... I met him in the same way Mr. Obama says he did: 10 years ago, Mr. Ayers was a guy in my neighborhood in Chicago who knew something about fundraising. I knew nothing about it, I needed to learn, and a friend referred me to Bill.Frank reams the McCain campaign for its "vilest" attacks on a man "who cannot or will not defend himself." I think most people believe that a person who has done terrible things (and then faced up to whatever legal process the government chooses and is able to put him through) may go on to redeem himself with sincere remorse and impressive good works. But is that true of Ayers?
Bill's got lots of friends, and that's because he is today a dedicated servant of those less fortunate than himself; because he is unfailingly generous to people who ask for his help; and because he is kind and affable and even humble....
... Mr. Ayers has been involved with countless foundation efforts and has received various awards. He volunteers for everything. He may once have been wanted by the FBI, but in the intervening years the man has become such a good citizen he ought to be an honorary Eagle Scout.
As far as remorse is concern, Frank concedes Ayers's failure... but it's this infuriatingly prissy concession:
Nor will I quibble with those who find Mr. Ayers wanting in contrition. His 2001 memoir is shot through with regret, but it lacks the abject style our culture prefers.Yeah, Ayers famously regretted that he "didn't do enough." We don't think that's "abject" enough, and it's not a matter of "style." It's substance. And we're not a "culture" with a preference. In judging Ayers's regret inadequate, we're human beings with a sound conception of morality.
As for his good works, there's a problem there too, and it's what relates most directly to Obama. Some people think Ayers's present-day work in the field of education is too radical, and they sincerely want to know whether Obama is too far to the left. That's why I'm interested in Ayers and Obama. I still don't know the answer, and I don't think there is any way to know the answer other than to elect Obama President and see what he does. That's what Obama is asking us to do.
***I realize that I've never read the whole text of the NYT article about Ayers that appeared -- in chilling coincidence -- on September 11, 2001. That morning, I sat at my dining table and read the newspaper, my habit back then. I didn't find out about the attacks until I was walking into work, after both planes had hit the towers. So it's not that I was too distracted or disgusted to read that article, that fateful day. I just didn't. Pulling it up just now to make last link, I decided to force myself through the text.
He still has tattooed on his neck the rainbow-and-lightning Weathermen logo that appeared on letters taking responsibility for bombings....There are many people who find this sort of talk very charming. I may have read that far, that day, and found it charming. I understand that kind of thinking: Truth is for boring, little minds. There are complex blends of truth and fiction that are more true, that "feel entirely honest." I don't believe it anymore, but I understand it.
He writes that he participated in the bombings of New York City Police Headquarters in 1970, of the Capitol building in 1971, the Pentagon in 1972. But Mr. Ayers also seems to want to have it both ways, taking responsibility for daring acts in his youth, then deflecting it.
''Is this, then, the truth?,'' he writes. ''Not exactly. Although it feels entirely honest to me.''
But why would someone want to read a memoir parts of which are admittedly not true? Mr. Ayers was asked.
''Obviously, the point is it's a reflection on memory,'' he answered. ''It's true as I remember it.''
Mr. Ayers, who in 1970 was said to have summed up the Weatherman philosophy as: ''Kill all the rich people. Break up their cars and apartments. Bring the revolution home, kill your parents, that's where it's really at,'' is today distinguished professor of education at the University of Illinois at Chicago. And he says he doesn't actually remember suggesting that rich people be killed or that people kill their parents, but ''it's been quoted so many times I'm beginning to think I did,'' he said. ''It was a joke about the distribution of wealth.''Maybe he didn't say it, and anyway, it was a joke. It was the sort of thing people said back in 1970.
In his book Mr. Ayers describes the Weathermen descending into a ''whirlpool of violence.''"I don't want to discount the possibility." That's what Ayers said right before terrorism became drastically unfashionable.
''Everything was absolutely ideal on the day I bombed the Pentagon,'' he writes. But then comes a disclaimer: ''Even though I didn't actually bomb the Pentagon -- we bombed it, in the sense that Weathermen organized it and claimed it.'' He goes on to provide details about the manufacture of the bomb and how a woman he calls Anna placed the bomb in a restroom. No one was killed or injured, though damage was extensive.
Between 1970 and 1974 the Weathermen took responsibility for 12 bombings, Mr. Ayers writes....
So, would Mr. Ayers do it all again, he is asked? ''I don't want to discount the possibility,'' he said.
He also writes about the Weathermen's sexual experimentation as they tried to ''smash monogamy.'' The Weathermen were ''an army of lovers,'' he says, and describes having had different sexual partners...Not enough attention has been paid to monogamy smashing. Does anyone care that these people had multiple sex partners? It's hard to remember how people used to think they were making political progress alone, in bed, with one other person. (Oddly, their theory would justify the present-day opposition to gay rights for "the defense of marriage.")
And if there were another Vietnam, he is asked, would he participate again in the Weathermen bombings?Ayers responds by reciting a Seamus Heaney poem with the lines "once in a lifetime/The longed-for tidal wave/Of justice can rise up/And hope and history rhyme" and says ''I was a child of privilege and I woke up to a world on fire. And hope and history rhymed.'' In other words, yes.