuba."] 
Surely if they were so close, there would be a long pre-2008 written record connecting the two. Ayers himself is a prolific writer, including several memoirs, so their close friendship would come up again and again, right? 

But in a content search of Google Books, this is all I got, a run-on paragraph on pages 81 and 82 describing Ayers's (and Obama's) upscale Hyde Park neighborhood in "A Kind and Just Parent," written in 1998:
Once a summer colony, Hyde Park is today dominated by the University of Chicago. It is home to the famous Museum of Science and Industry (the coal mine, the chickens hatching constantly), the Oriental Institute, and the DuSable Museum of African-American History. Other important institutions include Jesse Jackson's Operation Push, Doc Films, 57th Street Books, and the Hyde Park-Kenwood Little League, which brings a joyful crowd of children and families to the park across from our house every summer evening. Hyde Park boasts the world's thickest concentration of Nobel Laureates and thinnest selection of good restaurants. Mike Nichols once described Hyde Park as "the only racially integrated neighborhood in Chicago," and then added caustically, "it's black and white shoulder to shoulder against the poor." There's painful truth in that description as the powerful university and its allied neighborhood association have worked to manipulate boundaries and borders to assure "stability" and separation. Our neighbors include Muhammad Ali, former mayor Eugene Sawyer, poets Gwendolyn Brooks and Elizabeth Alexander, and writer Barack Obama. Minister Louis Farrakhan lives a block from our home and adds, we think, a unique dimension to the idea of "safe neighborhood watch": the Fruit of Islam, his security force, has an ye on things twenty-four-hours a day. I pass Farrakhan's mansion, offer a cheery wave to the Fruit, get a formal nod in response, and turn north two blocks across 47th Street, into the lap of urban blight.
In this 200-page book, that's the only mention of his good buddy Obama. I highlighted it in case you missed it. So little was Ayers involved in the life of Obama, that he didn't even mention the latter's nascent career as a state senator, which had begun the year before this book was published.

That's not just where Obama is mentioned in Ayers books, that's also where Obama is mentioned in any pre-2008 book that mentions Ayers. That's it, prior to this shit storm with all the spin, this is objective data of how strong or weak their connection was. Before the books and all the articles trying to create the smear, this is what was out there. 

Yeah, that's right, I excluded the books written in 2008, with titles like "The Obama Nation: Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality," "Obama - the Postmodern Coup: Making of a Manchurian Candidate," and "Liberty in an Evil Age." (These books on Obama mention Ayers 26, 6, and 5 times, respectively, including one gratuitous reference in the second one to "the bisexual Weathermen terrorist bomber Bill Ayers.")

Make of this what you will, but there's really nothing there. This is about one side trying to whip up fear and anger against the other. Obama will hand over our country to terrorists, just like Dukakis was going to allow ugly Black rapist-murderers to roam free on the weekends (in a program inaugurated by Dukakis's Republican predecessor though Dukakis himself didn't rescind the program until public support looked like it was turning on it).

This is about slash-and-burn, divide-and-conquer politics. And it is poison for our country. Demonizing the other side is a sure-fire way to have a divisive country. Take a lesson from this off-white native of a red county called Orange in a blue state: Don't be a hater. I think Bush has been a terrible president in so many ways, but I can still find at least a few good things to say about his efforts as president and, like Harold and Kumar (about whom I blogged recently), I would be thrilled to ever have the opportunity to sit down with the guy and break bread (I would have said "have a beer," but he reportedly doesn't drink anymore, and I don't smoke pot). 

America needs people like that. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Share your thoughts, but please be kind and respectful. My mom reads this blog.