Some people are awfully concerned that Barack Obama's predecessor in the Illinois state senate once introduced Obama to ex-Weatherman, lousy bomb maker, and current University of Illinois-Chicago education professor William Ayers at a party in 1995, that Ayers donated a (whopping!) $200 to Obama's state senate campaign in 2001, and Obama and Ayers were colleagues for three years on the Board of Trustees of the Woods Fund, a Chicago urban reform and anti-poverty organization. Maybe, these nuanced and perspicuous thinkers concede, none of these facts in any way imply that Obama harbors secret sympathy for terroristic Communism (though maybe they do!), but they demonstrate at the least an unsettling willingness on Obama's part to associate with scoundrels to advance his career, and represent a betrayal of his avowed commitment to a new kind of politics. Don't they?
Well, since those hot on the scent of the dessicated remnants of a forty-year-old subprime revolutionary front are undoubtedly sincere in their concerns and not just nakedly cynical hacks, they might be interested to learn that the Weather Underground's reach is extended far enough in space and time to poison the New York Times in April 2008. On his Times blog, Hillary Clinton supporter Stanley Fish brazenly confesses his own links to domestic terrorism:
I too have eaten dinner at Bill Ayers’s house (more than once), and have served with him on a committee, and he was one of those who recruited my wife and me at a reception when we were considering positions at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Moreover, I have had Bill and his wife Bernardine Dohrn to my apartment, was a guest lecturer in a course he taught and joined in a (successful) effort to persuade him to stay at UIC and say no to an offer from Harvard.
Shocking stuff, no? Some of us have criticized Fish in the past for wrecking humanities education at several universities and promulgating the notion that philosophy is nothing but bullshit reflections on bullshit, but never in our wildest dreams did we imagine that "Interpreting the Variorum" was actually a subliminal call for the violent overthrow of the US government. Yet there it is in black and white. Rather than initiate a citizens' arrest of Ayers upon sight and seek out the nearest house of worship for absolution, as any upstanding patriotic citizen would have done, and rather even than ship Ayers off to that den of sedition on the Charles River, Fish actually campaigned to keep Ayers at UIC. Sounds like Stanley Fish has some serious explaining to do to the FBI, the editorial staffs of National Review and the Weekly Standard, and the
Chappaqua chapter of the Branch Davidians Hillary Clinton campaign, in no particular.
If only that were all to report. But William Ayers' treasonous tentacles of terrible terrorism stretch throughout Chicago and environs. Richard Daley, the doyen of a political dynasty renowned for cosseting pinko commie hippie freaks (especially the violent ones), hired Ayers to direct a citywide education reform program. The Woods Fund Board of Trustees — which is rumored to meet in a windowless bunker accessible only through a secret portal impeccably camouflaged by the rusty, crumbling tenements of Hyde Park, where a thousand schemes for instigating Red Revolution are diabolically hatched — can name among its members:
- An endowed professor at DePaul University
- The executive director of another Chicago urban development program (we're starting to see what "urban development" is code for, aren't we?)
- One endowed professor at UIllinois-Chicago and another UIC department chair (naturally)
- The media and governmental affairs director of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, a huge international architectural firm
- A manager for BP North America (but of course any company that does so much business in the middle East is likely a seditious fifth column — now see why the charges that Obama is a furtive Muslim and a godless commie aren't self-evidently contradictory?)
- The Executive Director for Public Affairs of UBS, one of the largest investment banks in the world
- and, The President of Sahara Enterprises, which purports to be a Chicago-based coal mining company (but with a name like that must be an al-Qaeda affiliate)
And get this: Some current Woods Fund Trustees are Republicans, which logically means that there are active Weatherman cells even in God's Own Party. That's still not all. Without any fear of legal repercussions, the Chicago Tribune editorial board nonchalantly admits that "[W]e know Ayers too. And his wife, Bernardine Dohrn. If you know people in Chicago academic circles, chances are you know Ayers and Dohrn." Though of course the traitorous swine won't give detailed lists of names.
Which brings me to my own confession — though I promise, unlike Fish, the mayor of Chicago, and the CT editorial board, I treat this matter with the gravity it deserves. The full, shocking size and scope of the Weather Underground's fifth column within the academic, business, political, and journalistic institutions of Chicago impels me to go public with something weighing on my conscience. I once had lunch with Chesa Boudin, whom William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn took in as an infant and raised as their own son when his parents, Kathy Boudin and David Gilbert, were given life sentences in prison for their role as accessories in the Brinks Robbery. Granted, once having a brief meal with William Ayers' adoptive son says less about my character than, say being introduced to Ayers himself at a party, but that's hardly an excuse. Chesa Boudin neither rejects nor denounces William Ayers, and what's worse, he served on the staff of Hugo Chavez. Clearly the only thing for me to do is turn myself in to the FBI.
Unless, that is, there is a more parsimonious explanation of the fact that William Ayers' acquaintances constitute an ersatz Who's Who in Chicago. And come to think of it, there just might be.
Sometimes, when someone does something terrible and escapes criminal sanction, civilized society ostracizes that person, and has good justification for doing so. Like O.J. Simpson and Michael Skakel. Other times, despite having justification for ostracism, society elects by convention to overlook some individual's misdeeds. Like William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn. Also like Oliver North, whose felony convictions were overturned thanks to limited Congressional immunity, and instead of being shunned by all good folk, was able to pivot to a Republican nomination for election to the Senate in 1994, and then a lucrative career as a right-wing pundit and fundraiser. And like Elliot Abrams, another Iran-contra crook, who escaped incarceration through plea-bargaining and then a pardon from President George H.W. Bush, only to be appointed to the National Security Council by President George W. Bush. Come to think of it, George W. Bush didn't hesitate to staff his administration by means of an Iran-Contra reunion tour.
Then there's Henry Kissinger, who successfully parleyed his responsibility "for war crimes, for crimes against humanity, and for offenses against common or customary or international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture" (as Christopher Hitchens aptly put it), into a permanent position as a darling of the talk show circuit, a confidant of Charlie Rose and Ted Koppel, as many reserved column inches in as many prominent American newspapers as he would like, and an informal advisory role to every president since he left government — sort of a German-Jewish secular war criminal Billy Graham. There's also Billy Graham, whose anti-Semitic ramblings with Richard Nixon never for a moment jeopardized his quasi-official job as Oval Office chaplain.
In like fashion, there's the Dixiecrat remnant faction of the Republican party. Though most of the racist scumbags have by now slipped off the moral coil, it wasn't long ago that Republican Congressional majorities were made possible by the support of some of the most virulent segregationists in American history — not the ideological heirs of segregation, but the segregationists themselves — who are personally culpable not only for extending the shelf-life of a horrific system of state-sanctioned persecution, but also, through their perversions of the judicial system, for enabling far-flung campaigns of racist murder and domestic terrorism. (Compare that to the piddling tally of the Weather Underground.) Strom Thurmond is of course the most prominent example, and also an instructive one. It was simply too awful for many political and media elites to acknowledge the presence in the US Senate of an unrepentant champion of Jim Crow, so they simply pretended that Thurmond had repented. Trent Lott eventually lost his Senate leadership position for bumblingly praising segregation in a botched effort to pay tribute to Thurmond, thereby reminding the larger political culture of the gruesomeness of its willful blindspot on Thurmond, but the upshot is that Lott never would have gotten into any trouble if all he had done was attend Strom Thurmond's birthday dinner without giving any speech.
Needless to say, proving a damning relationship between Thurmond and any recent Republican senator, on the standards of evidence the anti-Obama McCarthyite mania has enshrined, is simple enough a kindergartner could do it; and also so transparently idiotic a kindergartner could call bullshit on it.
Let's not forget the more recently-minted criminals of the Bush administration. We could start with Lewis Libby, convicted of felony perjury, two separate counts of felony obstruction of justice, and felony provision of false statements to federal investigators. But, then, the very same crowd that thinks Barack Obama owes the American people an explanation of his relationship with William Ayers will be quick to remind us that Libby was the victim of a hack partisan (Republican) inquisitor, and besides, it's okay to break laws in the name of a higher principle just in case that higher principle is neoconservative. So never mind Libby.
The evidence is clear and decisive that Jay Bybee, William Haynes, David Addington, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Alberto Gonzales, and John Yoo (to mention only a few names) are all complicit in a wave of — what would Hitchens call it? — war crimes, crimes against humanity, and offenses against common and customary and international law, including conspiracy to commit murder, kidnap, and torture. Despite that, or perhaps partly because of it, they can shortly expect to settle down to sinecures at conservative foundations and thinktanks, or assume spots on investment banks' boards of directors, or move on to jobs in the next Republican administration. They'll be celebrated guests on talk shows, commissioned by the New York Times and Washington Post to savage President Obama's resolution of the Iraq War (here's hoping), and in general treated by the connected set of Washington, D.C. and beyond just as if they were venerable statesmen rather than war criminals. Unless one of them is foolish enough to attend a dinner party at Baltasar Garzon's house, none of them will ever experience a minute of the life sentences they deserve.
And current and future Republican politicians will be (or already have been) introduced to them at parties, receive $200 or more campaign donations from them (or already have), and serve on boards of charitable trusts and business ventures with them (or already do). Would anyone care to set an over/under on how long it takes, in minutes, to establish connections, within, say, three degrees of separation or less, between John McCain and every living prominent Republican current or former politician or cabinet official whose offenses against the law and common decency merit permanent ostracism from civilized company? What do such connections tell us about John McCain's sympathy for (say) the Bush administration's project of whiting out various amendments to the Constitution? Unless he endorses such projects himself, they tell us nothing, nor do they tell us anything about his character, nor do they "raise legitimate questions" (because the questions are illegitimate), nor do they warrant McCarthyite public spectacles because "these issues are on the minds of voters."
The phenomenon of people doing loathsome things, never expressing remorse, and being rehabilitated and reincorporated in polite society is pervasive and inescapable. If it implicates anyone, it implicates everyone. Private individual decisions to shun such people may be praiseworthy under some circumstances, and amount to empty ineffectual posturing in others, but no one — not Barack Obama, not anyone else — has an individual obligation to brand anyone with a scarlet letter, make a scene at a party, or turn down perfectly respectable business or charitable enterprises.
This election year, the US is engaged in two costly and arguably counterproductive foreign occupations and a quasi-war against assorted non-state actors, a recession is looming if not already underway, our budget deficit continually balloons to (even inflation-adjusted) staggering record highs, and the long-term solvency of our major social welfare programs is soon to face extreme demographic pressures. Against that backdrop, arguing even implicitly that voters should make their decisions on the basis of friendships and associations of candidates that have no bearing whatsoever on their substantive views, agenda, or approach to governance is a rather straightforward confession of intellectual bankruptcy. It's time for two-bit inquisitors with warped moral faculties and priorities to shut the fuck up.
UPDATE: And there you have it: Hillary Clinton's new top strategist, Geoff Garin, called for the violent overthrow of the US government…35 years ago, when he was in college. That doesn't mean he's a bad person (it makes him a typical wannabe proletarian Harvard student in 1973), it doesn't mean Hillary Clinton's a bad person, and it doesn't mean there is any more or less reason to vote for Hillary Clinton now than before this came out; but it does mean a bunch of McCarthyite hacks need to find something to gag on next time they want to open their mouths.