A slander against the '60s


Elizabeth Schulte exposes the Republicans' lies about the struggles 
of the 1960s as John McCain's presidential campaign reaches a new low.

October 13, 2008

"WANTED BY FBI" and "DON'T REGRET SETTING BOMBS" flash across the 
screen. A deep voice warns, "Barack Obama. He launched his political 
career in the home of William Ayers, a 1970s domestic terrorist, a 
founder of the Weather Underground in the '60s."

A quote flies onscreen from a Wall Street Journal opinion article by 
conservative Stanley Kurtz: "The Obama campaign has cried foul when 
Bill Ayers comes up, claiming 'guilt by association.' Yet the issue 
here isn't guilt by association; it's guilt by participation."


With his campaign sagging and Obama surging ahead, the McCain 
campaign was getting desperate last week. McCain let vice 
presidential candidate Sarah Palin denounce Obama for "paling around 
with terrorists" (as New York Times columnist Frank Rich pointed out, 
note the plural on "terrorists").

Then it was McCain's turn. As he told ABC's Charles Gibson, "I think 
it's a factor about Senator Obama's candor and truthfulness with the 
American people. I don't care about Mr. Ayers, who on September 11, 
2001, said he wished he'd have bombed more. I don't care about that. 
I care about [Obama] being truthful about his relationship with him. 
And Americans will care."

McCain's McCarthyite story about Obama's ties to "terrorism" couldn't 
be more obvious as a bottom-feeding attempt to distract from the 
disaster of the economy and chip away at Obama's lead.

However, to the geniuses of the right, it was a political 
masterstroke. For columnist Charles Krauthammer, for example, 
McCain's only mistake was not doing it sooner:

McCain has only himself to blame for the bad timing. He should months 
ago have begun challenging Obama's associations...[E]ven more 
disturbing than the cynicism is the window these associations give on 
Obama's core beliefs. He doesn't share the Rev. Wright's poisonous 
views of race nor Ayers's views, past and present, about the evil 
that is American society. But Obama clearly did not consider these 
views beyond the pale. For many years, he swam easily and without 
protest in that fetid pond.

It's important to recall that the Ayers connection isn't just a 
Republican line of attack. It was Hillary Clinton who first 
publicized the accusation back in April during the campaign for the 
Democratic presidential nomination, rescuing this bit of trivia from 
the corners of right-wing blogosphere where it lurked.
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

SO WHAT is the Ayers-Obama connection?

Obama worked with Ayers, now an education professor at the University 
of Illinois at Chicago, on the board of the not-for-profit Woods Fund 
of Chicago from 1999 through 2002. According to its Web site, the 
fund provides support to "those organizations and initiatives that 
focus on enabling work and reducing poverty within Chicago's 
less-advantaged communities."

Pretty subversive stuff.

Today, the Woods Fund board includes such shadowy figures as a former 
Illinois state senator and executives from the BP oil company, UBS 
investment bank and Sahara Enterprises.

Ayers has also sat on boards with Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley, 
whose father sicced the cops on antiwar protesters like Ayers 40 
years ago at the Democratic National Convention. In 1997, Daley gave 
Ayers the city's "Citizen of the Year" award.

In 1996, Ayers hosted a get-together at his home to introduce 
neighbors to Obama, who was then running for state senate. Obama's 
presidential campaign was launched elsewhere. As the Obama campaign 
points out, Obama was 8 years old when Ayers was in the Weather Underground.

What the Obama campaign refuses to take on, however, is the slander 
of 1960 radicals as bloodthirsty terrorists. Maybe this 
mischaracterization of the social movements of that era is enough for 
Sarah Palin and Charles Krauthammer, but it flies in the face of the facts.

Ayers was a leading member of the Weather Underground, one 
organization out of many during the radicalization of the 1960s and 
'70s that included the antiwar struggle, the women's movement, the 
Black Power movement, and the gay and lesbian liberation movements.

The strategy proposed by the Weathermen--that the participation of 
the masses in the antiwar struggle could be sparked by bold action, 
such as exploding a bomb--was just one road that a few activists 
took. Such tactics proved to be not just ineffective, but 
counterproductive. Rather than draw people to the movement, they drew 
more police repression on activists.

Even so, the right wing's attempt to tie the Weather Underground to 
latter-day terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda is bogus.

The Weathermen took credit for bombings at the U.S. Capitol, Pentagon 
and other government buildings, but as the Chicago Sun-Times noted, 
"The bombings were designed to cause property damage, not hurt 
people. Ayers never has been accused of killing anybody...three 
Weather Underground members accidentally killed themselves while 
making bombs in New York City in 1970. In 1981, two police officers 
and a security guard were killed when other members of the group 
committed an armed robbery."

After 10 years in hiding, Ayers turned himself in to authorities in 
1980. The charges against him related to the Weathermen's bombings 
were dropped because of the authorities used illegal means, such as 
wiretaps, break-ins and mail interceptions, to gather evidence.

The depiction of 1960s activists and radicals as bent on violence is 
grossly inaccurate. There may have been many different ideas about 
how change would come about--some more positive, and some, like 
Ayers', less so--but there was a common thread among those who 
participated in the actions and the protests that a more just world 
was not only possible, but worth struggling for. For many, it was the 
beginning of a lifelong commitment to a different vision of society.

Ayers has renounced the tactics of the Weather Underground, but not 
the determination to stop the barbaric U.S. war on Vietnam and to 
make a new world. But his words from a New York Times 
interview--coincidentally published on September 11, 2001--have been 
systematically distorted. "I don't regret setting bombs," Ayers told 
the reporter. "I feel we didn't do enough."

Ayers felt it was important to clarify the meaning of his comments in 
a follow-up letter to the editor:

I never said I had any love for explosives...I said I had a thousand 
regrets, but no regrets for opposing the war with every ounce of my 
strength. I told her that in light of the indiscriminate murder of 
millions of Vietnamese, we showed remarkable restraint, and that 
while we tried to sound a piercing alarm in those years, in fact, we 
didn't do enough to stop the war.

While the front-page news is about McCain's attempts to paint Obama 
as "other" for his association with radicals like Ayers who opposed 
the Vietnam War, the real crime is painting the activists and 
organizations of the 1960s as "other" to the millions of people who 
today oppose the war in Iraq.


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